How important are materials in design? They are crucial when it comes to the proper functioning of objects, their durability, efficiency and aesthetics. Recently, designers have turned their attention to the hidden, emotional, and even historical-social features of materials they choose to work with.
The material aspects of objects are no longer in the background within the sphere of design. They are becoming more and more visible, creating new stories of objects, designers, and users.
In essence, A Story About a Pine Tree is the project which takes the pine tree as its primary material. Pine trees grow abundantly in Lithuania and, according to the author of the project Sarmite Polakova, there are 500 times more pine trees than people who actually live in the country. Not only is the pine tree one of the most common trees on Lithuanian soil, but it also boasts a rich history of being applied in various ways. Once upon a time, it served as the source of food and was used for medical purposes as well as magical rituals. One could assume that this exceptional evergreen holds a special place in Lithuanians’ hearts. However, the designer notices that nowadays forests are being perceived as factories and the wood has almost completely lost its significance in the eyes of people. The designer decided to once again contemplate the potential of the pine tree. Focusing on the seasonality of harvesting and the users’ needs, Sarmite Polakova designed four objects: a carpet, bark-cloth, basket as well as sleeves for warmth and protection. After being used, such objects would once again become part of nature instead of contaminating the environment the way plastic does. By presenting completely new uses of the pine tree, the designer highlights the fact that even if the materials that have been in use for thousands of years, they may still have plenty of undiscovered potential. Sarmite Polakova stresses the importance of searching for new functions and applications of materials, because they may vary greatly depending on the context in which they are used.
Is nature silent like a stone? Designers have been more and more courageous in rejecting stereotypes and accepted ways of thinking. In her project entitled Landscape Does Not Exist, Maria Bocos used locally available limestone in order to analyze the Basque landscape. She believes that by studying the predominant material one may grasp the full understanding of the history and culture of the place. Just like scientists get to know ancient cultures by conducting archaeological excavations, the designer can possess information about a given community by examining the natural material which has accompanied the community for ages. That’s why Maria Bocos puts forward her own scientific method, which yields surprising results.
Designers have become more eager to focus on materials present in the environment they grew up in, materials with which they can identify themselves and thus enhance the value of their work. This long-term identification with the material was the key element of the Rain(a)Way project, which makes a very intelligent attempt at reconciling the needs of the city with the needs of nature. The locally available clay and gravel were used by Fien Dekker to create tiles with deep grooves functioning as passages for tiny living organisms. Thanks to the local materials, the project may easily melt with the surrounding environment and become its integral part.
Interestingly, materials themselves tend to indicate the best ways in which they could be used. It suffices to pay a little bit more attention to the analysis of a given material and then implement the possessed knowledge into a project. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Martina Lasinger’s Wood Weavings. She started the design by weaving thin strips of wood together, which eventually became a self-supporting structure, not strengthened by glue or bolts. The object may serve various functions as a piece of furniture in a house, office, or public space.
The application of a given material may help raise certain social issues. In her project Hair Matter(s), Alix Bizet used human hair to make three jackets and a hairpiece. The design is supposed to pose questions of social significance with regard to, for example, mass culture, the homogeneity of which makes even hair look the same, depriving it of its uniqueness. By focusing on this very specific material, the designer wants to spark discussions about diversity, equality and democracy. The hairband made of hair epitomizes individuality. Sounds controversial? Good. This will encourage us to talk, to think, and to change.
Considering objects we use and see on everyday basis, it is hard to believe that materials they are made form the core of their design. Materials help us built our relations with the world, but they also construct the reality around us. That’s why it’s so crucial to take care of them, to make materials correspond with our needs and the needs of the environment. They are part of the natural harmony, and if they happen to disturb it, they will surely do it in a creative way.
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Photos: courtesy of designers
Text: Justyna Strociak
Justyna Strociak - She has graduated from Industrial Design at the School of Form in Poznań. In August 2014, together with Magda Gąsiorowska, she became a finalist of Make Me! – a competition for young designers. Several months later, along with her four friends and at the invitation of Lidewij Edelkoort, a trendforecaster and observer, she went on a few days’ stay to the Trend Union’s department in Paris where she broadened her knowledge of current trends and ways to analyze them. In March 2015, together with Ewelina Rytel, Magda Gasiorowska i Aleksandra Kalinowska, she finished a Trendbook with design inspirations for 2016. The work on the book was supervised by Zuzanna Skalska.
As a designer I feel a constant need to observe events connected with the sphere of design. Thanks to it, I have a better understanding of people’s needs and I am able to more appropriately plan final versions of my projects. The knowledge of our everyday reality enables us to discover the so far unknown situations requiring innovative solutions, especially important in the world of business. Besides, information about trends may be of valuable significance for those who want to be more conscious of changes occurring all around us.