Launched last May: the WantedDesign Best Design Student Projects Award

A Jury to award the best design student projects was led by Avinash Rajagopal, Metropolis magazine, and included Ayse Birsel, co-founder of Birsel + Seck, Andrea Lipps, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Jonsara Ruth, co-founder and Design Director of Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design.

Five awards were given to:

Original Concept and Design: CASE-RPI , Chunks project.
Sustainable solution: École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD), Gilles Baudoux, Zero Waste Jacket, 2019
Project with social impact: Swiss designer Iskander Guetta, graduate from ECAL, for his project Shelter Fallout.
Ready to be produced: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Whatnot 2019 Collection: Obsolete Objects.
And the first Best Conscious Design project that met at least 3 of the 4 previous criteria was given to École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD), Anna Saint Pierre, for her project Site Concretes.

We had a chance to catch up with the winners to learn more about their project, their interest and how the notion of “conscious design” is important for them.

Q&A with Josh Draper, Lecturer at CASE – Original Concept and Design Award
–       Tell us a bit about you, your school, and the program you are teaching.

We are the Center for Architecture, Science and Ecology (CASE), a research institute at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). CASE is based in Brooklyn at Industry City.
Our teaching and research is driven by the urgent problems of climate change, population increase and urbanization. Taking an ecological, approach, our goal is getting healthy, smart and resilient energy, material and systems solutions in to the built environment with transformative results for the planet. At CASE, we work across scales from the molecular to the global. The challenges of the near future require this kind of interscalar approach which is inevitably interdisciplinary.

–       Tell us about the projects you presented at WantedDesign Brooklyn

Our exhibit, “CHUNKS”, is based on the research of our Associate Director Alexandros Tsamis relating to advanced composites called Functionally Graded Materials (FGMs). These new materials allow for the blending of properties and performance characteristics with very interesting potentials for architecture and design. We are exploring, for example, the use of carbon negative biomaterials for construction that can, in the right configuration, maintain a similar structural performance to concrete. There’s also incredible potential for Additive Manufacturing and FGMs to actually print and blend materials as you build. Imagine 3d printing a wall that seamlessly blends between structure and insulation or window and wall. This opens entirely new design potentials.

–       Why do you think it especially appealed to the Jury?

We presented our work as a kind of advanced material library where every project had a common format and parameters. I think the jury appreciated the focus and rigor. But it’s the design and environment potentials of these new materials and methods that we hope really got their attention.

–       How would you like the projects to evolve and potentially to be implemented?

We got a lovely note from Avinash Rajagopal, the Editor in Chief of Metropolis Magazine, on the back of our WantedDesign Jury award which said “Forward thinking, groundbreaking work! Congratulations I can’t wait to see more!” We can’t either! So, we’re working hard on the software, fabrication and material analysis of these new composites. We want to get the knowledge out there in to the field as soon as we can. According to the UN statistics, in essence, we need to double the amount of cities we have on the planet in the next century to house the growing world population. How do we do that in a sustainable, healthy and beautiful way?

–       How do you/your students relate to the notion of “Conscious and responsible design “?

I think being conscious and responsible is in CASE’s DNA. To think ecologically about architecture and design is to be aware of the multiplicity of inputs and outputs flowing through one’s practice and to strategically identify points of intervention for better outcomes. We are always pushing our students to balance and negotiate the network of concerns present with an eye on making an impact on the biggest challenges in the built environment. Our students go out in to the field as “glue figures” that bind together diverse teams to take on complex problems.

Q&A with Iskander Guetta. Project with Social Impact Award

–       Tell us a bit about you, where you are from, your school, your area of study
I was born in Lausanne, the 30th January 1996. I was raised up and made all my scholarship in this city. My path was pretty straight, and during High school I started having a growing interest for going into an art school. I was really interested into many artistic fields, however I felt always frustrated by the lack of interaction with the people that is inherent to the fine arts or other fields of expression. As if those practice were on another dimension than the common life. At that time I was looking at the different field that the local art school (ECAL) was teaching, and I get really interested into product design. By the time, it appears to me as the most adequate medium in the creative field, a link between self-expression and everyday life. Bringing objects out of one’s creativity for solving day-to-day issues. Finally, I started ECAL at the end of high school in 2014. I was very glad of that opportunity and I get really involved through those 4 years of the program. I was involved in some global areas that is taught there : doing the most out of the less, god is in details, sustainable objects, and those kind of modernist universal topics.

