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Issue 243
July/August 2007
The Point of Return

Reviews

Building a Future
by

issue cover 243

Cover: Stacked Oak, by Andy Goldsworthy, using branches left over from locally felled trees Courtesy: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

 

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Green Books

Building a Future

A View to the Future: JT Group – A Radical Approach to Building and Development Roland Adburgham Redcliffe Press Ltd, UK, 2006, £14.95

JT DESIGN BUILD was set up by John Pontin and Tim Organ, in 1960 to pioneer a new approach to construction. The concept of one company containing all the construction professions and these working as a team might seem unremarkable now but in the 1960s it was nothing short of revolutionary in an industry beset with bad practice. JT were responsible for many groundbreaking projects in Bristol, from housing at High Kingsdown that still inspires thirty years on, to Arnolfini arts centre and Watershed Media Centre.

So far this is only of interest to Bristolians and students of the modern history of British construction. Of more interest is that JT Design Build were possibly the first construction company in the UK to publish their own guide to green construction, Going Green, in 1992. Now, as JT Group they only project-manage socially and environmentally responsible initiatives, from Under the Sky, which initiates and implements urban renewal projects, to Bordeaux Quay, an organic and carbon-neutral waterfront restaurant, to restoring an old mill for the inspiring Chew Magna zero waste project.

However, what will really interest readers of Resurgence is not the main theme of the book, but the motivation of one of the founders of JT Group, John Pontin, OBE, who has been a

quiet – even backstage – but nevertheless huge influence in the emerging ecology movement.

From humble beginnings himself, Pontin has never forgotten his responsibilities either to the less fortunate or to the wider environment, and he has used his business and financial skills to look after both. As Chair of Dartington Hall Trust he was an instigator in the establishment of Schumacher College at Dartington. As a council member and more recently as Vice-President of the Schumacher Society he has helped steer that organisation through the last twenty-seven years, from the beginning of the Bristol Schumacher Lectures to the establishment of the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems. It was Pontin who introduced to the UK Karl-Henrik Robèrt and The Natural Step, which has had a huge influence on corporate environmental responsibility.

What is missing from the book is any mention of the latest project, The Converging World (see page 10). This may yet prove to be Pontin’s greatest legacy. An international carbon-reduction and

community-linking scheme, it will require every skill Pontin has acquired along the way; but it will be some time yet before it is possible to write its history.

Since A View to the Future was

commissioned by JT Group as a historical record of the company, there is the danger that it is ‘history as told by the victors’; but there is no sense in which this is the case. It will fill in numerous gaps in an understanding of the recent development of Bristol and the emerging Bristol ecocity on which the JT Group has been extraordinarily influential.

Richard St. George is on the council of the UK Schumacher Society.

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