On October 20 the winnners of the New Material Award and the New Material Fellow will be announced during the New Material Award Ceremony. Chief Government Architect Floris Alkemade will announce the winners, on behalf of the jury, the ceremony will be led by Andrea van Pol.
The New Material Award invites Dutch Design Week professionals to the festive award ceremony at het Veem, on Saturday October 20, 16:00.
- New Material Award Ceremony, 16:00, het Veem
- RSVP: newmaterialaward2018.eventbrite.nl
Since the first New Material Award in 2009, this annual prize has been rewarding artists and designers for their contributions to material innovation in the service of ecological and social sustainability. Over the past decade, the prize has proved an important catalyst for innovative design research. Moreover, the New Material Award offers a platform to a generation of designers who dare to ask fundamental questions about industrial production processes and natural growth, waste flows and residual materials. Increasingly often, they do this in collaboration with scientific partners.
These can be confrontational questions, in which the ethics of industrial society and the politics behind environmental policy come under discussion. In the nominated projects, critical research leads to stimulating counter-proposals. With their speculative projects, the designers visualize an alternative, optimistic view of natural resources and the materials of the future.
Material innovation encompasses much more than just the development of completely new materials. Generally, it revolves around a revaluation of raw materials, techniques, or residual products that are currently overlooked by industry as unsuitable for the intended purposes. It is always possible to stretch the valuation – by exploring new possibilities through research, and most importantly without prejudice. From a loaded substance like animal blood, to the bamboo that has been used for centuries; and from the hair that we leave behind at the hairdresser, to the waste glass that, according to established industries, would be impossible to reuse.
Nominees New Material Award 2018
- Agne Kucerenkaite, Ignorance is Bliss
- Alexander Marinus, Hey Jute
- Studio Chris Kabel, Recomposed Bamboo
- Basse Stittgen, Blood Related
- Daria Biryukova, FORZ®Glaze
- Envisions, Wood in Progress
- Ekaterina Semenova, Care for Milk
- Inge Sluijs, Plasma Rock
- Iris de Kievith & Annemarie Piscaer, SerVies
- Studio Klarenbeek & Dros and Atelier Luma, Algae Lab LUMA
- Overtreders W & bureau SLA, People's Pavilion: 100% borrowed
- Sanne Visser, The New Age of Trichology
- Shahar Livne, Lithoplast
- Telesilla Bristogianni & Faidra Oikonomopoulou, Re3-Glass
- Xandra van der Eijk, Future Remnants
Onder voorzitterschap van Lex ter Braak bestaat de jury in 2018 uit Irene Colicchio (sustainability engineer bij DSM), Rianne Makkink (oprichter en directeur Studio Makkink & Bey) en Arnold Tukker (professor afdeling Industriële Ecologie en directeur Centrum voor Milieuwetenschappen aan de Universiteit Leiden).
Text: Gert Staal
An internship in Arita, the heart of the Japanese porcelain industry, triggered Agne Kucerenkaite’s interest in raw materials in this traditional sector. Back in the Netherlands, she came up with the idea of investigating whether metal waste might be an alternative to the virgin metals usually used to make pigments for glazes. After all, no matter how important metals might be in our world, they remain non-renewable raw materials. In addition, the waste from the metal-production process is also highly toxic. But how would she obtain waste metal for her first experiments?
It turned out that the ash from zinc production was a possible source. In the vicinity of an old zinc factory, the ash had been scattered on the streets for years to kill weeds. Hardly anyone was aware of the pollution it had caused for the thousands of surrounding homes until the beginning of this century. A major clean-up operation followed. Next to the factory, however, Kucerenkaite found a shunting yard where a layer of zinc ash still lay. That was the beginning. In subsequent phases, new contacts were made, including with companies that purify soil and water on an industrial scale. There is virtually no application for the metal they capture.
Agne Kucerenkaite subjects the metal waste to various processes. She dries, grinds and sieves it to make pigment for glazes, or – in the case of the non toxic metals found in water – for colouring textiles. She sees the natural colouring process primarily as an opportunity for small businesses, which will hopefully inspire the big producers by their example. For a restaurant in Rotterdam, she made all the tiles by hand, but the short-term goal now is to find a producer able to combine industrial tile manufacture with the hand application glazes based on metal waste. In the meantime, she has forged contacts with London-based Material Driven, Neuni Materio of Shanghai, and other platforms that lend support to emerging design initiatives. New domains for research have already emerged: water purifiers enable access to cellulose from sewage water, and there are also many interesting possibilities for processing electronic waste.
