In Milan, an American Materials Revolution

The theme for the XXII Triennale de Milano, which opened on Friday, is “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival.”

And the American Pavilion, tagged RECKONstruct, is taking it seriously by exploring a revolution in material use.

“It’s about reconstruction and reconciliation and making things better off,” says Jane Abernethy, chief sustainability officer at the New York-based furniture company, Humanscale. “It’s about using design to solve sustainability issues.”

A number of U.S. companies, among them Arup, Humanscale, MIT’s SHINE Program, Stickbulb, Novità Communications and NextWave Plastics, are demonstrating how sustainable design can respond to the current global environmental crisis. Stickbulb is providing the pavilion’s lighting installations.

In the case of Humanscale, a dialog about sustainability was initiated between the firm’s design studio and its product development team. “The question was: ‘What if we introduced sustainability into the design approach?’” she said. “We went through a charrette for that.”

Now on display in the USA Pavilion are three simple stools that Humanscale developed using new and innovative materials. They’re three different approaches to sustainability — using naturally grown materials (bio-fabrication), harvesting unused waste (circular economy) and mimicking nature’s engineering solutions (biomimicry).

“Instead of using wood or recycled aluminum, these are good, valuable home products that you just grow and don’t use traditional manufacturing methods,” she says. “We’re using nature as the model – nature has found solutions to these challenges over millions of years.”

To measure the sustainability of each of the three designs, Humanscale partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SHINE program—Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise. Evaluating all three stool designs using a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) confirmed and quantified land, climate, water, and energy impacts, among others, from materials sourcing to transportation to manufacturing to actual use. Ultimately, each stool is measured for its environmental “footprint” and “handprint,” or how it can help fix the broken nature that surrounds us.

To be sure, these are concept products – emerging technology resulting from research and development. “Like a lot of things, they start in the lab, and then there’s a concept, and there’s a lag getting them to the market,” she says.

But surely, this is a new step in the right direction.

For more, go here.

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