Growing up as a maker and tinker, I loved attending big trade shows. I was fascinated by the detail, showmanship, and complex choreography required to make opening day a reality. Decades later I founded HUSH, a design company that merges architecture, digital content, and physical spaces to create interactive experiences. We’ve worked on countless large-scale projects for global brands: sometimes these manifest as huge immersive experiences with impressive technologies, and sometimes they are far more intimate and subtle.
Regardless of the scale of our projects, the aftermath of an event is always the same—loading docks fill up with beeping garbage trucks and the dumping begins. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials, electronics, and lighting equipment are gingerly tossed. As a studio, we face a paradox: our clients want energy-intensive experiences, yet they espouse the reduction of environmentally harmful processes and technologies. Instead of following the same path we pioneered for well over a decade, we shifted our mindset and processes to accommodate a new era of sustainable thinking.
In 2017, United Therapeutics approached us to design a dynamic storytelling experience on their net-zero campus in Silver Spring, Maryland. Our client challenged us to turn sustainability into a tangible experience that would educate and motivate people around the critical messages of the climate crisis. The constraint? Given the building has limited energy reserves, we had to design an electrical budget that would not contradict the values of the building and the company itself.
Through the development of The Energy Dial–one of the major installations that came out of this project–we distilled intricate engineering and complex networks of energy data into a symbolic artform that helps viewers understand how their behavior impacts the larger energy footprint of the building. The dial uses real-time data to showcase the ebb and flow of the building’s energy. The sculpture shines light outward whenever the building is producing a solar energy surplus and shines light inward if it’s using more energy than is being produced. We created a new opportunity for people to think twice about the larger impact of their daily actions. It’s a shining (literal) example of how innovative design can inspire environmental stewardship and challenge us all to think differently about our spaces and our resources.
Admittedly, before 2017, we did not factor sustainability in our process. However, this project invited us to evolve our design approach. This work was our catalyst towards integrating sustainability processes into every project we work on.
It's not just about efficient tech; it's about cultivating a mindset of consideration. It’s a shift from short-term thinking to long-term thinking: considering long-term energy use, carbon footprints, and lifecycles of all materials and technologies being used. It’s a shift from form to function: creating accessible, conducive designs that expand to meet the evolving goals and needs of their stakeholders in the long run. After hundreds of conversations and years of research and development, we generated a three-pronged approach that guides our work, requiring our clients to actively engage.
Prioritizing Low Carbon Materials
Prioritizing low-carbon materials challenges our clients to consider the use of Earth-friendly materials and account for the environmental impact of their sourcing. Using tools like real-time game engines, generative visuals, and ML-assisted content analysis, we can creatively think about how to execute a sustainable design output. From offering recycled materials part of historically significant scientific experiments to capturing carbon into physical forms, it has been rewarding to open minds to new possibilities and better outcomes.
Balancing the Energy Budget
Balancing energy budgets is done by calculating the expected energy consumption of our design concepts and identifying ways to minimize resources while maximizing creativity. We’ve been fortunate to partner with leading minds that understand energy consumption best. Together we utilized unique software tools that allow us to consider, measure, and balance investment with the often-qualitative value of complex solutions.
Optimizing the Afterlife of Designs
Planning for an afterlife of our work has become paramount to every project. How can our work be reused or repurposed with a planet-conscious approach? Are we speaking to partners that can help us offset the impact the creation of our work had on the environment? All these questions are now part of our everyday process.
Every designer working today is trying to make the world a better place, yet it is often forgotten that we are not only designing for people but also for the planet. As designers we are tasked with offering new ways of thinking and working to create better futures. Just as the creation of The Energy Dial influenced our thinking, mind-opening moments allow us to see our work from a broader perspective; in these moments we have an incredible opportunity to impact the world.
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