Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’
Karina and Gazsi, at home in their cottage. Gazsi is a local Pumi dog. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.
Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.
Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.
Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!
PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.
Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.
Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.
Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!
Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!
A selection of PAP Wines.
Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.
Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!
Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.
PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.
Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.
Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.
Text by Tanya Kim Grassley & Karina Vissonova
Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.
Food for Change a new platform in Stockholm. Food for Change is a CSR platform for businesses connecting waste food with people in need. Local supermarkets explore how to reuse all the waste food they throw away every day, by creating a membership scheme for low-income people. Membership or gift cards for people in need costs roughly 50 euro to gain access to regular food deliveries. The programme invites volunteers to deliver the food to local communities. Many large companies invite their employees to take part in the scheme as a CSR effort.
A few other examples of green initiatives turning wasted into wanted:
Networks: The carpet manufacturer Interface has created a sustainable line of products called Net-Works. Net-Works is the first step in creating a truly restorative loop in carpet tile production, whilst cleaning up oceans and beaches of plastic and creating financial opportunities for informal economies; some of the poorest people in the world.
A firm in Brazil, Arteplas, is taking plastic bottles out of landfills and repurposing them as high quality rope. Treehugger reports that their product is both higher quality and cheaper than traditional rope constructed from fibres. Arteplas have independent analysis from a third party assessor showing that their recycling processes for rope use 70% less energy than ropes from virgin materials. Their plant employing up to 400 local people. The quality of the product, is proven in the success of the company and its applied use across different industries.
Blest.Making oil from waste plastics: Typically made from petroleum, it is estimated that 7% of the world’s annual oil production is used to produce and manufacture plastic. That is more than the oil consumed by the entire African continent. A Japanese company called Blest created a small, very safe and easy-to-use machine that can convert several types of plastic back into oil. Amazing. A machine like this would be invaluable to informal waste pickers the world over, allowing them to add value to collected plastics.
The Green HangerMade in Australia from 100% recycled cardboard, the Green Hanger will be used as an event invitation during Tokyo Designers Week, then as a coat hanger. The Green Hanger eco coat hanger is a fully recyclable and biodegradable cardboard coat hanger made from 100% recycled materials.
Parapu Durapulp pressed chairby Södra in Sweden is a winner of the Red Dot Design award; the product concept is a collaboration between an ad agency, the pulp manufacturer, KTH and famous PR-driving designers Claesson Koivisto Rune. DuraPulp is a new material that combines paper pulp and PLA (a biodegradable plastic) to create an incredibly resistant paper. Created from one pressed cut out sheet the new product demonstrates how a simple manufacturing process can add value to raw waste materials and create perceived value for the hotels and companies who use it.
Eco-Drywall: While recent interest in sustainable building has spurred the creation of eco-minded materials like Greensulate and Cow Dung Bricks, drywall is one building component that has remained essentially the same over the past 100 or so years. That’s about to change, however, thanks to EcoRock, a new drywall material that’s made of 80 percent recycled materials.
Poly-Al is made from recycled Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak Europe pays a local producer to take care of old Tetra Pak. He removes the paper part and recycles and then uses the plastic/metal foil part to make a board, 15 mm thick, flat or corrugated that is used as a building material in walls or roofs. It is water proof, fire resistance and uses no additives in the compression process. They have started to use it for making cow-sheds in India and it has increased the milk productivity with 2-3 l per cow per day! It keeps the cows cool and comfortable, and is a beautiful material as well!
Visualizing complexity is a design approach that has always been used to handle multi-layered facts and perspectives. By using creative methods to visualize dry data, diverse people in an organization can be engaged in critical decision-making, from the outset of a project through to continuous improvement out on the marketplace. Turning dry facts into deep insights enables rapid and relevant decision-making. And it is only the people within a company who can know what relevant steps are needed for innovation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Doing the right things based on the wrong assumptions is not innovation.
Maps have to be ‘designed’ correctly for the task at hand. Take the world map as we know it today. The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was first published in 1569, and became widespread because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which was relevant at the time for marine navigation. But the drawback of using that map today, to visualize new and existing business markets, is that it distorts the shapes and relative sizes of all the countries. The map also distorts our perception of the world. The map of True Africa created by Kai Krause, shows that Africa is far larger than we think. Then see the maps on land area to population, or amount of money per head spent on healthcare, and we instantly gain a more informed picture on which to base our innovation strategies.
The True Africa map by Kai Krause shows the size of the continent in relation to European counties.
The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was made for marine navigation.
Map from worldmapper.org shows public health spending to population
Innovation is not so much of an outcome, as a process of asking the right questions at the right time, and asking them again and again, reiteratively. Since a company’s offering exists in real-time, across connected or digitally enabled networks, so too do the insights and information that continuous questioning and decision making are based on need to be in real-time. Innovation means never being satisfied with the obvious assumptions. And to break preconceived ideas we now have big data and data visualization.
