Natural Variation, Part 2
We continue to look at the pioneering designers who are become increasingly interested in creating new organic materials, who are embracing the predictability of changing colour that comes with materials derived directly from our environment.
Designers and consumers alike have come to expect a lot of control over colour. We even plant flowers in our garden based on the colour we expect them to have. Still, we allow for much greater variation when it comes to plants than when it comes to, let’s say, a sofa; an item we want to be the same colour we saw at the store and to not fade or change over time. But as designers become increasingly interested in creating new organic materials, the predictability of colour is changing. When materials are derived directly from our environments and landscapes it seems all but counterintuitive to cover them in a uniform coat of pigment, and more appropriate to celebrate one of their defining characteristics – natural colours.
As we’ve begun to seek ways to leave behind synthetic materials such as plastic, a growing desire for the more organic and for the sustainable has understandably taken hold. Previously we worked towards industrially produced materials that we could reproduce infinitely; the focus has now shifted from production to the entire lifecycle of a material. This is also causing us to think differently about colours, and go beyond simply the trend or the aesthetics to consider their provenance too. New, non- industrial materials are pushing us to see beauty in the variations and the materiality of colour rather than in replicable uniformity.
Interest in circular and localised production also has its part to play in the drive towards using previously overlooked natural resources, such as seaweed, and seeing value in our immediate environments, such as the colour palettes of our local landscapes. With such fundamental shifts taking place, it is no wonder our perceptions and expectations of colour are being affected. We no longer wish to have the same hues follow us from product to product or from city to city – now we seek to let each material’s unique colour, with its connection to its origins, come through. Through organic materials, colour has also begun to renew its relationship to place.
Studio Klarenbeek & Dros
Working with Atelier Luma, based in Arles, France, designers Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have created a new bioplastic that they hope could be part of the way to phase out traditional plastics. Having worked with 3D printing for years, they saw its potential for future manufacturing and thought it was important to create a viable alternative to plastic as the main printing material.
They came to work with algae as their source material and began to experiment with how to turn different species into a workable material for their printers. In their research into the algae, they have discovered not only new colours and textures but also surprising properties, such as a species that is naturally flame retardant.
By creating a material that could be grown locally all over the globe and then used in 3D printing to make anything from cutlery to plant pots for agriculture, they hope to both decentralise production as well as encourage local circular economies.
As a first iteration, Klarenbeek and Dros have designed a set of tableware. The velvety colours result from the type of algae used and they’ve discovered that even the colour has intriguing characteristics which are very dependent on the production process and affected by use. They’re now experimenting with incorporating those properties functionally into their future designs.
‘We talk a lot about durability of a product. People ask “is it durable?” They want to know if they can keep it for 20 years. And when we see that the colour cannot keep for 20 years, and we also see that we use the product for not longer than a month, or it’s single use, it makes sense to also implement this in colour; to maybe even communicate with colour in what kind of way or for what length of time you want to use the product. Or perhaps what kind of generation is in your hands. Are you the second user or third user? Do you want a product that is developing over time like you are? So it also offers us a new way of thinking about colours because of this difference in colour manifestation.’ - Maartje Dros, Studio Klarenbeek & Dros
Danish designer Nienke Hoogvliet founded her own studio straight after graduating from Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam in 2013. Ever since, her practice has concentrated mainly on creating and designing with sustainable materials; she has made yarn from seaweed as well as leather from fish skin. Mourn, one of her latest projects, was commissioned by the Dutch water authorities, which wanted a designer to work with PHA, a bioplastic made of sewage waste that they have recently started to extract as part of the water cleaning process.
Hoogvliet took this biodegradable material and turned it into urns that can responsibly return a person’s ashes into nature. To make the urns, ashes from cremation and the PHA are mixed in specific layers, which allow their colour to evolve as the ashes are released gradually, to avoid polluting the surrounding soil.
After much research, Hoogvliet decided to create three different designs so that this gradual release would always suit the surrounding soil composition. The texture and colour of the pieces are ‘completely dictated by the material’ when the grey ashes mix with the beige PHA. Hoogvliet hopes that keeping the ashes visible will also bring us ‘closer to the object’.
‘I make design decisions based on my concept, not necessarily on the aesthetic quality. I use what fits my story, my aim with the project. This means accepting materials or colours that might not be exactly what I had in mind. But limiting myself like this also opened my eyes. I can see beauty now in every colour.’ - Nienke Hoogvliet
Atelier NL is the joint practice of Nadine Sterk and Lonny van Ryswyck, who mostly work with earth-derived materials such as clay and sand. For their Earth Paint project, they were invited to the village of Neunen, where the painter Van Gogh lived and worked, and proceeded to create a range of natural paints directly from the soil. By digging in one specific location, they unearthed several layers of clay, which each had their own specific composition and colour. From these base tones Sterk and van Ryswyck developed 270 different pigments by firing the earth they collected at different temperatures.
The process of creating these paints is manual, and, though the ingredients aren’t complex, it takes time. Even slight variations in the quantities or the processes will affect the colour, so each time the paint is made, the result is never exactly the same. Sterk and van Ryswyck see this as part of the process and say there is no right or wrong way of making the paint, as the colour will always reflect the individual who prepared it.
Though they don’t see the industry being able to adopt their non-unified process, they feel that ‘the people are definitely ready.’ As with their other projects, they hope Earth Paint will encourage people to value their local landscapes and resources rather than reproducibility and ‘standard perfection’.
‘We were surprised by the number of different tones – especially because we did another project where we dug clay in the Netherlands, so we thought we knew all the colours, but going in depth into the soil gives you so many more. When you start firing them, it gives you even more colours and we were so excited. It definitely was a surprise – we never could have imagined this.’ - Lonny van Ryswyck, Atelier NL
Words → Vilma Paasivaara
Featuring → Featuring Fernando Laposse, Martijn Straatman, Jonas Edvard, Studio Klarenbeek & Dros, Nienke Hoogvliet and Atelier NL