Robert L. Peters

19 June 2010

Apologies are in order…




Winnipeg, Canada

All this week, hundreds of Indian Residential School survivors, together with Aboriginal leaders, church groups, government representatives, and members of the public gathered locally at The Forks for the opening ceremonies of the first National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Former students and others whose lives have been fundamentally impacted by the residential schools system have come together to talk with each other and to share their experiences with the Commission. Included in those heart-wrenching conversations are the voices of former staff and other school workers who have been contacted and encouraged to come forward.

This national event (the first of seven to be held across Canada over the next five years), is of great importance for non-aboriginal Canadians who may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the schools directly, but who have everything to gain from understanding what actually happened at them. It has drawn together thousands to participate in cultural exhibitions by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit groups, film screenings, plays, art exhibits, and musical performances.

Word clouds: I thought it would be interesting to use Wordle as a tool to compare several different apologies (and the various vocabularies deployed) regarding Aboriginal survivors of residential schools.* Wordle gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in a selected source text. The top image represents the formal apology given in the House of Commons by the Canadian Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Canada on 11 June 2008. The middle image represents the historic formal apology given to the Aboriginal people of Australia by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of its parliament and government on 12 February 2008. The bottom image represents the English version of the apology of the Anglican Church of Canada to Native People as delivered by the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, to the National Native Convocation in Minaki, Ontario on 6 August 1993.

*Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.

18 June 2010

A place under the sun, naturally…




The woods of Eastern Manitoba, Canada

In December 1973, at the age of 19, I stepped off a plane into the bitterly cold darkness in Winnipeg, Canada—the temperature was below -30 degrees, cold enough to freeze your breath. While driving across the flat, frozen prairie the next day I experienced the incredible power of the sun beating down from an impossibly clear blue sky—this seeming contradiction between hot and cold made an unforgettable impression on me.

In the following months, I was amazed to discover that almost no-one was building solar-heated structures in this part of the world, seemingly missing the obvious connection between predictable need (for warmth every winter) and ongoing opportunity (a sustainable, clean, endless source of free energy). An AOPEC oil embargo and “energy crisis” was in full swing, the price of fossil fuels was soaring, and futurists were predicting dire consequences for our planet if wasteful consumer attitudes and habits were not curbed. Having been exposed to recent eco-activism in Germany by the precursor to today’s Greens (their efforts to mitigate acid rain and pollution in particular) and seeing how environmental consciousness was gathering momentum in North America as well, it was clear to me that new solutions were called for.

I had been raised and schooled in densely populated urban environments in Germany in Switzerland (accustomed to overcast grey winter skies and smog), followed by a rain-soaked year of college in the U.K.—where I had met my future wife (a small-town girl from the Canadian prairies), ultimately the reason for my leaving Europe.

I had always loved the outdoors and nature, though growing up in cities, this mostly meant visiting groomed parks, weekend bike rides along paved trails, and family camping in summertime (albeit in crowded campgrounds only meters away from the next vacationers). Arriving in the Canadian west, I had landed in a vast frontier, on the very doorstep of untrammeled natural wilderness. Manitoba (a province seven times the size of Portugal but with a human population of just over a million) offered endless virgin forestland and more than 100,000 unspoiled freshwater lakes.

Nature quickly became a dominant force in my life. My wife’s brother, an avid outdoorsman, bow-hunter, and professional taxidermist, taught me survival skills and how to hunt and fish. I bought a canoe, and began “living for the weekends,” spending every available opportunity exploring what Nature had to offer and immersing myself in the compelling quietude that lay beyond where the roads ended. I photographed the four seasons, painted landscapes, illustrated wildlife, and soaked in whatever literature on natural history and ecology I could lay my hands on.

During the next few years, a clear plan took shape. I was passionate about conservation and environmental ethics, and committed to living as simply and sustainably as possible. I dreamed of living in the woods and in close harmony with nature. Having observed how poorly conventional Canadian housing performed given the dramatic seasonal temperature changes (with minimal insulation, therefore requiring constant heating in winter and air-conditioning in summer) I was convinced that low-energy solutions were critical. And of course, the ongoing opportunity of a free solar heat source was just too compelling to pass up.