The extremely long bark fibres of the jute plant, which grows mainly in the Bay of Bengal, is systematically torn to pieces in production processes. Only in some hand-knotted carpets does the fibre, which has a natural length of up to 5 m, occasionally prove its unique quality. When Alexander Marinus started his study on jute, the espadrille was his reference point: the shoe with a sole made from jute rope. In other applications too, he noticed, the jute fibre is mainly used ‘behind the scenes’. For example, as a layer in carpets and linoleum, or in potato sacks. His project was therefore not focused on the development of a new material, but on radically changing the perception and the appreciation of this natural fibre in textiles. Simply by finally using the actual properties of the raw jute fibre in its purest state – preferably the light-coloured, thin fibres.
Marinus discovered that the long fibres made the material perfectly suitable for needle felting: the more he crossed it with his self-developed ‘needle instrument’, the more attractive the felt became, eventually acquiring the texture of fur. In addition to the economic significance that high-quality jute production can have for the regions where it is grown and processed, HEYJUTE also seems an appropriate solution in the growing demand for materials that do not require the addition of any chemicals, which grow in a clean way (jute grows in a single rain season and does not require additional irrigation, fertilization or insecticides), and can be re-used.
He did many of the experiments himself, supported lately by artist and felt specialist Marian Verdonk. Together they are taking the first steps towards an industrial production process, although the right formula has yet to be found. Who should deliver the raw material? How should the fibre be removed from the plant? Where will the felt be made? And what specifications should the manufacturing process and the end result meet? Marinus hopes to answer these questions in the coming period. Simultaneously, the properties of the material will also need to be investigated further. The project has meanwhile been brought to the attention of the government in Bangladesh, and the staid jute industry is starting to show interest. “Call me crazy,” says Alexander Marinus, “but jute is the future.”
As consumers, we prefer to look the other way when animals are being slaughtered. According to calculations by the American researcher Timothy Pachirat, a cow is killed every twelve seconds, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in the almost invisible slaughterhouses of the meat industry. This not only yields tonnes of meat for consumption, but also a vast pool of blood. For the slaughterhouses, this is often a relatively worthless waste product, with the exception of pig’s blood, which has all kinds of applications. Basse Stittgen became interested in the complete process of breeding and slaughtering animals, managing to gain access to a small Dutch abattoir. He decided to find a suitable application for the cow’s blood from that single slaughterhouse, in order to provoke a change in our thinking and actions. His application would make consumers aware of the symbolic significance of blood, while at the same time not obscuring the grim reality behind our meat consumption.
Partly helped by a residency at Wageningen University, he has since been experimenting with the production of a bio-based material using cow’s blood. This is first dried and then, without added additives, formed into objects in a heat press. The material is strong yet also fragile, and in contact with water it decomposes into its natural components. Now the search is on for suitable professional tools to scale up the production of the objects. These products may not be related to food, but due to the biomaterial’s incombustibility and other qualities, it can be used in countless other articles. Stittgen also experiments with hemp powders, seeds and fibres, the proteins of which are comparable to those of blood. Even closer to his ambitions surrounding the meat industry is the current research into cultured meat, which could put an end to the slaughter of animals. Should this development succeed in time, this industry will also generate waste products. The designer is already researching the possible use of the lactate produced in cultured-meat manufacture in a completely lab-grown, biodegradable bio-plastic.
Bamboo can, of course, be used because of its decorative qualities. Chinese museums display beautiful examples of a centuries-old bamboo culture, showcasing the mastery with which craftsmen work the material. But Chris Kabel chose a different approach in 2016 when, at the invitation of Shanghai University, he settled down in Anji, the bamboo capital of China. Gradually, he focused his research, conducted with a number of specialized companies in the region, solely on bamboo’s structural characteristics. While the craft industry prefers to produce impressive art pieces, such as a fully decorated, 5-m-high braided buddha, their Dutch guest wanted to return to the essence of the ‘tube material’: its strength.