–       Tell us about the project you presented at WantedDesign Brooklyn
Back in 2017 we were asked to found 3 topics of our interest in order to chose afterward one of those and develop it during the last semester as a diploma project. That, project, Abri+, was the second topic I worked on. At the time I was really looking for solving a problem in a close context. The school was giving me a semester to develop whatever I wanted. This was an incredible opportunity to help anyone in some “material” issue and trying to find any solution in a very realistic field, but who and why ? I looked into the hosting of migrants in Switzerland, how and where they are housed. The widespread use of the bunker and all the report, critics and manifestations that it involved caught my attention. I started to think on how could I be able to create a solution, at least for that very specific context of the hosting of displaced people into the Swiss fallout bunkers. Quickly I got in touch with the institution that was in charge of the hosting of the migrants in my state. They informed me of all the formality of the housing, how and why the proceed in this or that way. They opened me the doors of a bunker so that I could get a clear idea of the space. From that I started working on the project. The idea was to provide more comfort and more dignity to the resident of these bunkers, with the simplest means that have to adapt to the bunker standards and norms. At the beginning of the second semester, I decided to carry on this project, simply because it was the most meaningful. The political issue that it raises, on how we consider housing displaced people, was for me very important on how addressing a political problem with product design.

–       Why do you think it specially appealed to the Jury?
It is pretty hard to say… Maybe because the solution is in the form of small objects, which is unusual in that design field. We are more used to see bigger objects in the case of temporary/emergency housing, some kind of housing unit, bunk beds, or any kind of furniture made as a universal solution. This project shows up as a solution working for a very specific context : the fallout bunkers in Switzerland. The frame of the project is more smaller but the positive impact on the involved population may be bigger.

–       How would you like the project to evolve and potentially to be implemented?
It would be great if this project could become a reality. The purpose of the project is to answer to a request of primary need, thus to be produced.
The best way would be to have this project implemented by the Swiss state, as it already manages all the infrastructure and the hosting of those displaced people, it has the best capacity to produce, distribute and manage this project. Also It would be more reliable than a private company, that would need to get a return on the production and would tend to commercialize it and cause some compromise in the application of the project. Politically, it would be a very important and symbolic step towards a better hosting of newcomers in Switzerland. If the state decide to provide more comfort, it means that they acknowledge the lack of dignity in those bunkers and that they decided to go on a more respectful path towards the housing of those population. If we are able to solve their primary needs of intimacy and comfort, then we can start to find solutions for their integration into the Swiss or European system.

–       How do you relate to the notion of “Conscious and responsible design” ?
I think those notion are inherent to the practice of design. Is it possible to relate to an “unconscious and irresponsible” design ? The absurdity of this question shows how much design is related to those notions. The only way to be disconnected from those is to have a blind practice, making compromises and to act in bad faith. Maybe it happens because with the time and the growing strength of the industry, the very fundamental questions of why has been excluded from the designing process. Thus the industry can easily ask and justify any project as the designer will just act as a tool for designing. By alienating the designer from its very original task, the industry use it to stimulate the sales, creating more performance and more efficiency, because the profit is the goal. At the time lots of designers have denounce the perversity of the industry. The political discourse is not new to designer and I didn’t invent anything by reporting those transgression, but it seems that the system has ingested those thoughts and brought the prolific amnesia that lead the actual design trends. We have to listen to those that have seen and denounced the industry and the new paradigm of the system, we have to bring back consciousness and responsibility in this practice.