Although a company cannot map all the potential outcomes of its activities, visual maps can play a large part in nurturing breakthrough thinking so that a company can focus on what it does best – and partner for the rest. Data visualization has yet to find its role in delivering real-time information for communications within a company, for critical decision making, or for real time communications between a company and its network, who, in a connected world, should be more deeply engaged in the ongoing strategies, activities and outcomes that bring to life a brand’s vision of innovation.
Maps don’t always make good online interfaces, but they do help us understand data in an intuitive way. Moving into a service-driven world, a company’s offering is continuously evolving and data visualization can be used to engage different types of stakeholders in the ongoing process of value generation. Imagine, for example, a call to action to developers to test and hack a beta digital service “pre-launch”. Or real time, localized invitations for users to swarm around an open innovation event, on and offline. Or adding services by using data collected from the public realm, such as traffic or weather reports, or national averages on life expectancy in relation to lifestyle choices. Innovation should be continuous rather than be an occasional manned mission to Mars. When users are informed and communicated with in more personal and transparent ways, they are more likely to offer up their own data to share in the benefits of ongoing innovation.
Maps in themselves do not tell us what to do: but they can help us harness knowledge and creativity to solve problems, and that is true innovation. No market research report or marketing message can compete with factual, real time information. We need to use technology and its designs to help us question all the assumptions that we take for granted- and make sure our good intentions result in meaningful activities.
Back from London and the Photon Symposium, and seeing the prototype of an all glass living pod that will be one of 9 pods in a proposed Photon Village at Oxford University. The concept was conceived by Brent Richards of Transpolis Europe and executed by Cantifix, an advanced glass engineering company based in the UK.
Brent Richards describes the project: The Photon Pod has been designed to maximise daylight for the inhabitants in order to carry out scientific research into “the effects of daylight on human biology”. The 4 year research period will involve 8 Photon Pods and allow 300 participants to be tested in a Photon Village. As a control two of the pods will be “dark” with only 12% of the surface transparent, which equates to the average amount of glazing in a typical home.
The shape of the Photon Pod has been designed to minimise the reflection of light waves by keeping the surface of the glass perpendicular to the sun when the building is orientated north/south. The make-up of the double glazed units uses the latest technology to increase the insulation properties, whilst reducing solar gain to maintain a comfortable living environment in most climates.
The interior facilities were considered in relation to the length of stay for each participant and the fact we didn’t want the research data to be influenced. In the majority of cases a participant will only have to stay for 3 weeks and therefore basic facilities of a kitchen; shower and WC; bed; desk; and seating area were considered sufficient.
Philips were invited by Imaginary Life to design the lighting in the Pod to show how a combination of natural and design light should be combined to enhance the wellbeing and to harmonise the practical need for artificial light with the biological need for natural light. For the purposes of this launch, Hue, Philips connected lighting was programmed to create a compelling and dynamic experience, as well as enhancing the architecture of the innovative structure.
Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford University states: “The recent advances in our understanding of the brain mechanisms that generate and regulate sleep and circadian rhythms, and a growing appreciation of the broad health problems associated with their disruption, represents a truly remarkable opportunity to develop novel evidence-based treatments and interventions that will transform the health and quality of life of millions of individuals across a broad spectrum of illnesses.”
The Photon Pod is a means for collecting data on how light effects the mind, body & soul. Photos by George Sharman.
The Photon Pod Installation at The Building Cente, London.
Light is a resource for health & wellbeing – in all built environments
If you happen to be in London on Monday 16th September, or Tuesday the 17th September, drop by and meet us at the Building Centre on Store Street, W1. The Photon symposium invites international scientists, academics, architects, designers and global corporations to join The Photon Project network to debate the link between daylight and science, technology, health, wellbeing, architecture and design.
Moderated by Peter Finch of the UK Design Council, the Symposium includes keynote speakers such as Sean Carney, Chief Design Officer at Royal Philips Electronics.
Store street installation. http://thephotonproject.org/
Philips have also designed a dynamic lighting programme in the Building centre itself and for a glass ‘Photon Pod’ installation out in the courtyard to showcase latest lighting products that front ongoing deeper research and innovation within lighting for increased Health and Wellbeing for built environments such as Hospitals and Schools, to name but a few.
The Photon Project will present a 4 year plan and concept for an advanced integrated scientific research project. The multifaceted proposal works with systems thinking and rapid innovation models to explore and bring to market future Health and Wellbeing applications- also creating new standards and solutions for Healthy Living.
