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DDW Trend: Rebalancing of materials research

21 October 2020

It is no longer possible to imagine contemporary design without material experiments. As in previous years, Dutch Design Week (DDW) offers an array of sustainable, innovative, surprising but also quirky and at times downright nonsensical projects with which designers experiment with materials.

It is therefore remarkable that, for once, the two most notable material researches are not about recyclable plastics, bio plastics, eco-fibres or natural colour pigments, but about the most widely used and most readily available raw materials: sand and water. As if design has to be earthed again: which are the most indispensable raw materials? And which alternatives are available? As a type of educational material. Because the depletion and waste of sand and water - which seem to be inexhaustible - is many times more alarming than, say, cotton or oil.

In any case, that is the general thrust of Embassy of Water. And perhaps that holds even more true for the Netherlands than for other countries. Due to climate change, periods of drought or rain are getting increasingly intense. In addition, more and more of our cities are facing 'concretisation'. Due to a lack of greenery, temporary flooding and major droughts with associated loss of greenery follow each other in quick succession. In addition, there is the constant threat of a rising sea level. In short, we have to find another way of handling water. No longer as a commodity or a danger, but as a companion. Embassy of Water offers various suggestions for this.

Eco Oasis

Eco Oasis is a design of The Weather Makers, consisting of six cylinders filled with water in which the micro-organism diatoms is cultured. These diatoms store CO2 and nitrogen contained in the water. These organisms in turn form an interesting meal for water insects and fish. The manure of these aquatic animals can then be used as fertilizer for plants. The circle is closed.

© ©Ermi van Oers

The fact that water is not just a source of life but also a source of energy is demonstrated by bio-designer Ermi van Oers with her collaborative project Pond. Once again, microbes do all the work. This species breaks down organic compounds and releases electrons during the process. These microbes are cultured in a floating network, which uses the energy also to collect information about the water quality, visualised with coloured light. Thus, both the miracle and the vulnerability, but also the power of water are demonstrated: as if it were a living creature that should be well looked after by us.

Much more disquieting is the picture that emerges from GEO-Design: Sand, an exhibition in the Van Abbemuseum where journalism and design go hand in hand. A mini documentary about the Mayrouba sand extraction quarry in Lebanon is shown on a large screen. It is as if a voracious monster has taken a huge bite out of the earth. Trucks driving around through the dust clouds like ants. Slow motion camera images capture how the earth is literally destroyed. Because that voracious monster is us. The exhibition opens with this apocalyptic image.

GEO-Design: Sand is the third in a series of annual expositions curated during DDW by Martina Muzi and Design Academy Eindhoven. Following the Chinese online shop Alibaba and Waste, this time the focus is on sand, after water the most frequently used natural resource. With a tried and tested recipe, the global impact of human activity is recorded by a dozen or so. From the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to freshwater lakes: digging, drilling, dredging and scraping with sand takes place all over the world. To build cities, but also to construct underground communication cables. It is processed into glass to produce spectacles and car windows, but it is also found in silicon chips in our computers. This depredation of sand disrupts both nature and countries. At times, this is a source of conflicts and war. Because usable sand is becoming scarce.

In ingeniously designed installations, GEO-Design: Sand paints an intrusive picture of our unedifying dealing with this ordinary material. Even though we have an eye for its beauty and diversity. Dutch design duo Atelier NL has collected sand from all over the world. Special glass is produced from local sand in various locations in the Netherlands. It is used for the productions of glassware with sparkling beauty depending on the specific qualities of the different types of glass. But above all, glassware that is an ode to sand and therefore the source of all materials research.