My own limited financial means, in concert with discouraging conversations with local architects and builders (who mostly expressed resistance to new ideas) made it clear to me that designing and building a sustainable home would become a “do-it-yourself” project. The fact that I was insomniac at the time offered the opportunity for night-time reading, research, and planning. I undertook an extensive literature search of solar and “vernacular” architecture (this was 20 years before Google searches), and I attended meetings of the Solar Energy Society (mostly nerdy engineers enamored with active solar collection and distribution systems). I hungrily absorbed research results from whatever experimental housing was taking place (e.g. the Saskatchewan Conservation House built in 1977 had achieved a 90% energy-use reduction, which I found particularly inspiring). I volunteered my time to help build a few barns, and through this hands-on process, learned basic construction techniques.

In 1979, the opportunity to buy 40 acres (approximately 20 mid-sized soccer fields) of virgin woodland just off the edge of the prairie presented itself—heavily forested sand and gravel ridges that had once comprised the shores of ancient Lake Agassiz, a massive body of water that covered much of western Canada after the glaciers of the last ice age receded. During the first fall and winter, my wife and I carefully cut trees for a road and small clearing. At sunny noon on 21 December (the winter solstice) I sat in the snow in the exact spot where Solace House would later be built, and observed with joy that the sun-angles (over the tops of the deciduous trees) were exactly as predicted. (I should note here that this is not “rocket science.” Thanks to the 23.5 ° tilt of the earth’s axis, the total difference in sun angle for any location on earth during a one-year period is 47 °—a fact taken into account by humans designing solar-power-enhanced shelter for thousands of years).

Building materials were delivered to the wooded site when the snow melted in late April 1980, and thanks to Herculean efforts, my wife and I (often aided on weekends by enthusiastic friends and extended family members) had completed the enclosed structure by July—though putting in windows, building staircases, installing plumbing and electrical, and finishing the interior would stretch out for more than another year.

I have now spent nearly 30 years living here in the woods in the low-energy, passive solar house I designed and built. The energy-saving efforts invested paid off very quickly, as the well-sealed and heavily insulated home is comfortable year-round and requires only about 15% of the annual energy needs of a conventional Canadian home—in fact, the home is so efficient, that no natural gas, oil-powered, or electrical furnace is required for space heating!

I still derive great joy sitting on the warm concrete lower-level floor in the bright sunshine of a clear, -35-degree day. Living here has gone a long way to fulfilling my goals of being close to nature, living simply, acting wisely, and sharing with others—and I’m pleased to say that many other conservation homes and passive-solar-heated homes have been inspired by my little housing/living experiment.

+  +  +  +  +

I recently wrote and illustrated this article for EASI magazine (published by Escola das Artes | Som e Imagem, Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Porto). I’m sharing the piece here in the interest of promoting sustainable living and the use of passive solar architectural practices.

View or download an enlarged PDF (2.8 MB) of the three illustrated pages above (with much clearer callouts and annotations) by clicking on any one of the images, or here.

I welcome comments and feedback—please contact me here.

17 June 2010

Flashback | 1957


A mashup of category rulers… (image found here).

16 June 2010

It’s that kind of a day…


(image source unknown)

14 June 2010

Peters appointed as INDIGO Ambassador


Montreal, Canada

INDIGO, the International Indigenous Design Network, is proud to announce that Robert L. Peters has been appointed as an INDIGO ambassador. Rob will bring invaluable design and consulting expertise to INDIGO as well as an extensive international network.

Robert L. Peters, Icograda President 2001-2003, is a designer and principal of Circle, a design consultancy he co-founded in 1976. In addition to practice, he has been actively involved in design education, writing, speaking, advocacy, and professional development for most of his career, including leadership roles within the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), and the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (Icograda).

