At one time in design history, not so long ago (though it feels like forever ago), the designer would rely on the environment around them to provide the material of their creation. They might wade into the tide, walk into the forest, scale the mountain, go into whatever space was accessible to collect that which they needed and then return home to create. Now the origin of our materials is all but invisible to the designer, due in large part to some thermodynamically-ignorant ideas about global supply chains made in the past few of centuries. The logical conclusion of which has been planetary, ecological collapse. While it may be difficult to consider a future that is any different, it is an absolute necessity that designers find alternatives to those increasingly destructive industrial modes.
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To find new modes of production Karlijn Sibbel has taken a look around, to see what local material can be used for design. In the project Industry by Nature, Sibbel has sought out fabrication techniques that rely upon local organisms (algae), minerals (salt), and climate. The project is an effort to create methods and technologies for industrial design, that may enable designers to more practically and ecologically source local material. Industry by Nature asks, what does industrial design look like without relying on global supply chains for material? The project in its pursuit of creating locally-sourced fabrication methods, works to deconstruct contemporary industrial design practices that fail to recognize ecology.
Industry by Nature is deconstruction through construction. In the project, “SEAt”, Sibbel was able to create a stool made almost entirely of salt. Knitting the form of the stool from cotton, it was then soaked in a concentrated salt solution. In the solution, sea salt crystals build up on the cotton form, creating a strong, rigid structure. Sibbel has for several projects experimented with sea salt as a rigid material, as it is plentiful especially in coastal regions. In another experiment with salt, Sibbel was able to develop a formulation of time and temperature that yielded salt crystals building up to form spherical structures.
Additionally, Sibbel has sought fabrication techniques using our increasingly-frequent, photosynthetic collaborators: algae. Algae, which are plentiful almost everywhere, vary widely in their form and make-up. Currently, red algae, and the byproduct Agar, are among the most popular for material usage but the more work that is done to understand these algae, the more likely designers will be able to utilize other forms of the organism. In this effort, Sibbel collaborated with engineers from AlgaePARC and Wageningen University to design a rotating molding process. With this molding tool designers can shape algae growth so that it may be used as a sustainable biomaterial.
I’d wager that most designers would prefer to use locally-sourced, and more ecologically sound materials like algae, were it more accessible. It is irrational to think that any designer can take a walk around the neighborhood and find the material they need to fabricate a design. It is this inability to see where the material source of our designs has created an endless list of ecological issues. Yet increasingly, there are arising material suppliers that are working to help designers circumvent the larger industrial supply chains and are offering more sustainable material. The key to fostering those suppliers, and future economies based on ecological practices, is for designers to find more ways to work with these materials. To find ways of utilizing our local environments as Industry by Nature has.