All posts by Christian Duell

I Saw the Sign

If you’ve wandered into our temporary Edge Studio over the last couple of weeks, the first thing you will have seen is this:

At a first glance it might look like any old sign but if you look closely you’ll notice a few differences. It is in fact a moss graffiti, solar-powered LED sign!

“Wow!” (I hear you say).

“How do you create moss graffiti and how does that fantastic colour-changing, solar-powered LED light work?”

They are two very good questions and I will reveal all of my secrets so that you may too create your very own moss graffiti solar-powered LED sign (MGSPLEDS).

Moss Graffiti

I’m the first to admit I am no moss graffiti expert (although I’m happy to say I have met a couple of you lately) and while my failures currently outweigh my successes this is the best recipe that I have come up with so far:

Moss Graffiti Recipe 2.0

  • A few handfuls of moss
  • Half a tub (100g) of natural yoghurt
  • About half a cup of a good yeasty beer (I choose Guinness- great for moss graffiti..not for drinking IMHO!)
  • A teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Two tablespoons of corn syrup (alson known as glucose syrup)
  • I also crushed up a bit of fertilizer (Ozmocote) to give it a little extra grunt

Here’s how it all goes together

Wash as much of the dirt and rocks and stuff away from the back of the moss.

Add the yoghurt

Add the the moss

Test the beer

Add the remaining beer

Add the sugar

Crush some fertilizer and add to the mix (be sure to SERIOUSLY clean your mortal and pestle after this- fertilizer and stomachs don’t mix).

Mix it all together in a blender. Be careful with the corn syrup. Its there to bind everything together however if you use too much (as I have) you’ll end up in a sticky situation (literally). Store it sealed in the fridge until you’re ready to apply it. It should keep for a few days at least.

Making the Sign

Making the sign was trickier than you might think.

Bunnings on a week day is always a treat.

MDF (or custom wood as its also known) is a composite material and is really absorbant, so I had to give it three coats of paint to seal the surface. To transfer the Edge logo to the MDF backing board, I put together a big printed paper version of the Edge logo, stuck it on to the MDF and then traced over it with a ball-point pen, pressing down really hard to leave an imprint of the logo below.

The imprint becomes the outline of where to paint. I then traced over the imprint with a lead pencil to make the outline more visible. Its handy to have an architecture degree at this stage for the set square work, but not essential!

After this I applied the moss graffiti mixture very carefully over the logo. I actually found that using a kitchen butter knife for the fine detail and getting the edges and corners right really helped.

Its also good to do a few coats and try an build up some depth to the mixture so it has a better chance of taking off.

The LED solar-powered light

Connecting the LED colour-changing solar-powered light required a collaborative effort. Mainly because I have only ever soldered guitar parts and tend to get +’s and -‘s mixed up. So, thanks to fellow-Cat Colleen and geek in residence Clinton we managed to hook up our solar panel (12V panel max 1.26 W) to a single LED RGB colour changing light.

We mounted the sign to a temporary wall in the new Edge Studio and the solar panel on the adjacent face of the wall with access to sunlight through the glass. Mounting the sign and lining it up with the light took a bit of dodgy gaffer tape engineering but it eventually came together nicely.

The moss part of the sign has been regularly sprayed (twice a day) with a few water concoctions; one with rice water (left over water from boiled rice) and another with Seasol.

Sadly the sign has been up for a few weeks now and the moss has not been entirely forthcoming. We have a theory that the very dry indoor, air-conditioned environment has prevented the moss mixture from retaining the moisture required to propagate. We’ve since transplanted some real growing moss from the gardens outside and it seems to be holding up pretty well.

Also, the LED light and solar panel have been taken down temporarily as we try to pimp up the LED with a super bright Arduino-programmable alternative courtesy of Markus from NICTA. We’re also trying to hook up a battery so that the solar panel can charge it during the day and the light can run at night.

That’s the story of the sign. Come down to the Edge studio and check it out. I’m sure it will find a place when we’re back in the main building soon. I’ll leave you with a time lapse video I did of the drawing and moss painting phase of the sign:


Hey Queensland..Build it Back Green!

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be a part of Green Cross Australia’s Build it Back Green Queensland workshop.

Build it Back Green is a global movement established by Green Cross in response to the growing impact of natural disasters on communities around the world. With the recent Queensland floods, Green Cross has turned its focus to making sure Queensland is built back better and greener than ever.

The day was structured around a few presentations followed by a collaborative workshop.

One of the key themes that stood out for me from the presentations was the idea of ‘eco-resilience’. In other words, taking the view that intelligent design and development is based on an equal appreciation of sustainability and resilience. This was summed up nicely by one of the speakers, Andrew Zuch from RPS Group. He suggested that the common understanding of resilience as being ‘the power or ability to (urgently) return to original form’ is something that we should carefully re-think:

‘Resilience is not a static thing; just because we survived the last disaster, doesn’t mean we’ll survive the next one. We need to look closely as there may be unseen damage to our communities’.