As Koopman Chair at the School of Art, University of Hartford, Rob worked with Russell Kennedy in 2006 on INDIGO’s inaugural project, MIX06 (Migrant Indigenous Exchange 2006), developed as a collaboration between Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and the University of Hartford in Connecticut, United States.

Rob is active internationally as a consultant and design strategist, policy advisor, writer, juror, and guest lecturer and is based in Winnipeg, Canada.

+  +  +  +  +

INDIGO Ambassadors are individuals committed to creating an awareness of the network, its projects and promoting engagement with designers, stakeholders and the public at large within their communities. INDIGO Ambassadors support the Secretariat in creating a collaborative environment for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. They offer the network local access and insights, help shape projects and initiatives and serve as resources to the network at large.

(reposted from INDIGO news) Photo thanks to Ian McCausland.


13 June 2010

More signs…





(various and sundry sources—peculiar signs give me little shots of happiness…)

12 June 2010

I wish I was in…



This is just one of more than 350 vintage travel posters in an online collection compiled by The Boston Public Library’s Print Department—most date from the 1920s-1940s, the “Golden Age of Travel.” Enjoy the rest here.

“Having a wonderful time—wish you were her…”

11 June 2010

The real nuclear threats…


London, U.K.

As anyone who visits this blog already knows, I hold pacifist views which I am prone to express in posts (as well as fireside conversation, and occasionally street protests) from time to time. I’m also not a fan of the use of nuclear energy in any form, least of all to create bombs and weaponry (as I have posted previously, here, here, and here for example).

That said, it really rankles me to hear the ongoing stream of dishonest and hypocritical rhetoric on this topic emanating from Washington (and Jerusalem, etc.), now leveled at Iran and North Korea—since Iraq can no longer be fingered. Any reasonably objective citizen of our planet can quite clearly see where the real nuclear threats lie. The above illustration (by The Times) underlines graphically, and with little bias (for a change), the real lay of the land as regards current nuclear proliferation.

Thanks to friend Filip Spagnoli for the source.

10 June 2010

Congratulations, Adrian!


Winnipeg, Canada

Here’s a big “thumbs up!” (along with a sizable dose of admiration and respect) for friend and design colleague Adrian J.K. Shum, a graphic designer I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside at Circle for the past five years. Adrian has been honoured with the award of a Kuro Obi Shodan (1st degree black belt) in Kyokushin Karate.

Kyokushin is a style of stand-up, full contact karate, founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama (大山倍達). A very practical method of self defense, Kyokushin emphasizes realistic combat and physical toughness, and it is deeply rooted in the philosophy of self-improvement, discipline, and hard training. Adrian began his Kyokushin training not long after joining our creative team at Circle, and continues to train three to four times a week out of the Guardian Dojo. A milestone achievement, Adrian notes that this is only the beginning… quoting Mas Oyama, “One becomes a beginner after one thousand days of training and an expert after ten thousand days of practice.”

Osu no Seishin—the Spirit of Perseverance!

9 June 2010

Rocketday launches principles…



Victoria, British Columbia

My friend Emrys Damon Miller (in the low-light photo in front of Casa de las Américas in Havana, above) has shared the “work-in-progress” principles behind Rocketday, where he is the Director. These principles are intended to “offer some insight into why and how” the firm operates—they certainly get a thumbs-up from me…

1. Make your contribution an improvement on the whole system. Healthy ecosystems on this planet. Human rights protected. People living with meaning in their lives, and with physical, mental & emotional health. That is what we want to achieve. Each task, each project at the studio should be in alignment with those goals.

2. Don’t rush, but do work hard. Get off society’s treadmill of hyper-fast activity, as it’s not only unhealthy for individuals, it often encourages unsustainable & unhealthy over-production and over-consumption in society at large. Don’t create short-sighted “band-aid” solutions that are inefficient & often wasteful. Don’t rush. However, do work hard. Do focus. There’s a lot we can do for this world, and we choose to do it with some level of intensity. Be active, engaged, always pushing & building your abilities. But find the right pace so it which allows care, strategy, and enjoyment in the act of creating.

