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Haute GREEN 2007: Reclaiming Design

by Worldchanging New York local blogger Starre Vartan

Terrarium light fixtures, a chair of ribbons of HDPE recycled plastic, gorgeous oversize flowers crafted from wool blanket scraps, and a chair seat made from seatbelts exemplified Brooklyn-based eco-designer Matt Gagnon's comment, "Green design is good design." Gagnon was one of four panelists at Reclaiming Design, a discussion event held on Sunday evening that was part of Haute GREEN 2007.

After having a chance to check out all the amazing creations (most of which were recognizable as great modern design first, and sustainable or recycled second) moderators Jill Fehrenbacher and Emily Pilloton of Inhabitat kicked off the conversation. [Jill's also a contributor to Worldchanging.com. -- Ed.] Tejo Remy of iconic Dutch design group Droog, Carlos Salgado, furniture designer for Scrapile, and Sam Grawe, Editor of Dwell Magazine joined Gagnon on the panel.

Salgado of Scrapile introduced his repurposed wood creations, in which raw material is recovered from the dumpsters of woodworking shops and construction sites, by highlighting some of the differences between traditional designs and those that are made from recycled materials: "Most designers think of the concept first, but we have to look at the material first and design around that." Exploring the non-tradtional benefits and drawbacks of an almost unknown material is a challenge, said Salgado. "We thought, let's learn what this material wants to do...and design around that."


Scrapile's recovered wood gets new life as tables, light fixtures, and desks

And just because something is sustainable doesn't mean it's not wasteful. "Everyone grew up with wood and it's a material that's very primal to everyone. People tend to forget the amount of waste [produced in wood furniture manufacturing]," said Salgado.

Tejo Remy made the all-recycled and iconic "Chest of Drawers" (right) in 1991 and it is still inspiring young designers. Remy spoke about what kind of thinking is inherent to green design, and asked a series of questions he thinks about when creating: "How do you create your own paradise, like Robinson Crusoe? How can I make it with what's already available? How can I change how these products are conceived?"

When one of the audience members brought up the fact that much of sustainable or green design was unaffordable to many people, Salgado responded that DIY culture is an important to the evolution of design, saying, "When they are making their own, that's cool by me. This stuff shouldn't just be for rich people to buy. I would encourage everyone to pick up scrap and build your own pieces. I dare you!" Considering Scrapile's three-year design process and meticulous building specs, that dare elicited a laugh from the audience, but Salgado was serious about spreading green design far and wide. "I'd like to see similar reuse projects in other cities," he said.

Gagnon summed up what a lot of us are looking forward to: the inevitable ubiquity of green design. "In 5 to 10 years it won't be a big deal to be sustainable. There shouldn't be a sticker on some stuff touting 'I don't hurt other people or the environment'. That's the way it will all be."

Right: Gagnon's recycled paper magazine rack

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