Another key moment that stood out from the presentations for me was hearing from Stephen Hardy, at BNIM Architects, about his experience leading the rebuilding of the town of Greensburg following Hurricane Katrina.

Greensburg following Hurricane Katrina

Greensburg today

Stephen explained how the total devastation of Greensburg presented a rare opportunity to go beyond plain old carbon-copy restoration to instead rebuilding green. BNIM saw an opportunity to use green design as a catalyst for not only physically re-building the town but also rebuilding its morale and economy.

Stephen’s story really drove home for me the real-life advantages and possibilities that green development offers beyond just a positive environmental impact. Greensburg has created an entire new economy through this green building revolution! This town has developed a unique knowledge-base that is leading the way in the US in terms of green building capacity and infrastructure. The intense outreach that this program undertook by involving the entire community has had a profound effect on empowering individuals with the knowledge to create their own sustainable futures.

Greensburg is a great example of front-end, intelligent planning that is already providing tangible, positive outcomes and will obviously continue to in the future. There is no reason why this same ‘stop, collaborate and listen‘ approach can’t be taken in the sustainable rebuilding of Queensland.

The workshop side of the day explored a bunch of activity streams including residential building, green schools, commercial, government and public exemplar buildings, infrastructure projects and key local areas.

I’ve spent a bit of time working on school projects as an architect and I’m also passionate about  young people leading sustainability and disaster resilience so I joined the green schools group.

Our team explored the question ‘What will a Build it Back Green school look like?’. Our team comprised a broad cross section of individuals, from the private sector, Education Queensland, Council and Government so we came at this question from a range of perspectives.

Could the green school of the future could become a community hub that in times of disaster acts as the central evacuation centre and shelter?

Could the school become that place where young people and the community are trained in sustainability and resilience, not only through formal teaching but passively through the design and artwork environments of the school?

Could the school become the ‘model building’ in the community that demonstrates environmentally sustainable technology and builds the capacity and demand for a green construction industry?

Could the school become an information hub for the community that can be used to exchange knowledge on sustainability and dealing with disaster.

With all the high-level talk of disaster recovery and planning for the future its great to see opportunities like this for individuals to get together, share ideas and make a commitment to making positive changes.

Green Cross Australia is also a supporting partner of the Flood of Ideas initiative being lead by The Edge and The Healthy Waterways Partnership. You may have caught the cover story on mX (above) in Brisbane this week. Flood of Ideas is a unique forum for allowing anyone and everyone to have their say on what shape our future State should take in the context of floods and natural disaster. Through technology and social networking, the role of the individual in driving change has never been more powerful. If you have an idea for flood-proofing Queensland this is your chance to make a difference, so get on the site, share your ideas and join in the conversation of other ideas already uploaded.

Sunshine and Hellicopters

Inspired by a twitter post I read on the Wednesday morning of flood week, I ended up writing a song called ‘Sunshine and Hellicopters’. I feel like this kind of sums up the surreal atmosphere in Brisbane over those few days.

If you’re anything like me you’re still wishing people a happy new year despite the fact that the year is already 7.6% complete. A certain unprecedented flood event has no doubt left us all disoriented and questioning not only where January went but moreso where normal life went?

Obviously most have heard the news that the basement level of the Edge filled up like a fish tank and it’s likely we’ll be off the premises for a little while longer. In the meantime we’re all trying to power on remotely so that we’re ready to return with a bang to the building when it opens again.

So for now I’m going to share a few ideas for returning the brown things in your life back to green, ideas for creating a new kind of South East QLD ‘normal’ and a quick recap on some of the stuff I was working on before the flood.

From brown to green

I don’t claim to be a gardening expert by any means but I seem to be doing a lot of it lately. From what I have garnered through a bit of research the main issues that arise from flooding of plants and gardens is the presence of mud, salt water and bacteria. Here’s some useful online resources I’ve tracked down. Please feel free to share yours in the comments section of this post:

Rebuild and rethink


An overwhelming number of people joined the mud army over the last couple of weeks helping with the immediate flood cleanup. If you still have availability and enthusiasm there are still many places in need:

  • This weekend (29/01) there is a need for volunteers in ESK, Fernvale, Lockyer Waters and surrounds. To help text 0411887926
  • Brisbane Floods Volunteer Community on Facebook
  • Volunteering Queensland

From New Orleans to Brisbane

I stumbled on this recently released book of pro-bono work done by architects in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In the case of Katrina, the widespread destruction of housing and displacement of its residents lead to an unprecedented influx of architects and design thinkers coming together to rebuild the city.

Already in SEQ a similar wave of enthusiasm and optimism is evident in the co-ordinated efforts of groups such as Emergency Architects Australia, The Australian Institute of Architects, and its peak service body Archicentre. Obviously the immediate cleanup, restoration and provision of basic shelter is the key priority right now, but what about the future? Through crisis comes innovation and emerging from this crisis is an opportunity to rethink and adapt SEQ building typologies for future natural disasters as well as rising sea levels.