–       What is next step for you, other personal project you are working on or your dream project?
The next steps are still unknown for me. This year I took a step back from product design and tried to have an overview of what is happening. The lack of purpose and all the nonsense of the industry, stimulated by designer are very hard to overcome. I would rather see myself working for a state or a public institution, trying to solve problem of real people in the daily life. I would really like to have a direct exchange with institution, association or other entity by working on small-scale project. It would be great if I could do design for people as the baker is making bread for people.

Q&A with Anna SAINT PIERRE, Designer & chercheuse doctorante, SCAU – EnsadLAB – Sustainable Solution Award

Tell us a bit about you, where you are from, your school, your area of study ?

I am a textile & material designer. My current research is an extension of a master’s degree in Arts Décoratifs school in Paris (2016) devoted to the upcycling of rubbles produced by buildings destruction and exploring new modes of transmission through the spectrum of matter.
Since October 2017, it’s part of a PhD at the SCAU architecture agency and EnsadLAB (Arts Décocarifs laboratory) : «Rubble as heritage».

– Tell us about the project you presented at WantedDesign Brooklyn ?
I presented some researches from my design-led PhD :
Rooted in the practice of the architecture agency SCAU, this design-led PhD investigates new modes of memories transmission through in situ transformation of rubble – as an alternative to «tabula rasa» or strict restoration. Several transformation protocoles are then developed, using crafts-manship and industrial knowledge, and local sourcing generates a specic material for each project.The demolished building integrates the architectural renewal in forms of fillers, aggregates or pigments that will determine the color, the matter, the texture, the weight of the new materials.Then, the transmaterialized memory of the building becomes one of its constitutive components.
I decided to present works about two buildings : « Les Petites Affiches » and « le Parissy ». 
- In the case study of Les Petites Affiches, a Parisian building dating back to 1922 and subject to renovation between 2017-2018, 111.39 kg of rubble were collected to explore how they could be « textilised ». The experiment developed during an on-site-residency, focused on how these rubble could be appropriated through textile processes to give life to new architectural materials. For example, some fragments were grinded and sieved to achieve the fine grain of a pigment before being mixed with a binder. The ink obtained, charged with the site’s history, was printed on textile using silk screen methods.
- Twenty-two years after its construction, the office building «le Parissy», is about to undergo a major renovation. This project highlights the impact that the ever-shortening life of tertiary real estate programs has on the life and death cycle of the materials used. The facades stapled stones, fashionable in the 80s and 90s, come from quarries in Brittany (france) : celtic gray granite and blue granite of lanhelin. In order to adapt the building to thermal insulation standards, these slabs will be replaced by metal panels. They represent a deposit of about 2000 m2 or 182 us tons, which will be re-used in situ to make granito (granite terrazzo) on the atrium’s floor, forming a fifth façade, visible and identifiable from the street. Concretely, this symbolic gesture (deconstructing an architectural element, crushing it, sifting it into something else) takes shape through in situ recycling processes. The office facade becomes an open granite quarry between Paris and Issy-les-Moulineaux.

- Why do you think it specially appealed to the Jury?
The construction industry raises many environmental problems: it requires the extraction of colossal quantities of raw materials and produces just as much waste. These mass-produced rubble are today the object of increasing regulations and in the perspective of circular transition, reuse and recycling can become a source of creation for the building trade. Regarding building as a futur quarry (a starting point rather than an end point) where materials have had already a life.

- How would you like the project to evolve and potentially to be implemented?
I hope that current projects, such as Granito in Parissy, will progress as planned until their realization on a large scale. The construction stage will be decisive and very instructive. There are many barriers to recycling and reuse (especially economic and regulatory) but for the moment we have managed to deal with them. Let’s hope it continues!

