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Whether linoleum, paper or aluminium, whether pressed, extruded or 3D-printed: five projects from Milan Design Week that rethink circular material flows.

By Jasmin Jouhar

“CatifaCarta” Arper | Photo: Salva Lopez
“CatifaCarta” Arper | Photo: Alberto Sinigaglia

Sitting on Paper

An unfinished chair formed the centrepiece of Arper’s Salone trade fair stand: a seat shell on a pedestal, with strips of brown material still protruding from the edges. It felt like paper, and the name of the new model “Catifa Carta” confirms the impression.

The Italian manufacturer presented its classic “Catifa” for the first time with a seat shell made of 29 layers of pressed paper. The material comes from Sweden and is marketed under the name “Paper Shell”. It is obtained from by-products of the timber industry and a natural resin is used as a binding agent. The shell is available in two colours: In a shade of brown, which exactly matches the colour of the paper, and in black, which is created by treating the surface with heat. The chair can be completely dismantled; Arper is also currently working on a system to take the furniture back at the end of its life cycle. To prevent the CO2 stored in the material from being released again, the shell will one day be pyrolysed to produce biochar, which can be used to improve the soil. 

Wood From the Printer

This project also utilises by-products from the wood industry, but in a completely different way. The German company “Additive Tectonics” has developed the material “Econit Wood”. It consists of sawdust that is produced as waste in sawmills and during timber harvesting. Finely grinded and mixed with a biological binder, the material is suitable for 3D printing. The company explored the possibilities offered by “Econit Wood” together with South Tyrolean designer Harry Thaler. The result, the “Printed Nature” furniture and lighting collection, was one of the highlights of the “Alcova” design platform. A particularly large printer had to be specially constructed to produce the expansive lights and voluminous armchairs. The surface of “Econit Wood” is slightly roughened and irregular; the material is suitable for interiors, is sound-absorbent and can be biodegraded.

“Econit Wood” Alcova, | Photo: Samuel Rosport

“UPS Under Pressure Solutions” | Photo: Ecal MarvinMerkel

On Course for Expansion

The Swiss design school Ecal has also recently been experimenting with materials made from wood waste, or more precisely: cellulose sponge. The most important properties of the yellowish-porous material: it can be pressed tightly, expands again on contact with moisture and is biodegradable. Five lecturers at Ecal – Camille Blin, Christophe Guberan, Anthony Guex, Chris Kabel and Julie Richoz – initially spent two years researching the potential of the material. This was followed by a design phase in which both teaching staff and Master’s students developed product applications for the “sponge”.

The exhibition in Milan, entitled UPS Under Pressure Solutions, was divided into an experimental part and a product presentation. Central to the design process: the rising of the sponge in water. There were various proposals for everyday objects that can be delivered flat-packed and expanded to their final size at home, such as rubbish bins, wine racks, table frames or stools. Perforations or seams influence the shape of the expansion. 

 A Seductive Glimmer

Aluminium is a controversial material: on the one hand, it is widely used in everything from foil to electric cars and is easy to recycle, but on the other hand, it is environmentally harmful to extract the raw materials and energy-intensive to produce. Given the increasing demand, is recycled aluminium the solution? The Norwegian aluminium producer and energy company “Hydro” has set itself the goal of making the light metal sustainable, among other things with the product “Hydro Circal 100R”.

According to Hydro, this is the world’s first aluminium produced on an industrial scale made entirely from post-consumer waste. At the Salone, the company presented100R Exhibition, an exhibition of seven brightly coloured anodised products made from recycled aluminium, created by designers such as Inga Sempé, Rachel Griffin, Philippe Malouin, John Tree and Max Lamb and conceived by Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland. The only requirement: the design had to be made entirely of metal and produced using an extrusion process. A task that the designers solved with great attention to detail and found unusual organic shapes. Take Max Lamb, for example, whose “Prøve Light” luminaire consists of two interlocking profiles that twist a few more curlicues than functionally necessary. Other designs remained within the inherent logic of extrusion, but took it in unexpected directions, such as Rachel Griffin’s “Serial” screen or Philippe Malouin’s “T-Board” shelving system. An exhibition worth seeing, which concealed the problematic implications of its theme beneath a seductively shimmering surface.

“Hydro” 100R Exhibition | Photo: Einar Aslaksen

“Flaxwood” by Christen Meindertsma | Photo: © federicociamei

A New Take On What Has Been Tried and Tested

Many research projects on material cycles focus on new materials. Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma, on the other hand, looks at familiar materials with new eyes, such as sheep’s wool, flax or linen. One of her favourite materials is linoleum, which has been widely used as a resilient floor covering since the second half of the 19th century. Together with the material experts from “Dzek”, she has developed the “Flaxwood” project. The aim: to give the tried-and-tested material a new aesthetic and at the same time show that it is made from natural ingredients.

According to Meindertsma, linoleum is all too often confused with synthetic vinyl flooring. In fact, it consists of linseed oil, wood flour, limestone and resin. Meindertsma and Dzek have modified the conventional manufacturing process to achieve a more natural-looking material in the form of tiles or boards. Unlike conventional linoleum, “Flaxwood” has no surface coating or jute fibre backing and can be recycled and biodegraded. Like wood, it can be sanded and oiled.

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