1 year
Reduce carbon footprint, sustainable exhibition design


A Workshop for Exhibition Making and Unmaking led by common-interest with support from Pro Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council   How is the practice of exhibiting – be that of art, design, history, or science – fundamentally implicated in the imminent threats of climate change? And, conversely, how can exhibition-making help us attain political momentum and agency around ecology? How can it support communities fighting on the frontline of climate change who are leading the way in safeguarding our collective future? These are the fundamental questions that prompted the start of a workshop for exhibition making and unmaking at the heart of DAS. Srijan-Abartan is a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research project aimed at developing new tools and methodologies for creating culturally rooted, ecologically sustainable, and socially responsible exhibition displays. Its international team consists of artists, designers, researchers, architects, engineers, exhibition-makers, curators, and producers from Bangladesh, Switzerland and beyond. They work alongside to discuss, problematise, envision, conceive, conceptualise exhibition displays, and support structures that take sustainability as their core concern. The generated design strategies and solutions developed collaboratively make up the exhibition design for the DAS 2020. Nodding to the summit’s impetus of igniting a movement beyond the confines of an art exhibition, Srijan-Abartan’s process, methodology, and learning outcomes will be compiled and shared in the form of open access research. The goal is to provide thinking tools to help others also to start reimagining exhibition-making as a practice of resistance that strives for more just and sustainable forms of living. Background Often referred to as the ‘ground zero’ for climate change, Bangladesh has long been trailblazing innovative strategies to adapt to threats such as rising sea level, water-logged land, and increased salinity. Ecology and sustainability are core concerns for DAS which happens bi-annually at the Shilpakala Academy. Dr. Huraera Jabeen, a core member of Srijan-Abartan, assessed the environmental impact of DAS 2018 utilising the Equity Share Approach. The aim is to create a baseline to determine the upcoming DAS 2020. The operational process will follow PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Based on the information received on materials, venue design, communication materials produced, estimated waste generated, and energy usage, the estimated total emission for DAS 2018 comes to 18043 tons of CO2 emission. Which is equivalent to:
  • An average car could be driven for 80.02 years non-stop
  • A 747 could fly for 23.73 days non-stop
  • Taking 3,538 cars off the road for a year
  • Producing 1,357 tons of Beef
  • A 42-inch LCD TV could be used for 12,334 years continuously
The assessment points to multiple strategies that can be used to reduce the negative ecological effects of DAS 2020, for example: Venue design accounts for about 77% of the emission. Use of particleboards with timber frames forms 58% of the 77%. Although they are assumed to be reused by vendors, management of them as waste accounts for almost 14% of the emission. Additional new surfaces also require additional paint. Therefore, CO2 emission can be significantly reduced intelligently through venue design. One possible way could be to use the existing spaces and infrastructure of the building, rather than creating new temporary structures that cannot be reused or recycled multiple times. Plastic films used for printing communication accounts for 15% of the total emission and they have no options of recycling or reusing and ends up fully as waste. Paper-based publications for communication forms 0.03% emission production and 0.09% for managing as waste. Consideration can be given how to reduce waste, especially for communication. Waste management accounts for around 20% of the emission. Food and water waste accounts for 6% of emission. Vendors running food stalls can be given recommendations to reduce waste as much as possible. About 0.02% of emission results from electricity usage for lights and air conditioning. Considerations can be given to make spaces less environmentally controlled if not needed. Process Srijan-Abartan officially started in February 2019, when the Bangladeshi and international participants met in Dhaka for the first time. They visited museums, galleries, cultural sites, monuments, artist studios, factories, workshops, and more. In the process, they spent time together and slowly started to get acquainted with each other. At the end of the eight-day visit, the team agreed on a working structure: the project’s core members would assemble again in Switzerland to conduct an intense schematic design workshop. At that point, the team started collectively brainstorming the project’s name, and unanimously agreed it should be formulated in Bangla. ‘Srijan-Abartan’ in English means creation and revolution/rotation, speaking to the idea of creating something new