The Web of GREENlife

June 1, 2004
Exploring the design choices we make.
Naturalist and writer John Muir once said that "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." This belief that all things on the earth are connected to one another serves as the theme for this year's NeoCon GREENlife exhibit, created by a team of designers at Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates (TVS). The "Web of GREENlife," as the exhibit has been aptly described, provides a visionary setting for the sustainable products and resources on display, an appropriate backdrop to celebrate products, resources, people and education that proactively proclaims that the use of environmentally beneficial processes and materials is an increasingly critical part of the design and manufacturing process.Designers turned to the concepts of biomimicry—innovations inspired by nature—for their own inspiration for the project. A concept championed by biologist Janine Benyus, biomimicry studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems. It is a new way of viewing and valuing nature, one where we do not extract from the natural world, but rather learn from it."We wanted to convey to visitors that they do have an impact in the overall scheme of things. As a new science that studies nature's models to solve human problems, Biomimicry reinforced our global web theme and was a wonderful way to inspire not only our design/thought process for the exhibit, but ultimately those who visited the space," explained Carlie Bullock-Jones, interior designer and sustainable design consultant with TVS. Located on the second floor of the Merchandise Mart, the GREENlife exhibit is a starting point for those attendees seeking sustainable design information and solutions while at NeoCon. It is the headquarters for Interiors & Sources magazine, publisher of the Green Guide to NeoCon and sponsor of the GREENlife exhibit. It is also the home for the U.S. Green Building Council, which will launch at NeoCon the public comment phase of the LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) rating system. Additionally, some manufacturers and suppliers are using the GREENlife exhibit as their primary base for conference activities, while others will use the space to showcase specific products or services.The TVS design team identified three primary goals for the GREENlife exhibit: to inspire, to innovate and to educate."Our goals here were two-fold," said Bullock-Jones. "First, as the NeoCon headquarters for the U.S. Green Building Council, we wanted to illustrate LEED-CI principles throughout the exhibit, specifically including our careful selection of furniture and finishes. In addition, we very much wanted the exhibit space to articulate how sustainable design does not have to compromise aesthetics, nor does it have to look like a 'brown paper bag'," she said. To refute the "dull brown and green colors-only myth" of sustainable design, the TVS team chose bright, vivid colors, what Bullock-Jones describes as a "fire and ice" color theme to reference the fundamentals of nature. "We are ensuring that materials contain recycled content, come from local sources in the Chicago area, and that furniture displayed is GREENguard-certified," she said. "We are also working on defining the area/boundaries of the exhibit space through 'framed' tensile structures—a layering web of material."Graphics will combine inspirational quotes relative to the "web" theme as well as reveal sustainable design strategies articulated into the exhibit design itself.The message the TVS design team hopes that visitors to GREENlife will take away from their visit is one of both opportunity and responsibility."We all play a part in the intricate 'web of life'," Bullock-Jones said. "Consequently the choices we make as designers do have an impact and effect on our natural and built environment. We have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure a healthier, safer environment, thereby enhancing people's lives. We truly hope that a journey through this year's 'Web of GREENlife' will create a 'metamorphosis' effect on its visitors, influencing the intricate web of actions they take tomorrow."The TVS project team working on the GREENlife exhibit included: Carlie Bullock-Jones, interior designer/sustainable design consultant; Kay Wulf, senior associate; Ingrida Martinkus, associate; Steve Clem, architect of record; and Holley Henderson, a senior associate who is no longer affiliated with TVS. The firm has offices in both Chicago, IL, and Atlanta, GA, and has been engaged in planning, architecture and interior design for over 30 years. For nearly a decade, TVS has emphasized issues of sustainable design; its proactive approach focuses on the economic advantages as well as the environmental responsibilities of "green" projects. TVS works to ensure that sustainable practices remain in the forefront of all design solutions via Sustainable Design Business Plans, LEED Accredited Professionals in each market sector, ECO labs (in-house green education programs) and many other initiatives. For more information, visit

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