Sustainability remains one of the design world’s biggest buzzwords. During Milan Design Week, visitors will find works exploring fresh solutions for a sustainable industry. One of the most promising trends is the idea of giving a second life to materials that are often ignored or discarded, creating something wholly original in the process.
De Natura Fossilium by Studio Formafantasma
Forget plastic; some designers are elevating the natural materials others wouldn’t think to use.
De Natura Fossilium (2014) by Studio Formafantasma is a captivating collection of objects made from volcanic matter collected on the slopes of Mt Etna, Europe’s tallest volcano. Through a process of melting, the studio repurposed volcanic rocks to create tables, clocks, glass vases, and even textiles woven from volcanic fibres.
Marine Light (2013), a lighting collection by Israeli designer Nir Meiri, used seaweed (applied while still fresh to a thin metal frame) to build lampshades. This delicate material, as thin as tissue paper, offers a warm green glow and a richly textured surface.
Marine Light by Niri Meri © Shay Ben Efrayim
Inspired by Shanghai art deco, Studio Swine created Hair Highway (2014), a stunning product range apparently made of tortoiseshell, but actually made from human hair preserved in resin. The designers point out that, with a rising global population, human hair is one of few sustainable materials because it is increasing rather than depleting.
Hair Highway by Studio Swine
Waste not, want not
The Alfi Collection, designed by Jasper Morrison for Emco
One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and throwaways have become a fertile source of inspiration.
Marjan van Aubel, winner of the Swarovski Emerging Talent Medal 2015, used discarded wood shavings to create The Well Proven Chair (2012) in partnership with designer Jamie Shaw. By gathering shavings from a wood processing plant, the pair invented a ‘porridge like’ mixture of resin and shavings that would ‘prove’ (like bread) into a chair mould.
Related: 5 questions for Marjan van Aubel
And it’s not just emerging designers that are pushing the boundaries, it’s big manufacturers too; for instance Emeco’s 2015 Alfi chair collection, designed by Jasper Morrison, has seats made of 100% reclaimed post-industrial waste – 92.5% polypropylene and 7.5% wood fibre.
Orrizontale: preparation for the 8 1/2 mobile theatre, Piazza Boetti, Rome
Architects are also using ‘junk’ to create sensational work. Orizzontale is a Roman collective that engage in ‘reactivation processes involving urban scrap.’ Their 2014 mobile theatre ‘8 ½’ for Piazza Boetti included a huge wall made entirely of old beer kegs turned into light bulbs.
Move on up
Upcycle House by Lendager Arkitekter
Upcycling – improving and beautifying discarded materials – is on the rise. For instance, US-based Oxguts’ collection of loungers, stools, rugs and accessories is giving a second life to ‘retired’ fire hoses salvaged from American fire departments. In Italy, meanwhile, Manoteca is a company creating desks from 19th century, solid-chestnut doors which even retain their original hinges and latches. Both products exemplify how upcycling can honour the history inherent in vintage materials.
Upcycle House by Lendager Arkitekter
But what if upcycling could be scaled to create entire buildings? That is the mission behind Upcycle House (2013) by Danish architecture firm Lendager Arkitekter, which proved a recycled home can be both environmentally-conscious and beautiful. The loadbearing structure of the house is made from disused shipping containers, the roof and facade are clad in recycled aluminium soda-cans, and the kitchen floor is tiled with champagne cork-leftovers. Overall carbon-emissions associated with housebuilding were reduced by 86%.