using existing structures with negligible changes. In other words, why not see the Bangladesh Shilpakala Building for its potential rather than its shortcomings, and enhance the existing building with local materials and know-how, reducing waste and bettering the building for future exhibitions? The resulting plan would be subsequently developed by the Bangladeshi team, with the international participants regularly following up on the process to provide alternative perspectives, thoughts, and ideas on the design. Methodology The schematic codesign workshop took place in Basel in April 2019. The local participants hosted the Bangladeshi participants, which helped strengthen bonds between the group. Each workshop day started with a collective breakfast, also meant to foster an informal space of togetherness. Through different group dynamics, participants shared references, thoughts, and perspectives around display practices and discussed strategies to challenge the so-called ‘white cube’. Inteza Shariar shared samples of local recyclable, biodegradable, and alternative materials that could be used to build up temporary exhibition displays, for example bamboo, mud, coconut straws, canes, hogla leaves, recycled board and corrugated boards, jute, coconut ropes, fishing net ropes, cotton ropes, and etc. Considering the widespread vernacular usage of such materials, Shariar stressed the importance of ‘tweaking’ those elements so that they do not appear ordinary or banal to local audiences. The team worked with a 1:50 scale model of the Shilpakala Academy, which could be stacked and unstacked to reveal the different floors, and levels of the building. The model helped the participants to analyse the spatial opportunities of the Shilpakala Academy and provided a common ground for discussions. Participants were able to intuitively place the artworks that had been confirmed up to that point, which were also rendered as scale models. The set-up ultimately allowed for team members to play different roles, for example, for the curator to act as an architect or exhibition designer and vice-versa. The process eventually led to the sketching of different schematic solutions, which were discussed and consolidated into one plan. The schematic design is currently being developed, refined, tested. It is supplemented by the set of guidelines overleaf, which were also generated by the group. Guidelines
  • Approach environmental impact holistically Take into account other types of sustainability alongside environmental (i.e. social, cultural, economic, etc.)
  • Design for the experiences of the local audiences instead of those of international audiences (i.e. privilege the use of local language, local script, and local artists/practices/works) In case the minimised displays generate any savings, these should be re-allocated into wages (first local wages and secondly into international wages) Work with the building, instead of against it 
  • Minimise material resources by building as little as possible (new walls or structures should be absolutely necessary and sized to support a given set of artworks and not more than that)
  • Place artworks site-specifically where the building already provides the best support (i.e. artworks that require darkness should be allocated to windowless rooms, artworks that require climate control should be placed in rooms with pre-existing air-conditioning, artworks that require security should be allocated to enclosed galleries, etc.)
  • Harness natural light whenever possible (new lights should be added only when absolutely necessary, opt for LED tubes as night lights, and few intentional dramatic/spotlights)
  • Make use of natural ventilation and avoid the use of air-conditioning whenever possible (i.e. AC rooms should be used only for artworks that require climate control or museum conditions)
  • Minimise, recycle, reuse
  • Opt for reusable or recyclable materials whenever possible
  • Opt for sea freight over air freight whenever possible
  • Opt for local labor, local materials, and local modes of production/fabrication whenever possible
  • Minimise size, page count, and print runs for publications, whenever possible
  • Opt for sustainable curatorial strategies
  • When selecting and sorting works and planning their transportation, fabrication and building logistics
  • For example, by opting to produce new commissioned works on-site using local materials and local labor
  • For example, by planning ahead so that there are less energy consumption and human stress
  • Address actual impact rather than aesthetics of ecology
  • Avoid ‘greenwashing’ or ‘symbolic environmental’ moves such as mock/fake usage of natural materials, or using natural materials in an unsustainable way
  • Improve the building as a lasting collective resource
  • Clean, fix, restore, renovate and upgrade existing structures whenever possible; their reuse is also a contribution for future sustainability
  • Strip back unnecessary and redundant past constructions whenever that improves the building usability for the future (i.e. in terms of circulation, spatial experience or aesthetics)