A story of sustainable design for a greener future
From a lake in Siberia to the COP26 summit in Glasgow: responsible metals and hydropower company En+ Group is planning to change the world with low-carbon designs
During this year’s London Design Festival, the stunning visual centrepiece in the V&A Museum’s John Madejski Garden was a shimmering, silvery pavilion that seemed to hover over a shallow pool of water. Between Forests and Skies recalls the endless skies of Siberia and its dense wooded hillsides reflected in crystal-clear lakes. But it is so much more than a modern take on a Tolstoyan idyll – the work stands as a monument to sustainable, beautiful low-carbon design of the future.
The piece, by emerging design and architecture practice Nebbia Works, has its origins in the crystalline waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest, largest and deepest freshwater lake on planet.
Lake Baikal is often referred to as ‘the jewel of Siberia’ and it is easy to see why. Everything about it is epic in scale, drama and beauty. It was created when the land that is now India collided with Asia, forcing the Himalayas upwards and opening a crescent-shaped fissure that became the lake of today. It contains a fifth of all the freshwater on the planet and is visible from outer space. During winter, the lake freezes to a depth of up to two metres and can bear the weight of traffic but, unlike every other lake in the world where the ice is frosty and opaque, the mineral composition of Lake Baikal means that its ice has the transparency and brilliance of a diamond. Images of Baikal during winter are some of the most stunning and iconic ever seen. The lake is home to a huge diversity of endemic species, including the legendary Siberian sturgeon, which can reach nearly two metres in length, and the Baikal seal, the world’s only freshwater seal, which survives the lake’s icy temperatures thanks to its coat (which has more hairs per square cm than any other animal on the planet) and its fat reserves. And the shores of the lake provide the perfect habitat to the native snow leopard as well as colonies of bear, wolverine and sable.
However, this epic setting is more than just breathtaking beauty and legendary wildlife – it holds the answer to clean renewable energy of the future. Responsible metals and hydropower company En+ Group harnesses the natural power of the lake and its cascading rivers to produce low-carbon aluminium for manufacturers, designers and architects all over the world. So Between Forests and Skies is both of, and about, Siberia and the protection of our natural habitats and environments.
En+ Group unveiled the pavilion ahead of COP26, the world’s largest climate summit, being held in November in Glasgow to draw attention to the role of designers and architects in shaping a more sustainable future, using low-carbon materials that are produced with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions possible.
As a material of the future, aluminium has mass appeal. It is strong, ductile, lightweight, reflective and non-corrosive. But more important are its natural sustainability credentials. Due to the infinite recyclability of aluminium, around 75 per cent of the aluminium ever produced is still in productive use, some having been through countless loops of its lifecycle. In North America and Europe, a drink can is produced, filled, distributed, consumed, collected and recycled back into a can within 60 days. It’s the very definition of the circular economy.
The silvery metal is also beautiful. It is no wonder that it is increasingly the material of choice of preeminent designers such as Zaha Hadid, Foster + Partners, Tom Dixon and Philippe Starck, who in recent years have used the versatile metal for some truly innovative and environmentally conscious projects.
It can be used in almost every aspect of our everyday life. And, thanks to companies such as En+ Group, it may also preserve the world’s natural environment for future generations. But it’s not just those in the know or the aforementioned designers and architects who are waking up to the allure of aluminium. Increasingly, consumers are asking about the provenance of the goods they buy and the packaging they consume. We’ve seen this trend before.
Twenty years ago, the organic food market boomed as shoppers zoned in on the connection between diet, health and the environment. Today, we expect to know at a minimum where our food was grown, who has grown it, in what conditions and how far it has travelled. We believe we have a right to the information that will allow us to make a genuine, responsible choice when we purchase our groceries, and an array of standards and labelling systems has emerged to support this.
Now, as consumers we want to understand the provenance of sustainable packaging, of the materials used to build our electric cars, or our well-insulated buildings. We have been inspired to seek out greater transparency about the carbon footprint of a plethora of day-to-day objects. That means carbon footprint labelling of raw materials, such as metals like aluminium, is just around the corner.
Between Forests and Skies was created using the first batch of the lowest-carbon aluminium ever produced. En+ Group’s new green smelting ‘inert anode’ technology produces oxygen rather than carbon dioxide and generates minimal greenhouse gas emissions that are a thousand times lower than the industry average.
For the duration of the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, you can visit the pavilion in the Blue Zone beside the SEC Armadillo. After that, it will be recycled – indefinitely.
Find out more about En+ Group here.
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