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sustainable design: highlights from milan design week 2023

in sustainable design

Among the many events and exhibitions, Milan Design Week 2023 has included interesting food for thought from a sustainable design perspective.

Following are my highlights, with a focus on initiatives that move beyond products…

rethinking and reworking

A truly sustainable approach to design starts with a careful assessment of the status quo aimed – among the rest – at identifying aspects that can be improved.

An example is FormaFantasma’s research on wool upholstery. Without designing any new product, the studio has reworked the inside of Tacchini’s existing seats, replacing foam with an upholstery made of wool and natural latex.
With Artek, the studio had previously carried out similar research on Finnish forest management, resulting (among the rest) in a plan to introduce knotty and grainy wood in production. Traditionally, “imperfect” wood would be scrapped in favour of clear and uniform wood, resulting in avoidable volumes of offcuts.

Undone seats showing the wool upholstery inside.
Credit: FormaFantasma + Tacchini – Ph: Andrea Ferrari
Undone seat on a wool background.
Credit: FormaFantasma + Tacchini – Ph: Andrea Ferrari
Stacked wooden stools.
Credit: FormaFantasma – Ph: Paavo Lehtonen
Close-up of wooden stools stacked upon each other.
Credit: FormaFantasma – Ph: Paavo Lehtonen

zero-waste installation

The exhibition Circolare has been showcasing the work of sustainability-mindful designers, featuring bio-based and waste-based materials as well as production methods that reduce the impact of products (see riivin for specific product highlights).

The same circular approach was applied to the exhibition itself. The display incorporated discarded furniture pieces and all materials (dividers, bases…) have been recovered to be given a new life after the event. An apparently simple yet very impactful move to make design exhibitions truly more sustainable.

Top-down view of the installation venue.
Credit: Isola – Ph: Filippo Ferrarese
Close-up view of the simple exhibition materials.
Credit: Isola – Ph: Bracket Studio

social impact

On top of the research on materials and processes, sustainable design includes a not-to-be-forgotten social aspect.

Design for Communities has showcased the result of an inspiring social-driven design initiative. Young guys living in Mathare (a slum in Nairobi) have been involved in the creation of furniture for their school. Crafted with simple tools and local wood, the pieces are based on a streamlined construction scheme featuring interlock assembly, easy disassembly for repair and longevity purposes, as well as the ability to adapt to different functional pieces: tables, benches and beds to begin with. More than a furniture collection, this initiative has provided tangible help to the community and empowered its inhabitants, teaching them precious skills to keep making long-lasting pieces using what they have.

Besides the undeniable value for the local community, it’s important that a similar initiative has found a place at Milan Design Week, one of the most influential design events in the world. Design exhibitions often focus on the glossy side of the industry, but design can be a lot more: it can drive change in society and this often happens away from the spotlight.

Wood bench on a grey background.
Credit: Giacomo Moor
Close-up of the interlock assembly.
Credit: Giacomo Moor
Bed, bench and table showcased in front of the school where they'll be used.
Credit: Giacomo Moor

My sustainable design review of Milan Design Week 2023 continues on riivin, with an independent selection of interior product highlights.

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