Bamboo has a favourable ecological footprint compared with steel, aluminum or wood. It grows quickly, binds CO2 and protects the soil against erosion. Kabel is familiar too with the products made by companies like Ikea in China and sold as ‘sustainable’: cutting boards and other household items in which the bamboo fibres are cut and glued. He decided to search for a smarter way of bonding, in which the characteristics of the material are put to better use. Because although bamboo is difficult to safeguard against moisture and fungus, the long fibres that lie mainly along the outside of the stem make the material exceptionally strong. He began to experiment with these parts of the plant. The result was a series of profiles in which only the mechanically strongest parts of the bamboo are glued together, creating an extremely stiff construction material that is stronger than hardwood and almost as strong as steel. The material also boasts a unique aesthetic due to the natural lines in the bamboo. Chris Kabel, who describes himself as ‘naturally lazy’ noted to his satisfaction that it was hardly necessary to determine a shape: the oval, triangular and almost square profiles were provided by the material itself.
In the exchange with his hosts, the designer noticed the difference between his searching, structural approach to a design issue and the attitude of the companies and even the university. Whereas they are mainly interested in immediate success, Kabel sees his creative contribution as the development of a material innovation for the long term. At the same time, he recognizes the strengths of the producers who are able to manufacture fast, and at low cost. To this end, he plans first to scale up the material development, which is still largely done by hand, while making prototypes that amplify the lightness, the aesthetics and the tactility of the profiles. He is seeking industrial, rather than scientific, support in this process.
With her Studio Mixtura, Daria Biryukova offers companies, governments and organizations design solutions for their production methods and waste management. Fighting pollution is a priority. For example, by linking waste processors to production companies in a circular process, Studio Mixtura aims to find new, cleaner alternatives to old, ingrained processing processes for materials. FORZ®Glaze is a striking result of this design approach.
In 2015, Biryukova travelled to Uzbekistan for field research. There, she discovered a special raw material that has been harvested for centuries to make the ceramics typical of the region. A local tumbleweed plant, it is collected by artisans and burned to serve as a basis for their glazes. Currently, the plant is threatened with extinction. Biryukova set out to investigate whether the ash of walnut shells could offer a more sustainable alternative. Because this raw material has to be burned at a high temperature, her search led her to Mineralz (part of Renewi). Mineralz is active in the upcycling of mineral residues into secondary raw materials. The new raw materials are marketed under the brand name FORZ®.
Gradually the focus of the project shifted. Rather than looking for a material to burn specifically to produce glaze, Biryukova started to work with actual combustion residues. This bottom ash has already been used as a substitute material in road construction, but there are hardly any other applications for it. The silica it contains makes bottom ash an important component in the production of the FORZ®Glaze. At this stage, two recipes have already been patented – one for a transparent and one for a matte glaze, with mineral residue composition accounting for 60% of the necessary raw materials.
A specialized laboratory is investigating the environmental effects of glaze production, and food safety is the subject of an additional study. SGS Laboratory has recently approved the glaze as food safe.
Everything indicates that FORZ®Glaze has the potential to become a substitute for the rather expensive ‘frit’, which remains the standard basic glaze material in the ceramics industry. Having started off as a material survey at the level of the traditional craftsman, the project is now on the threshold of a broad industrial application.
With a background in marketing and management, Ekaterina Semenova left Russia to follow a design course in Eindhoven. The width of the field in the Netherlands attracted her, and she discovered that the design freedom on offer was a perfect fit with her accustomed scientific approach to research. The Dutch farms and huge fields full of cows that she saw every day were the reasons she chose milk, and especially its surpluses, as her subject.
The starting point for Care for Milk was not the milk lake and butter mountain phenomena, which are mainly associated with overproduction, but with the wasteful habits of consumers. Milk is cheap and, if not completely fresh, can be thoughtlessly poured away. This reduces the perceived value of the product. For Semenova, it was the reason to do further research into the chemical components of milk, and she discovered how casein had been used as a raw material in developing the earliest plastics. Bio-plastic, and also yarns based on casein, are among the options for stimulating the appreciation of milk, but she ultimately opted for ceramics, and more specifically glazes.
Through the traditional process, she aims to tell the story of the cow, the milk and the preciousness of that product. Consumers need to realize, for example, that 500 to 1000 litres of water are needed to produce a single litre of cow’s milk. For those who are aware of this fact, pouring good milk down the drain is suddenly no longer an option.
