Flat Pack: A Green Design Philosophy

There are a few ways of designing our built environment that really make a lot of sense to TreeHugger, and flat pack is one of them. The idea is pretty simple: by designing objects that can be constructed or assembled and given shape, form and structure from essentially flat pieces, we can cut back on a whole slew of things, from resources to materials to shipping. Plus, in many cases, flat pack can be taken apart when it’s time to move, making it easy to transport and use in more than one location.

Mainly, we see flat pack in architecture and furniture design, and it both cases, it makes a lot of sense for the right applications. In architecture, it allows for tons of customization at a minimum of cost; by pre-fabricating individual pieces (like sections of a wall), an entire house can be loaded onto a flatbed truck and delivered to the building site, where it can be put together like a puzzle. If you want a big window there, or a section of wall here, or the door in the middle, or whatever, you can alter the design and essentially pick different parts to go different places. This template-building process allows for lots of different designs for different needs, using the same or similar parts, which are cheaper to produce, cheaper (and greener) to ship, and can more easily incorporate green elements and materials. A couple of great examples of this are Charlie Lazor’s FlatPak House [www.flatpackhouse.com] and just about any of Michelle Kauffman’s many designs [www.mkd-arc.com].

In furniture design, many of the same principles apply, but on a smaller, more manageable scale. We think it’s a small miracle that you can take a handful of wafer-thin sheets of wood, metal or just about any material and turn it in to functional, resource-efficient stuff that you can take with you, anywhere you go; it’s just cool to be able to create something in three dimensions that originally existed in just two. The modularity is also good for each products’ life cycle; if one part wears out, breaks or is otherwise rendered unusable, it can then be replaced, without sacrificing the rest of the what’s left (that presumably works just fine). For a bunch of good examples, check out the bulk of IKEA’s [www.ikea.com] catalog — they pretty much invented the notion of flat pack furniture.

Stay tuned for more of our favorite flat-to-fabulous design ideas, coming later this week.