Imagine an aircraft hangar. No, imagine about eight of them, all under a single roof, connected by a central ‘boulevard’ with every imaginable fast food and drink outlet. Imagine sticking that soul-suckingly cavernous and sterile space into a post-industrial landscape bereft of any life or sense of context, in possibly one of the ugliest and most depressing parts of London, surround it with utilitarian generic corporate hard-landscaping and a smattering of functional amenity planting in varying stages of decay, lash it with fiercely cold easterly winds, and there you have the inappropriately named Excel conference and events centre on the 4th March 2015, a venue the mere sight of which can induce the urge to pluck your eyeballs out with cocktail sticks and dunk them in spirit vinegar before dipping them in salt and then setting fire to them for good measure.
So that’s the venue then. What was going on inside was thankfully quite a bit better, being probably the largest collection of ‘green’ building materials, products and methods to be found in one place in the UK. I say green tentatively because all of these things require us to consume more products, and ‘reduce’ is often the forgotten third leg of the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ stool. Ecobuild was packed full of products to buy or consume, most of which, I would hope, would in the long run produce a carbon/energy saving a lot better than simply trying to persevere with outdated technology just because it hasn’t actually worn out yet.
My interest was part professional and part personal, being a landscape designer, my main interest is what goes on outside buildings but also in the areas where they connect from interior to exterior space – slot drains for instance, which do a neat and tidy job of keeping the wet out and the dry in. My personal curiosity, since I’m not currently in the market for a new ground-source heat pump or wood-pellet boiler, concerned whether LED bulbs really are finally good enough to use in all interior lighting situations – it turns out the answer is yes – at a cost, and I even sat dutifully through a fairly dry and boffin-like presentation from someone from Philips talking about the merits of LED bulbs, which were impressive.
From a landscape design point of view, Ecobuild was a great opportunity to actually touch a lot of the products that we often specify but don’t always get to remind ourselves how they feel – to check the quality and finish. What stood out for me was ACO‘s latest range of linear and slot drains, which now come in a huge array of decorative designs to give a suitably sophisticated finish to any design. They’re surprisingly stylish and well-made, supposedly unglamorous bits of kit that do an essential job, and thanks to a bit of thought, someone has finally managed to make them look as attractive as they are useful.
After giving in to the curiosity to have a mobile massage which I’m pretty sure made my back far worse, I finished the day off by watching a live demonstration of a wall being built from cob (hazel, mud and sawdust) which was fascinating and pleasingly old-fashioned and hands-on, next to all the super-triple-glazed windows and other modern gadgets I had seen throughout the day. And that was that. Excel is huge and tiring to walk around and as a venue it does seem to have the ability to sap the life-force of anyone who ventures within, so I was glad to get out before my own bulb dimmed too much and head back to the green hills of Surrey.