Semenova collected the milk that people in her surrounding area would otherwise have thrown away. She began experimenting with pottery which she dipped in milk and then fired. The milk showed the surprising ability to seep into the pores of the clay, providing a water-tight layer without the addition of other coatings. Different shades of silky brown glaze appeared, giving the objects a waterproof skin. The higher the fat content of the dairy product, the darker the colour of the glaze. The project has meanwhile progressed to the point of seeking partners in the dairy industry, the ceramic sector and science, in order to further develop the ideas behind Care for Milk.
Since starting up in 2016, design collective Envisions has been working on projects that use experimental design research to renew dated industrial processes. The group currently consists of 24 designers and architects and three production people, all of whom combine their own work practice with their involvement in the collective’s projects. At this stage, Envisions prefers to connect with companies that have no explicit affinity with design, as in the case of Spanish wood manufacturer Finsa, concentrating on new possibilities within existing production processes. The goal is to reveal hidden potential while luring participants out of their comfort zones.
During the very first working visit to Finsa’s hypermodern factories, which produce all sorts of sheet materials, one of the designers happened to notice a roll of tracing paper. Waste apparently, which no longer had any value in the process. Could it still be used in the production of Melamine? For the manufacturer such an idea initially causes confusion, but can hopefully be the start of an exchange in which both parties are persuaded to look at their usual processes and outcomes in a freer way. It isn’t easy: a common language needs to be quickly developed while working in order to make the exchange possible.
While it’s true that Finsa markets products that are popping up everywhere in our environment, the company seemed virtually unaware of the value of design for the physical and aesthetic durability of the sheet materials it produces, including MDF, chipboard and Melamine. With six designers, Envisions eventually worked on a special sample collection, which was totally experimental and largely realized manually. The aim was to generate more appreciation for the materials and techniques used. The collection had to show the true quality of the sheet materials, particularly by enhancing their aesthetic durability. At the first presentation at the Milan Furniture Fair, the reactions of architects and interior designers confirmed that the rather boring image of the product had disappeared. Visitors saw how the original material had been turned inside out in the experimental process and made either completely unrecognizable or recognizable because the design literally showed the manufacturing process. This is completely in line with the idea that Envisions has propagated from the beginning: design is no longer a ‘black box’, but an open-source process that can be shared with everyone. After all, openness is the best strategy for creating change.
In the many rubbish dumps dotted along the British coast Inge Sluijs discovered – during her Masters studies at Central Saint Martins, London – the raw substance for a new material: Plasma Rock. Found widely elsewhere in the world, it’s a typical product of the Anthropocene, the geological era characterized by the profound influence of human activities on the natural environment, the ecological balance and the climate. Billions of tonnes of waste have been dumped worldwide over the past decades. In Europe alone, there are 500,000 landfills and certainly at coastal sites these ‘landfills’ are a barely controllable source of pollution for both soil and seawater. That’s why Sluijs chose a coastal location for the start of her project. She thought it should be possible to dig up the waste and use it for a better purpose. The search started after seeing a picture of a piece of Plasma Rock, then completely in the domain of scientific research.
Plasma Rock is produced as a by-product when waste is gasified at very high temperatures. In addition to the energy released, this produces a mechanically strong and non-toxic type of material, the application possibilities of which have hardly been explored up to now. It is clear, however, that about a fifth of the total weight of mined waste can be converted into Plasma Rock. The potential is huge – which is why Inge Sluijs saw a role for the designer, in addition to the academic research that is currently the focus at KU Leuven. How can Plasma Rock’s characteristics be utilized,now that the availability of natural raw materials is increasingly under pressure?
To be able to use Plasma Rock, it must first be broken into small pieces and then ground into powder. Sluijs used the raw material in the production of tiles and vases. Only the addition of binder was required for the tiles; in the vases she also used recycled laboratory glass. In the choice of these products, she was mainly guided by the desire to involve the consumer too in the material’s possibilities, via a functional and an aesthetic object. In this way, Plasma Rock’s unprecedented spectrum of potential applications becomes clear. Her role, says Sluijs, is to involve people in the story, helping them to realize that landfills are buried and left unexcavated purely to further all sorts of economic interests – including project development and housing construction.
According to Maartje Dros and Eric Klarenbeek, at the heart of their extensive algae research project is the question: is it possible to replace fossil raw materials in the production of polymers, while simultaneously restoring or even improving the ecological and social balance? And can the craft system be re-integrated into our present time and at the required scale?