3. Go deep. Care about the project, the audience, the team, all involved.

4. Don’t simulate where you can be authentic. Minimize the occasions when simulations are being used instead of the direct authenticity, as society is beginning to forget what is real. For example, be careful when using linoleum with fake wood imagery on its surface as a stand-in for wood. In visual design, this theme of simulation/authenticity comes up with drop-shadows, beveled buttons, fake weathering & texturing, digital fonts mimicking hand-writing. It is healthy for people to remember what is direct and authentic, and what is contrived and deceptive. Feel free to use simulation as a conscious, post-modern gesture, when you’re inviting the audience to notice the simulation (like Sagmeister’s large op-art navigation buttons or Gerhard Richter’s paintings). But when simulation is not consciously part of the piece, don’t simulate where you can be authentic.

5. Be honest. (Variation on authentic.) Be honest with your clients, your colleagues, and your audiences in all your relations — from honest feedback to colleagues, to honest messages in the marketing campaigns we design.

6. Be direct & transparent with cash. Don’t trick customers into paying for a service indirectly. Don’t have stocks & RRSPs that are supporting companies & activities that are not in alignment with your intentions and your vision of a healthy world.

7. Don’t whine / complain. Articulate places you wish could be improved, and then either plan & act on a solution, or accept the situation as-is.

8. Create meaning with your work. There are many ways we can bring meaningful solutions, services & products to people’s lives. Accomplishment. Beauty. Community. Duty. Enlightenment. Freedom. Harmony. Justice. Oneness. Redemption. Security. Truth. Validation. Wonder. Understand and have intention in the meaning your work brings.

9. Think & imagine first, act second. Thinking is something we can do at a capacity beyond other animals. Combining reason, imagination, memory, ethics, and common sense with our intuition is humanity’s privilege — our greatest super-power. And it’s an evolutionary throw-back when we don’t take enough advantage of our capabilities here before action.

10. Explore and acknowledge what you’re doing on a deep level. In graphic design, ask where does the paper we print on come from. How our computers are manufactured. What role graphic design has on society and ecology.

11. Always work to create the best possible solution. This is what progress is. This is how we step forward and grow, and how all parties can feel pride and satisfaction in the work.

12. When you are privileged to do so, consider money second, not first. Try to choose a lifestyle which affords a financial buffer in your life. Then put your focus on creating projects that you enjoy, and that offer value to our world. After you’ve established value, then figure out how the enabling finances will flow.

13. Do not compromise your own health nor your family when working extra hours on graphic design projects. Sometimes the best work comes out of a late, late night, with extra coffee and some loud music. But take care of health and family too!

14. Treat staff, coworkers, clients, collaborators, vendors with generosity. (This includes font designers, software manufacturers, makers of the music we listen to in the studio).

15. Be confident, but try not to be arrogant. Have humility, be open minded, and respect what others contribute. But don’t be shy about what you actually can bring to a team or situation.

16. Work with conflict gracefully. Feel free to get pissed. Know that destruction & vice are both part of life, and participate in both. But don’t hold grudges (for too long). Argue only constructively. Protect yourself from repeat harm, but then forgive & move forward.

17. Learn from others. From books, school, websites, conferences, colleagues. Sometimes the best solutions for a particular need have already been discovered by someone else in the industry.

18. Use innovation. Technology, industry, society — everything in this world is changing. Sometimes the best solutions for a particular need will require some invention, some innovation.

19. Build for maximum longevity & efficiency & effectiveness.

In consumption, we often talk about the three “r”s — reduce, reuse, recycle. A product with a long shelf-life benefits both reduction & reuse, in contrast to products with shorter shelf-lives.

20. Make peace with the fact the universe doesn’t care. Don’t become a fundamentalist, and don’t get too self-righteous. Take on the above 19 principles as the most passionate hobby. Various religions and science don’t give us one clear path — the universe may even be impartial to our actions. Following the above principles are intended to simply be healthier, more aesthetically attractive & ennobled than sloppier alternatives.

« Previous PageNext Page »

© 2002-