Design, fashion, ceramics, architecture and the likes can have a large impact on the environment, ranging from the materials used, to the manufacturing and disposal of such materials. However, there are many artists, designers and architects who are taking a stand by making their work more circular or sustainable through the use of novel materials. In this piece, we look at a few of our favourites.
Sara Howard is an award-winning London-based ceramic designer and materials researcher. For her final year at Central Saint Martins, she explored how one could reclaim industrial waste to replace raw materials in ceramic production.
Circular Ceramics is an elegant tableware collection made entirely from reclaimed industrial waste materials. Typically, ceramic production is a very wasteful process, with 9 tonnes of waste produced for every tonne of clay quarried. Furthermore, the raw materials that are normally used for ceramics are finite and becoming increasingly scarce, with some materials like tin and zinc having only 6 years of extraction left. It is in this context that Howard decided to research how ceramicists could use sustainable materials instead of raw or freshly mined materials for their work.
Following the principles of the circular economy, Howard liaised with a variety of manufacturers from different industries which all consume and waste the same materials as the ceramics industry. Using their waste by-products, she was able to create tableware using industrial glass, stone, construction and ceramic waste which she reclaimed for free.
To find out more about reclaiming, processing and substituting waste materials for ceramic production, we recommend buying her book The Circular Ceramics.
Roya Aghighi is a Canadian-Iranian designer who has worked in collaboration with the University of British Colombia and Emily Carr University to produce garments that tackle the unsustainability of fashion and air pollution.
Her beautiful clothes challenge everything we understand about fashion. Made from single-cell green algae, her pieces are living organisms that photosynthesise, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. This means that the wearer's surroundings would be purified, thereby improving their own environment. Worn by many, these garments could even help regulate carbon emissions.
The way that we wear and care for our clothes would also be turned on its head; these garments would need to be exposed to sunlight and sprayed with water once a week. In some respects, these pieces are like caring for a plant rather than caring for clothing. Interestingly, Aghighi explains that we would form emotional attachments to these clothes because of their living state.
Sadly (for us!) the pieces last about a month, but can then be composted. This means they do not contribute to the masses of waste that the fashion industry produces.
A bio-based temporary pavilion designed by Pascal Leboucq (Company New Heroes), in partnership with Erik Klarenbeek (Klarenbeek & Dros), stood proudly at the Dutch Design Week in 2019. It's an incredible piece of work, not only with regard to its structure but also because the space was used to create dialogue around the climate crisis using other bio-based designers' work inside to help spread awareness.
The outer layer of the pavilion is made from mycelium - mushroom root - and covered with a bio-based coating from Mexico, originally developed by the Inca people. The floors of the pavilion were made from cattail, a type of reed, and interior and exterior benches from agricultural waste. Inside the space, other bio-based products were on display, including furniture made from horse manure by Martijn Straatman, clothes made from mycelium, and kombucha and algae by Aniela Hoitink.
In order to really engage people, they made a material atlas to educate the public on bio-based alternatives, and they harvested edible oyster mushrooms which grew from mycelium daily.
Architect duo Brimet Silva and Ana Fonseca from Digitalab have created beautiful furniture, lighting, textile and accessories by transforming cork into thread.
This fabric, which uses the under-explored material cork, can be used as an alternative to less sustainable materials like plastic. To make the thread, they inject water into cork pellets, causing them to expand whilst the water bonds with the cork's resin. The mixture is then pressed with a layer of cotton to make a thin sheet, and is then washed to increase flexibility. Interestingly, the cork they used is even more sustainable than typical manufactured cork because they use the branches instead of the bark.
We especially love their lamp which is woven into a beautiful mathematical structure. The duo won the rising star award at Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2019.