The buckets-turned-seats filled up fast last Sunday as Inhabitat presented the Reclaiming Design panel at HauteGREEN. Jill Fehrenbacher and Emily Pilloton, along with Dwell editor-in-chief Sam Grawe, spoke with Carlos Salgado, Tejo Remy, and Matt Gagnon about how they each design with materials that would otherwise be discarded, and articulate re-use in more symbolic ways as well.
Carlos showed how his work through Scrapile follows the typical product design pathway in reverse: the material dictates the design. Scrapile's signature material- a laminate of random offcuttings that other manufacturers usually trash- requires simple, restrained, yet meticulously crafted furniture. A woman in the audience raised the possibility of offgassing from these mystery woods. Carlos was aware of the issue, but said that keeping these chemicals out of landfills was their primary goal. I spoke with Carlos and former Scrapile intern Danny Alexander after the panel, and both confirmed that they encounter most of their wood's toxins while they're forming it in the shop. He mentioned that he's going to combine scrap wood with denim offcuts from Rogan in future products. I can't wait.
Tejo's love for mundane objects shone through his thick Dutch accent. He started with the iconic chair and chest of drawers, saying that he intended them more a reaction to the cleanliness and over-design of the 80's than a statement of sustainability. Although he's been recognized as a pioneer of green design after the fact, sustainability was central to the more recent work he showed. I was especially struck by his fence that encloses a school playground. Not only does it make benches unnecessary, but by cradling the user and fostering cross-fence interaction, Tejo's design subverts the somewhat hostile attitude that most barriers convey.
Matt began by showing his table/ magazine holder made from recycled paper (it looks like expertly cast concrete), along with newer recycled paper furniture, also designed to hold new paper. His use of excess drywall as a surfacing material for a loft renovation reflected the airy and somewhat stoic feel of his other pieces. Each of the designs evoked transformation and movement, and he emphasized the importance of designing for decay; no product stays new for long.
As the speakers began to take questions from the audience, it became clear that sustainable design is an evolving process, not a foolproof recipe. Jill added that there is no perfectly green solution, and that when unpacked, "green" turns out to be a complex set of interactions between health, environmentalism, and social justice. Bart Bettencourt, Scrapile's other half, said that it will be some time before the supply of recyclable materials becomes completely "washed" of harmful chemicals, but that we're living through a trans formative time, developing a completely new conception of material use and product design.