The aim of the project is to ultimately improve the living and working conditions of millions of people across the globe by testing and measuring the biological advantages of increasing the amount of daylight in all types of buildings: residential, commercial, institutional, educational, cultural and leisure.
Current research, for example, has already proven that disruption to circadian rhythms causes a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing – over a short period this would typically lead to depression, nausea and high blood pressure, and over a longer period this can lead to chronic depression and secondary hypertension. There is also evidence that the lack of sleep caused by an inability to reset the body clock can have a critical impact on: schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, some cancers and a long list of other life threatening conditions. As a research area, light has unlimited possibilities to help develop solutions that prevent disease and help the body in recovery.
The Photon Living Concept was initiated by Architect and Innovation Strategist Brent Richards in association with Cantifix Ltd. –a market-leading specialist glazing company. The research team is led by Professor Russell Foster, British Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. He and his team are credited with the discovery of non-rod, noncone, photosensitive ganglion cells in the mammalian retina – which provide input to the circadian rhythm system.
For more information please mail us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Schedule: PHOTON SYMPOSIUM @ LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL 2013.
Address: The Building Centre, Store Street, London WC1E 7BT
16 Sept – PRESS LAUNCH (10.30 – 1.00) AT THE BOARDROOM
08.00 -1.00 PHOTON POD TOURS
16 Sept – DAY 1 SYMPOSIUM (1.30 – 6.00, 6.45 – 9.00) VINCENT
SUITE + MAIN GALLERY
08.00 -1.00 Press visits to Photon Pod can be booked, with guide who will be present fulltime at the Pod to answer basic questions and give a tour of the Pod.
Contact: Fiona Sharman <Fiona@Cantifix.co.uk>
17 Sept – DAY 2 SYMPOSIUM (1.00 – 4.30, 5.00 – 7.00)
VINCENT SUITE + Café
DAY 1: 16 September 2013.
The Photon Project: Pioneering Healthy Living through Light.
Presented by Charlie Sharman, MD Cantifix and Brent Richards,
Director, Transpolis Global.
10.00-11.00: Living Under Glass: Presenting the Photon
Research at Oxford University. Present the project and future plans. Purpose of Symposium is to discuss the design implications of light in relation the living environment- and future policy making e.g. space light standards, RIBA lobbying for light space factors to be included in design of future housing.
Press Q & A with Brent Richards and Charlie Sharman.
Theme 1: Daylight + Health & Well Being
Moderator: Paul Finch, Deputy Chair of the Design Council UK
1.40 – 1.45 KEYNOTE INTRO: Paul Finch; Deputy Chair of Design
Council Editorial Director Architects Journal. ON HEALTH &
(1) 1.45 – 2.05: Research into Human Factors within Health &
Wellbeing (title to follow)
Prof Dr Steve Lockley
Harvard Medical School Boston USA
(2) 2.05 – 2.25: On Crowd-sourcing Grand Designs Solutions (Final Title to follow)
Mike Roberts: CEO HAB Housing (Kevin McCloud, MD, Grand Designs)
(3) 2.25 – 2.45: On Human Interaction and the Importance of Light
(Final Title to follow)
Prof Dr Marilyne Andersen
EPFL Lausanne Switzerland
Break & Refreshments.
Theme 2 – Daylight + Science & Technology
(4) 3.30 – 3.50: On The Technology of Glass (Final title to follow)
Tim MacFarlane : Glass UK
(5) 3.50 – 3.10: On Nanotechnology and Glass (Final title to follow)
Dr Martin Kemp : NanoKTN
(6) 4.10 – 4.30 On Developing light with space in the building industry. Carbon neutral housing and applications for integrated sustainability. (Final title to follow)
Paul Hicks: Velux GB
Round Table: Health and Science – the facts, the technology, the ideas and the potential.
4.45 – 5.45 All Presenters Chaired by Paul Finch
5.45 – 6.15 Q&A + Summary for Day 1 Symposium
DAY 2 ~ 17th September
NO PRESS ON THIS DAY- for a broader design audience.
Theme 3 – Daylight + Architecture & Design
Moderator : Paul Finch
1.00-1.15 Intro: The Photon Project: Implications for all types of design, the Plans and the Potential.
Charlie Sharman : MD Cantifix & Brent Richards, Transpolis.
(7) 1.15 – 1.35 On the architecture of light (Final title to follow)
(8) 1.35 – 1.55 On making better architecture. (Final title to follow)
Dikon Robinson CEO
Living Architecture http://www.living-architecture.co.uk/
(9) 1.55 – 2.25 The Science of Design
Chief Design Officer /Senior Vice President Philips
20 mins: Break and refreshments
MAIN SYMPOSIUM Round Table: How can Design facilitate Science?