The project explores the possibilities of sustainable material and product development based on locally grown algae. As they grow, algae absorb carbon and emit oxygen, which makes them important processors of CO2. In the Netherlands, cultivated seaweed – a macro alga – could provide the necessary raw material. Beds could be constructed not only at sea, between the windmills in wind farms, but also in the Amsterdam region, for example. Together with a biologist, Klarenbeek and Dros are working on the design of a closed system for seaweed cultivation that supplies both food and raw materials for the production of biopolymers.
In 2016 the designers, together with Atelier LUMA, initiated the Algae Lab LUMA, named after the modern art museum in the French city of Arles, which is under construction. Since the oil crisis, France has been investing heavily in the exploitation of algae to replace fossil fuels and nuclear energy. A complete university infrastructure has been constructed around biopolymers, for instance. The country is also looking for solutions for the overgrowth of macro-algae at sea. Because of its enormous protein richness, Spirulina has been seen as an acceptable food product in France for some time already.
Klarenbeek and Dros started building a consortium in Arles in which not only designers and colour experts work together, but also biologists, chemists, a fuel expert and representatives of the regional salt industry. The salt plains along the coast are particularly suitable for growing algae in closed systems so that they do not spread through the sea, can grow in a controlled manner and can also be harvested efficiently.
The initiative soon attracted interested parties from industry, especially from the biofuel sector. But with its activities, Algae Lab LUMA consciously focuses on the bigger picture, while also assigning itself a cultural role. It stays in line with the local infrastructure, which already provides training for farmers who specifically focus on growing Spirulina. The Lab is experimenting with the production of a granulate, suitable for large-scale industrial use. It can be used to create a filament based on algae, so that this biopolymer is ready for 3D printing.
Developing recipes is an important part of the work. By means of pilot projects the designers hope to achieve change, so that the European industry can eventually avoid American grown genetically modified corn or sugar cane from Asia, instead relying on locally grown algae for its bio-plastics.
Can a 250m2 building – the central meeting point of Dutch Design Week for nine days – be designed in such a way that all its materials are not only borrowed, but are later returned to their lenders unharmed after the event? That was the challenge that the architects of bureau SLA and the designers of Overtreders W set out to solve last year, in line with the central theme of DDW 2017, the circular economy.
The two partners had already been working together for some time. Thinking about circular design solutions has always been the guiding principle of their joint experiments, and they search for an appropriate design language and methodology for sustainable environments and objects. They also share an enthusiasm for the opportunities that designers currently have, since there is still so much to investigate regarding notions such as sustainability and circularity. For although circular approaches to construction and production are already reasonably well defined, there are still difficulties in the area of raw materials, while the third component of the triple challenge – the search for social sustainability – remains even more complex.
For the People’s Pavilion, the principle of circularity meant that the complete design process needed to be organized in a new way. The range of available materials on loan determined the design (and not the other way around as usual). The method influenced the visual language: because all the material was borrowed, it could not be screwed, glued or sawn, for example. Regarding the dimensions, the size system of the lenders suddenly became a guideline. Together with Arup's engineers, a construction system was designed based on straps and strapping bands. A smart way of dealing with materials and their origin was decisive for the design, and perhaps points the direction for an architectural assignment in the near future, in which nothing will be lost. Seen in this way, the People’s Pavilion embodies a new way of working and thinking that far exceeds the actual duration of use of the pavilion.
The project shows the potential of the Urban Mining strategy, which is now also being embraced by companies such as New Horizon. Complete buildings are acquired, and all the materials and products they contain reused, up to and including office cable ducts. In order to make a building reusable, the expertise of designers is needed to make the necessary changes to current ways of thinking. The occasional instance of cutting to fit in Eindhoven was, at this stage, an unavoidable accident.
Sanne Visser has been interested in the evanescent qualities of natural materials ever since her studies at the Willem de Kooning Academy. Then her research focused mainly on the aesthetic properties of transience. During a Masters in Material Futures at Central Saint Martins in London, the perspective shifted to the functional properties of natural materials, and more specifically to a ‘material’ that humans produce themselves: hair. In the United Kingdom alone, an estimated 6.5 million kg of this raw material is produced annually and added to the waste stream. If it isn’t burned, it disappears into landfills. Yet human hair has a number of important qualities, even after it has done its work on our heads. It is extremely light, absorbs oils, has insulating properties, and boasts a particularly high tensile strength.