In conversations I’ve had with other architects and designers over the last two weeks we’ve shared practical as well as fanciful ideas for adapting our existing and new buildings for disaster. In the coming weeks we hope to facilitate an opportunity to bring together ideas in a workshop at the Edge (when it re-opens), to be later published online. Keep an eye on our website to see how this unfolds and please email me if you have ideas or would like to be involved.

Before the flood

Before the mud and the flood I was doing other stuff.

Seed bombs

On the 18 December we held the first seed bombing workshop at the Edge. This was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed getting their hands dirty. With the rain that followed the seed bombs that have been dropped around town are starting to really take off. Check out the interactive google map that is tracking the location and progress of each of our s-bombs and why not get involved by following the step by step instructions for making your own s-bombs? More photos of the seed bombs growing here.

Edge Front Garden

Meanwhile, with more seeds than we could squeeze into a few dozen seed bombs, we decided to turn our empty front planter box into somewhat of a seedling incubator. After setting up a nice DIY self-watering system our little rig was quickly re-located to higher ground just in time to see the planter box under a metre and half of water. Once we can get back into the area we’ll be setting it up again with some panels explaining the different species we’re raising.

Moss Graffiti

After the short-lived QR code on our outside wall (also recently under water), I’ve been experimenting at my place (thanks to my very supportive landlords) with a little space invader. We now have permission to moss graff the Edge wall again, so once we can get back in look forward to seeing some more moss on the wall!

After the flood

I leave you with a clip from one of my favourite Australian songwriters, Jamie Hutchings (of Bluebottle Kiss) and a song that has been rolling around in my head for the last two weeks.

Jamie Hutchings- After the Flood

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Ho ho!

This latest update brings with it a touch of festivity. If you haven’t already been smothered by Christmas cheer I’m here to remind you that the silly season is well and truly upon us. If, like me, you’re already a little overwhelmed (i.e. fed up…) with the constant commercial onslaught of buy! buy! buy! and useless crap that changes hands during this time of year.. there is a ray of hope. You can have a happy Christmas without STUFF! Check out a little group called Life Squared’s free guide called How to Have a Better Xmas. Reduce your environmental hoofprint with a guaranteed better Christmas!

Now on to my my recent Catalyst shenanigans..

Moss Code

While I was in San Francisco earlier in the year I picked up a fantastic little book called The Guerilla Art Kit by Keri Smith. One of the neat little activities in this book is to create Moss Graffiti. We were talking amongst ourselves here at the Edge and Mick told me about an idea he had to design t-shirts with a QR (quick response) code on them that linked to a webpage containing a generic t-shirt design (like the good old Che Guevera face). So.. we thought, why not create Moss Code? That is.. a QR code made of moss that takes users to a webpage explaining the project!

So as a trial, I went out into the jungle and gathered some moss, brought it back to the Edge, cleaned it up, combined it with buttermilk and sugar in the blender and voila; moss paint! With Brett’s help we generated our own QR code and then armed with the horrible smelling moss goo, a ladder and a projector I painted our QR code onto the outside wall of the Edge building. After about 3 hours of painstaking brushwork and countless passerby enquiries the piece was complete. I whipped out my iPhone and to my great delight my QR scanner picked up the code and took me straight to the webpage we had created for the project! Check out all of the photos here.

Sadly, this is where the story ends. In true guerilla style we didn’t exactly go through the right avenues to gain permission to paint onto the side of the building (woops). So Moss Code (Beta) disappeared quicker than you can say ‘quick response’. But the experiment worked and with some proper planning and collaboration between the other Catalysts, we aim to have something bigger and better adorning the walls of our building in the early new year. Stay tuned!

Seed Bomb Workshop Next Saturday 18 December!

Here it is! My first public workshop as a Catalyst!  Ever notice those ugly pockets of your neighbourhood that need some love? This is your chance to paint the town green one seed bomb at a time. With the help of Greening Australia’s Seed Bank we have access to a collection of local native wattle and tea tree seeds to create our own self-propagating plant in a ball. In this one hour workshop you’ll be given all of the ingredients to make your very own seed bombs and you will be asked to drop them into abandoned pockets of your neighbourhood, photograph them and add their location to our shared interactive map. Our plan is to create a greener city and watch these local natives grow both online and in our neighbourhoods. Be a part of the action and book your spot by emailing Places are limited. Just bring yourself and be prepared to get your hands dirty!

Cool stuff

So before I go here’s three things that have entertained me in the last couple of  weeks:

A car that’s grown from seeds (the ultimate seed bomb)

Something something…wikileaks… something…wikileaks…something…Julian Assange…

In celebration of Back to the Future’s 25th anniversary here’s some vintage Crispin Glover (aka. George McFly)..clowny clown clown. Don’t play this to your kids before they go to bed.

Oh and if you want more regular ball by ball action (uggh don’t mention the cricket) of my catalyst and other adventures follow me on twitter.

Over and out.