New Material Award: Design-led research as a driving force for a sustainable future
The International New Materials network, which was founded by Het Nieuwe Instituut, visited the New Material Award's award ceremony during Dutch Design Week 2016. Carole Collet, professor in Design for Sustainable Futures and director Design & Living Systems Lab at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London, wrote an article in response to the New Material Award 2016.
The New Material Award has become that very special treat in the design calendar. It embodies the belief that a design-centric approach to material can lead to innovation and can offer alternative models for sustainability. The open spirit of the competition is evidenced in the wide representation of design practices that includes the brave, the eccentric, the high-tech, the original, the socially-conscious and the unorthodox. This year again, the New Material Award showcases ground breaking and inspirational expanded practices in material design.
Once the remit of engineers and material scientists, the past decade has seen the emergence of a new breed of designers who tackle the world of material design: the researcher as designer or the designer as researcher is a compelling new phenomenon that allows for a new definition of design, one that transcends the common design for production and distribution paradigm. Here designers re-interpret the whole process of design, from conception to consumption. Not contented to script and shape existing materials, they turn alchemists, gardeners, even cooks to transform their tacit understanding of the creative process into new materials. By re-imagining the potential of old and new technologies they challenge current fabrication, production and consumption models. When they explore slow-making versus rapid prototyping, or turn manufacturing into ‘horticulturing’, they tinker with established paradigms of our time. These designers provide new perspectives on the material world as much as they contribute to shaping our future surrounding materiality. They truly represent the visionary and pioneering characteristics of intelligent design so often disguised behind the hype and glamour of the creative industries.
What is striking with the 18 nominees for the 2016 New Material Award, is the diversity of starting points for each of the projects: brine, virtual meshing, mycelium, plastic and textile waste, plant roots, clay, colour fastness, fast fashion, refugee camps, growth and time, flax, prosthetics, and the bespoke. This list shows how versatile, adaptive and responsive designers can be when developing innovative projects. Anything can become the source of an original contribution to design, and to society.
Some of the projects are very much anchored in a day to day reality as the work resonates with very real situations. How can design make a difference to the lives of migrants, to wearing a prosthetic, or to upholding the local traditional production of flax? By targeting and understanding a range of challenges, be they social or individual, these designers embrace tolerance, inclusivity and empathy in their approach. Qualities that can only endorse a more people-focused society, and less of a consumerist system.
Overall, the selected projects evidence an underlying wish to grow a more sustainable future by adopting alternatives ways of thinking and making. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile aspects of being a designer with beliefs in actuating a more sustainable society. Yet, environmental considerations permeate the work of the nominees, who offer different lenses and alternatives ways to use design as a form of eco-activism.
Some propositions that at first appear extreme, are actually inviting us to slow down and to think about longer-term production and consumption patterns. Should we wait for 200 years to grow a chair as suggested by Maarten Baas? Should we design-out product obsolescence by turning aesthetic degradation and wear and tear into a desirable design strategy as proposed by Adrianus Kundert, buro Belen and Studio rENs? By counter-acting established production models, these designers develop new propositions and offer a form of resistance to risk adverse product standardisation.
As I write, the news report on record commercial gains for the so-called ‘Black Friday’, that generates billions of dollars in product sales ahead of the Christmas celebration. According to Greenpeace ‘clothing production has doubled from 2000 to 2014’ a staggering and frightening statistic. Fast fashion and textile waste pose complex and somewhat overwhelming issues, yet design can play a pivotal role in challenging toxic consumption and production patterns. Simone Post and Antoine Peters are amongst designers who attempt such a crucial task, and explore new concepts to recycle cloth or to imbue longevity in garment use.
The shape-forming of materials is a phase in which design intervention can lead to creative outcomes both in terms of product outputs and in terms of processes. A few nominated projects embrace the idea of designing machines, inventing mobile factories or harnessing the modeling capacity of virtual technologies. Whilst Dirk Van der Kooij tinkers with hollow tube technology, Bureau SLA and Overtreders create a mobile plastic recycling plant. The appeal of these proposals rests in the simplicity and the ingenuity of the end-products. With the Virtual Paper project, shape forming becomes a matter of behavior and predictability, where algorithms allow for navigating the virtual and the real, the material and the immaterial. The potential for these ‘machinist’ and ‘algorithmic’ approaches is inspiring and shows that designers can create their own tools to suit their purpose as opposed to make-do with was is available to them.
Tweeking and re-purposing digital tools is another method embraced by designers, a method that the winner of the New Material Award 2016 has deployed to perfection. Oliver Van Herpt’s Functional 3D Printed Ceramics are a testimony to the designers perseverance in fine tuning 3D printing to work in harmony with the material clay and thus enable the production of exquisite, ceramic products with no waste in the production process.
Exploring the tension between the hand-made and the factory-made is the realm of designers. But today, what I call the ‘grow-made’ is also possible. The mycelium research project by Maurizio Montalti continues to push the boundaries of biodesign and provides a concrete alternative to grow local biodegradable and compostable materials and products. Diana Scherer, the New Material Awards 2016 Fellow, trains wheat roots to grow into interconnected subterranean ‘woven’ textiles. Who would have thought even ten years ago that co-designing with organisms such as fungi and plants could revolutionise the way we can fabricate? What is particularly exemplary with the work of Maurizio and Diana is both their ability to engage with well-informed fundamental design research and their ambition to rethink well established production systems. It is that level of experimental and original design research that we need to endorse further in order to promote open and courageous sustainable alternatives. We simply need more designers that can dare dreaming of a better place, and have the skillset to make our wishlist a reality. Let’s never forget that design is about making the world a better place. The Dutch New Material Award acts as a catalyst for such experimental and courageous design and as such has become a beacon for inspirational design research at international level. I am now eagerly waiting to discover the next set of design nominations…
Carole Collet is Professor in Design for Sustainable Futures and Director Design & Living Systems Lab at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London.
International New Materials network
Within the advancing international network of innovation in materials, design and sustainability, a growing number of new collaborative projects is being set up. Examples of international collaborations include working visits by Dutch designers and international activities for the New Material Award. Het Nieuwe Instituut and international partners organize these activities to realize more market expansion in the design field, in so doing contributing to the internationalization of Dutch design practice.
International Materials & Design Network
Alive. Active. Adaptive
Alive. Active. Adaptive. was an international conference organised under the DRS Special Interest Group on Experiential Knowledge (EKSIG) on 19 and 20 June 2017 in Het Nieuwe Instituut. The conference brought together design practitioners, researchers, architects and artists to discuss the future of emerging materials and its implications for design research and practice.
Material Dialogue - Designblok 2016
Three Dutch designers will present their work at the Designblok 2016 in Prague from the 27th to 31st of October. They will also participate in the master class Happy Materials, working together with three Czech designers to engage in a dialogue.
The Materials Farm - FADfest 2016
Het Nieuwe Instituut cooperates with Materfad, materials center and FADfest, the All Design Festival in Barcelona. Within the context of the festival theme "Food, Sustainable Emergency and Design” three Dutch designers, three Spanish and three international designers participate in the program The Materials Farm - agriculture, food and living organisms: a source for new material.
International Materials & Design Network Meeting - Salone del Mobile 2016
During the Salone del Mobile 2016, Het Nieuwe Instituut organised a International Materials & Design Network Meeting about materials innovation, design and sustainability in partnership with Materfad: Materials Centre (Barcelona) and Happy Materials (Prague).