This last feature in particular inspired Visser to talk to trichologists (hair scientists), craftspeople and fellow designers. She found that, especially in India and China, human hair is reused, but that this happens under appalling ecological conditions. In her project, Visser wanted to use human hair without the addition of binders or (bio) plastics. In addition, the deeply unpleasant associations that ‘harvested’ hair has acquired historically also needed to be tackled.
Her research gradually focused on making rope. For her experiments, Visser used hair mainly from people of Asiatic origin: this has proved stronger and more elastic than European or Afro hair. With a spinner, she made yarns out of the short fibres, searching with a traditional rope maker for a process in which the relatively short fibres used (hair measuring 2 to 6 cm) did not affect the strength of the rope. She made a series of climbing ropes, swings and bags. The results so far are encouraging: the rope is stronger than a comparable product made from wool or cotton, although not as strong as rope made from hemp.
Currently the emphasis is on accelerating the production process so that the end product becomes less expensive. This is why Visser is now working on the development of low-tech machines for carding and spinning hair, and for rope production. With these machines, she also hopes to involve other designers and their ideas in her experiments with human hair.
As of September 2018, architect Iris de Kievith and designer Annemarie Piscaer were working on their SerVies prototype at the European Ceramic Work Centre. The name SerVies, a wordplay in Dutch that’s best translated as ‘Dirty Dishes’, reflects the fact that the glaze on the ceramic bowls, mugs and plates originates in pollution collected in the city – specifically, the particulate matter that is deposited as a greasy soot layer in the streets of their home town Rotterdam and that permeates into the lungs of the residents.
Through design research, the duo wants to create a ‘communicative tool’ to increase awareness of the poor air quality in cities like Rotterdam. They harvest the black precipitate with soapy water, let it dry and use the resulting powder as the basis for glazes. The fine dust, in addition to all kinds of metals, also contains sand, making it suitable for such an application. The higher the concentration of particulate matter– in other words, the poorer the air quality – the darker brown the colour of the glaze. The air quality translates into a series of crockery pieces that illustrate how much dirty air a city dweller inhales during a year. The iron oxide content proved to be a determining factor. Thanks to the combination of various ingredients, hardly any additives are needed to produce the glaze. Thanks to tests at TNO, among others places, it is clear that the glaze is safe for use.
While the project was in development, environmental campaigning group Milieudefensie successfully conducted a legal procedure around the Right to Healthy Air. Such a low-threshold visualization, a coffee cup or a dish for example, covered with fine-particle glaze, makes the seriousness of the problem immediately visible. SerVies does this with the particulate matter from your own neighbourhood. By harvesting the particulate matter in collaboration with residents, awareness can be increased. It is exactly what the two initiators aim to do with their work: to involve people in the process of change by generating content together with them.
SerVies aims at being a catalyst. Once people understand that their living environment is the result of their own actions, that awareness can be the beginning of a structural change.
Her half-year residency in the Materials Experience Lab at TU Delft ended this summer, but Shahar Livne is set to continue with other international partners. Together with crafts people who mainly focus on traditional materials such as clay and stone, she aims to deepen her knowledge of Lithoplast. This new composite material – Lithoplast is a contraction of the Greek words litho (stone) and plast (malleable) – is made from the remnants of industrial processes such as mining and the quarrying of marble. Especially now that natural raw materials are becoming increasingly depleted, it makes sense to develop a new perspective concerning the leftovers of various industrial sectors such as mining, quarrying, and the processing of plastic waste.
Livne, who describes herself as a ‘conceptual material designer’, regards materials as storytellers. Every material has a history. She is currently focusing her research on plastics, using beaches in The Netherlands and Tel Aviv, but also landfills and incinerators as locations for mining. There she encountered a kind of plastic ‘stone’, Plastiglomerate, a modern-day material formed in nature. Heat can make the stone-like material kneadable, and an artificial substance thus acquires natural properties similar to clay.