(Recommended for editorial press)
(x 9 no. participants)
2.30 – 4.00
– All Presenters + Chair Paul Finch
– Rebecca Roberts-Hughes: RIBA Policy Unit
– Mike Roberts: HAB Housing
– Prof Dr Marilyne: Andersen EPFL
– Brent Richards : Transpolis Global
– Charlie Sharman : Cantifix
– Dr Heather Berlin*: Cognitive Scientist
– Prof. Debra Skene*: Center for Chronobiology
– Danny Lane: American Glass Artist based in UK
(NB:* Roundtable participants to be confirmed)
4.00 – 4.30 Q&A
4.30: Summary of both days.
5.00 – End of Photon Symposium
Mingle in the Building Centre Exhibition Area.
Here’s a little piece of technology that can change our lives, depending on how we choose to use it. Paraimpu is a new social tool that connects Objects with the Web so that you can control physical objects via social media messages such as turning your lights off and on with Twitter, or share data from objects with via the web, such as medical data. Paraimpu basically allows users to connect physical and virtual things to the Web: real objects, Arduino boards, sensors, entertainment appliances etc. It also can connect existing social networks, APIs, software applications, and services on the Web too. Basically everything that “speaks” HTTP.
This is an amazing piece of tech, that could be the next big step in getting the Interweb off our computer screens and into any number of more natural interfaces, in the home and out.
Paraimpu provides a palette of precongured settings so that users can connect their objects to the system with zero or minimal configuration.
It can also let objects ‘speak’ to other despite their different natures: for example, you can connect a set of environmental sensors so that it publishes its data live on facebook, or you can control a motor in real-time via the web. Great for mining or other industries where safety is a high risk factor.
Friends can connect their apartment appliances such as ambient lighting to Twitter so that the lights change when my friend tweets the right instructions. There are of course any number of more practical applications: If I connect a CO2 Sensor I can reduce emissions on a motor for example.
Paraimpu is also social: users can share their objects with other people/friends setting a policy for each owned thing: private, public, moderated, etc. This means that I can share an save money by gaining access to data I would normally have to pay for. The mind boggles.
“If you are committed to serve, there is always endless opportunity.”
Here are some notes we used in China on turning risk into value.
The reality: Resources- both material and human – come at an increasing cost. Which makes business more and more risky – financially, environmentally, and socially. At the same time, customers are going “back to basics”. They are claiming the service, that has been stripped away by mass production. Once again they are demanding value in exchange for buying a product. Consequently, two different economies are emerging. The thriving and the struggling.
A shared brand vision for better business.
Successful global companies know who they are first and foremost. They have a 2020 vision, and a roadmap of how to get there. A clearly defined 2020 brand vision will help your business rise above product category, economic downturn and consumer trends. Successful companies can survive change because they are designing change. This means asking the right questions at the right time: How do you want to serve people and society? What are the needs of the people who make up your business?
At Imaginary Life, we see brands as partnership platforms. Branding engages people in a shared vision; people at the company, partners in the value chain, end consumers, and even competitors. Imaginary Life designs global communications platforms for people to engage in and share your company’s brand vision.
The companies who are keeping quiet about sustainability fall into two categories: the ones who know what they are doing, and the ones who don’t. Denial ain’t a river in Egypt, as they say in Cairo. Our oceans are dying, our air changing, and our forests and grasslands turning to deserts. From fish and plants to wildlife to human beings, we are killing the planet that sustains us, and fast.
But telling this to business people is like showing a smoker a slice of a cancer infected lung. It just doesn’t work. No matter how eco-conscious the person is- the catastrophe scenario is just too much to take on, emotionally, and viably. And quite frankly- isn’t it up to our governments and politicians to sort out this mess? The UN treaty on climate change — our best hope for action — expires next year. As it looks like, the US corporate-nation-democracy will not take the lead – leaving every other nation on the fence? We suspect not. But let’s stick to business for now.
Forward looking companies realize that drastic change in legislation is inevitable, and are already quietly working towards a 2015 change in legislation that will exceed any CSR law being mentioned today. Far beyond the blanket calls for lower carbon emissions and the carbon payoffs, a cradle to grave product life-cycle responsibility is almost certain to put many successful companies today exactly there: in the cradle if not the grave.
We are working on a total integration process that we call the Power of X with our friends at Boy’s Don’t Cry. On the highest level, its a cross-disciplinary approach that everyone talks about, but its also a fractal model that can be easily understood and used for every meeting to extract the specialized knowledge and needs of each attendee user, that is fast to facilitate and synthesize into the overall process. It’s about asking the right questions at the right time, and reinterpreting those questions as the project becomes more informed with time. We have started to use this process on ourselves, together with our network partners such as Storylab, and are developing it even further into a user manual.