We were delighted when Casa Decor, one of the leading interior design shows taking place in cities like London, Miami, Milan, Madrid or Lisbon, chose sustainability as this year's theme for the Barcelona edition. After more than 38 exhibitions all around the world, presenting the latest in interior design, decoration and art, the Barcelona team has made an effort to motivate this year's exhibiting designers to go green, under the slogan Pathway to a Sustainable Environment or Rumbo Sostenible in Spanish. But have they managed we wonder?
Each year Casa Decor chooses a different location, normally an unoccupied and run down site, and transforms it for a month into an exhibition where 60 decorators, designers and landscape artists show their work. This year in Barcelona they picked some 5.000 m2 at the Port FÃ²rum Sant AdriÃ , an amazing space that belongs to the new port near Barcelona's massive solar panel by the sea. We visited and found a few attractive spaces that took the sustainability issue seriously, but we found more empty words and confusing messages, that were quite upsetting and boarded on greenwashing. Certainly nowadays, designers can do better than to fit a few energy efficient light bulbs into a space and call it green. But let's look at the successful examples at Casa Decor first.
One project that clearly stands out is the actual restaurant, designed by the Nancy Robbins Design Studio. We know it is not easy to work with recycled materials and make them look good. The restaurant however, gives of a warm, yet exotic atmosphere, which was created by reclaimed materials such as a lot of used cardboard and wooden transport pallets that covered the walls. The centrepiece is a huge chandelier, some 28 m2 wide, made from used bubble wrap bags and some 150 CFL light bulbs, wrapped to look good.
Another project that caught our attention was the exterior installation of metal cages, filled with recycled concrete by Horticola de Pedralbes used to create walls and divide up the exterior spaces. The designer Marta Roura CastellÃ³ is showing some slick recycled and recyclable exterior furniture, sitting on a special floor covering made from recycled car tires, along side a funky looking, PVC-free parasol.
Barcelona Forever is a beautiful, more poetic project about the use and obsolescence of objects and furniture. The Mette Bak Andersen Studio created an entire space only with things that had been dumped the last months onto the street of Barcelona, painted white. It is a reflection of why we throw perfectly functioning objects out, and a statement that a lamp from the 60ies can look great next to a chair from the 30ies and a table from this century.
Elisava Design School presents some curious objects for daily life that are not only sustainable but also improve our health, comfort and quality of life. The exhibition is called Bio-Design and the quirky ideas have been beautifully presented.
Unfortunately, the rest of the show is rather disappointing when it comes to the designers applying sustainability. Few manage to show an inspirational project, or even to get it right. A lot use the term 'sustainable' or 'recyclable' too easily and their small effort towards greener solutions is not very convincing. There is for example a recyclable Christmas decoration, called La Buena Estrella (The Good Star) and we wondered why it is not made from at least recycled material, or what's wrong with the traditional biodegradable Christmas decoration. It certainly looks the same if not better than fake plastic, simply imitated a real Christmas tree.
Then, Valencia-based design studio Cul de Sac designed a very creative way of presenting Valentine paint drops as jewels on gold chains. The only problem: Valentine is not an eco-friendly paint company, nor are they VOC-free. They are however Casa Decor's official paint sponsor and therefore, we were told by one of the designers, no one was allowed to use a real eco-friendly paint from another company at this show, which is supposed to show the "Pathway to a Sustainable Environment".
We would have liked the designers to justify their choices a bit more in detail as some give slightly suspicious messages as to why their space is sustainable. A ceramic company for example explains that it's good to use ceramic tiles because "ceramic is by nature and because of its manufacturing process a sustainable material". A quick statement we find.
Another space is full of animal hides, fur carpets and leather, in all sorts of colours and by all kinds of animals. We don't even need to get into whether we should use leather or not (after all it's a fully biodegradable material), but what we were shown were no eco—certified skins where no toxins are used during the production process. Other materials that are dubiously labelled as being eco are quartz tiles, vinyl and various stone tiles.
All in all, Casa Decor didn't convince us about their aim for sustainable design. In fact, we were told by one of the organisers, that "nowadays it is still impossible to design sustainably, and that's why they called the show 'Pathway to a Sustainable Environment'- to indicate that we are still trying to be sustainable although it is not possible to go the full way". Well, we think that is generally just a poor excuse not to make that special extra effort it takes to come up with something truly sustainable and beautifully designed. Designers at Casa Decor seem to have gotten away with being sustainable by simply adding a few LED lights in their space and we can't help but think that the theme was simply picked for marketing purposes. The good thing however is that hopefully the show raised enough awareness amongst designers and end consumers to demand good sustainable options in their next project. Let's hope they keep all Casa Decors sustainable from now on, and put more effort into getting it right.
Casa Decor can be visited until November 22nd at Port FÃ²rum Sant AdriÃ in Barcelona ::Casa Decor
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