The blurring of the boundary between synthetic and natural is what fascinates Shahar Livne in her research. If we want to make use of the abundance of waste, we must create a new awareness of the cultural value of both natural and manufactured materials. This includes acknowledging that materials can transform over time, without any human interference. Even in landfill sites stuffed with non-recyclable plastic nature has a way of restoring the natural balance. Through her research Livne wants to investigate this process and perhaps develop an intelligent sort of mining of these resources. This might open a new perspective on the role of the designer. For the production of Lithoplast, plastics do not have to be separated first: everything is usable. Moreover, an artisanal value is given to the material: it can be hand-worked into any desired shape and finish. Still to be investigated is the question of how we will value such materials, and how they can be produced on such a scale as to actually become part of future products.
The Re3 Glass project unites three strategies – reduce, reuse and recycle – that can greatly increase the sustainability of glass as a building material. In architecture, glass has various attractive structural features in addition to its transparency. So far, these qualities have not been exploited to the full. The industry prioritises the production of sheet glass, which is mainly known for its fragility –a major obstacle in the application of structural glass. Even so, when cast into a solid three-dimensional shape, glass is stronger than concrete. In addition, hardly any work is being done on recycling, even though glass is well suited to it. The pursuit of perfection prevents the reuse of glass which is coated, glued, or otherwise contaminated, for example. Mainly in the bottle industry does glass waste not end up in a landfill.
As part of their PhD studies at Delft University of Technology, and in collaboration with researchers from the University of Twente and the Southern Illinois University School of Art and Design, Telesilla Bristogianni and Faidra Oikonomopoulou are working on the development of a pressed-glass building material. The reusable material is made from all kinds of waste glass and, thanks to its smart geometry, requires a minimum of material. The Crystal Houses of MVRDV Architects (2016), realized in Amsterdam’s PC Hooftstraat, provided an important study object. Can ‘bricks’ made from cast glass be used as structural building material without the support of, for example, a steel frame? And would they be stormproof in a flat façade? An experiment showed the potential, but also clarified the problems for researchers. The construction process was complicated and, because the bricks had to be glued, future re-use will be almost impossible, adding eventually to the creation of waste.
The rectangular shape of the original glass bricks did not match the nature of cast glass. After the glass form is removed from the kiln and cools down, tensions build in the material. That’s why cast glass requires more fluid, organic forms. This is precisely what Bristogianni and Oikonomopoulou realized in their next steps: a building block made of recycled glass, its rectangular shape pressed downwards at two points, and containing a cavity, partly created to conserve material. In this way, the components in the stack fit together almost seamlessly. In another variant, the shape is more reminiscent of the links of a bicycle chain. It’s the intention that they fit closely together without the use of synthetic glue, so that every building can eventually be dismantled and the components reused.
Last year, the Volkskrant newspaper reported on an article in the scientific magazine, American Mineralogist. In it, a group of US scientists noted the discovery of no less than 208 new minerals. What these minerals have in common is that they are all formed in nature as the by-product of human activity – including petrified bird droppings from a mine shaft, and a gemstone-like growth found in furnaces. Xandra van der Eijk was fascinated by the story and, with her background in ArtScience studies, immediately knew that she wanted to investigate such processes.
The question of how we relate to extremely long-term processes of transformation became the core of her design project, Future Remnants. For Van der Eijk, the essence of her research lies in the desire to first understand these transformations, then share them with an audience via a visualized research report. Unlike many of her colleagues, she does not have the desire to act as a designer, making improvements. In fact, the recent discovery of ‘new’ minerals highlights how we often act unwittingly and unintentionally to create new materials.
For Future Remnants, she chose a simple starting point: what reactions can arise between metals and household substances? Through an orderly, methodical investigation, she exposed four metals to twelve substances using three different techniques. So far, she has conducted the research in her own studio, where an interesting ‘proliferation’ of materials started to happen. She sees this as characteristic of her approach: attracted by unpredictability and serendipity, she hopes to make discoveries – so her experiments at this stage may be derailed. The new materials range from a powder to glassy surfaces, and from crystal growths to discolouration.
Van der Eijk places her experiments against the backdrop of rubbish dumps, landfills and chemical dump sites. Who knows what will happen if our waste products – from televisions and batteries to building rubble and the residue of pharmaceutical labs – have the time to react with their environment? New minerals will be formed and, looking at the future, that process is bound to accelerate. So perhaps it’s only advisable to understand a little more about the processes that will then take place. Because in addition to potential threats, they also offer the prospect of completely new materials, with unprecedented applications.