– How do you relate to the notion of “Conscious and responsible design“ ?
At the time of Anthropocene’s reflexions, the involvement of designers and architects is an heavy responsibility. The aim of my researches is to settle recycling protocols of architectural matter – within an environmental approach – to question the notion of heritage and historical heritage. Repair architectures designed by others before us, for others after us. As Svetlana Boym phrased it in The Future of Nostalgia (2002), it is about implementing a «reflexive» nostalgia more than a «restorative» one, so that recycling strategies can become a source of creation, questionning the evocative power of materials.
What is next step for you, other personal project you are working on or your dream project?

Still in collaboration with SCAU architectural agency, we are working on other places, in particular with raw earth materials (from excavation), walls in reused bricks. Each project is linked to a place and therefore has a different history. We must continue this work, adapting to each project, each story, each use.

Q&A with Pete Oyler, Assistant Professor in the Designed Objects program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) – Ready to be produced Award

  • Tell us a bit about you, your school, and the program you are teaching

My name is Pete Oyler and I am an independent designer and Assistant Professor in the Designed Objects program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). My work explores the intersections of design, craft, contemporary culture, and history and my studio practice emphasizes both traditional and experimental approaches to a wide range of materials and methods of production. I joined the Designed Objects program in 2016 and lead advanced studio courses that explore the contemporary landscape of design, exhibition, and independent design practice.

The Designed Objects program at SAIC focuses on the critical rethinking of objects and the changing relationship between things, ideas, and contexts. Investigations into how objects extend human potential and inspire imagination are balanced with studios in the responsible and imaginative use of new technologies, materials, and production processes. We teach designers to be active with their agency, to be social citizens who maintain an expansive understanding of objects.

  • Tell us about the projects you presented at WantedDesign Brooklyn

The work for WantedDesign was developed over the course of a year in an advanced level studio with a focus on creative inquiry and iteration that I co-taught with designer and educator Jonah Takagi. The course enabled students to hone their voice as individual designers while working as a team to execute a thematic collection of highly refined and relevant work for public exhibition.

Through an investigation of what was, students focused on the question: what is obsolescence? Native to human existence, our environments are in constant flux. The human/object relationship changes as new methods of making and modes of efficiency force new perspectives, and, subsequently, new objects. The work we presented explores objects of our past and reimagines them in our present.

To provide a few specific examples, since the 19th century coal has been a standard energy source. With new technologies and the desperate need for cleaner energy, local and national governments are working to become coal-free. Ana Buitrago was inspired by the carbide lamp–portable headlamps worn by gas miners–and her “Ignito Lamp” explores coal as a material extraction and as an increasingly obsolete energy source. Employing both neon and coal slag, her project speaks to an evolution of energy.  Taking a decidedly different approach, Arianna Silen’s “The Joys of Jello” explores the 1950s fascination with gelatin-based foods which, until the mid-19th century were exclusively for the elite because the process of producing both gelatin and molds were extremely laborious. Thanks to industrialization, the rise of a middle class and the introduction of home refrigerators, by the 1950s gelatin-based foods began to trend. From energy sources and food trends to methods of upholstery and joinery and modes of manufacturing, students critically engaged the way in which objects act as cultural artifacts.

  • Why do you think it specially appealed to the Jury?

The collection we presented was formally and materially curious and intended to instigate conversation. The collection incorporated a dynamic range of materials (i.e, coal slag, horse hair, borosilicate glass, and neon) and sounds (i.e., white noise and fire) which I think all contributed to a vibrant and engaging exhibition.

Also, and importantly, many of the works presented addressed issues that are critical to our contemporary social and economic condition including access to clean water, renewable energy, and ideas around labor and productivity in the workplace.

  • How do you/your students relate to the notion of “Conscious and responsible design”?

From my perspective, conscious, responsible design hinges on informed, analytical engagement with our past and present material and ideological context. Thus, it is imperative that design students have a critical understanding of the past in order to understand and conceive of creating work within the present. We all have much to learn from the objects that surround us and the built environments in which we operate. The concept brief for this exhibition asked students to think about designed objects as cultural artifacts. The broad scope of responses evidenced in the collection we presented at WantedDesign illustrate the many ways in which the objects that surround us speak to ever evolving social, political, and economic ideals.