John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Inspired by the laziness of humans, a Swedish designer built a workspace that runs in part on body heat and movement.
Swedish designer Eddi Törnberg has invented the perfect workspace for the environment and cost-obsessed CEOs. "Unplugged," a thesis project of the graduate of Beckmans College of Design, in Stockholm, allegedly powers its own electronic devices by exploiting the finest qualities of humankind – i.e., we get hot and stomp around a lot.
Törnberg was inspired to create this parasitic furniture after a line from Harriet Beecher Stowe got stuck in his head: "Human nature is above all things lazy." A glum fellow, he believes that "few people in the long term have the will, interest and energy to struggle to achieve a sustainable society." So if we won't work to help the environment, he wondered, why not exploit our sedentary lifestyles to get the job done?
Today's workplace often requires employees to sit like great turnips behind desks all day. Törnberg sees such limited motion as a benefit, and has equipped "Unplugged" with a few unusual means of turning idleness into electrons:
• The "Seebeck Effect": In 1821, German-Estonian physicist Thomas Seebeck found that if you make certain materials warm on one side and cool on the other, the temperature differential generates electricity. The metal seat of this desk's chair gets hot by cozying up to a worker's butt, while the bottom remains chill thanks to a pattern of metal fins. The result: a few extra minutes of laptop life.
• Piezoelectricity: This term refers to electricity formed by pressure. The carpet of "Unplugged" is enriched with crystals that respond to pressure with a little release of power. While you might not walk around a lot at work, it's probable that your feet are constantly shifting and your chair rolling back and forth, tapping into a potential well of ener-fuel.
• Photosynthesis: OK, so this doesn't actually occur with the employee.... not yet, anyway. It's happening in that plant beside the desk, which Törnberg has modified to work a little like a potato battery.
With this array of passive generators, writes the designer, the workspace moves "sustainable design from the realm of demand and effort and makes it into something tailored to our everyday existence." He doesn't specifically say it works, though, or if it does how well and long. In the past, he has built a chair that powers a lamp. Still, even if this workspace experiences blackouts its creator is delving into important matters that we'll have to think hard about in the future, if not immediately. If it helps save energy, posterior power sounds great to me. (H/t to Design Milk.)
All photos courtesy of Eddi Törnberg.