I will always remember my first day at architecture school. The renowned architect Francesco Venezia introduced our future job to us with a lecture on the oxymoron “architecture-waste”, showing how most contemporary architecture is sadly designed to become waste relatively soon if compared, for instance, to Roman architecture.
Nowadays, designers that claim to create innovative objects and experiences often produce quite a lot of waste that is harmful to the environment. In my professional experience I have been involved in projects of site-specific installations using electronics, composite fibre, plastic laminates and other materials that are problematic to dispose of, and I have seen them become waste straight after the short-lasting events the installations were designed for. Such experiences have made me wonder whether that kind of design makes any sense to me.
Contemporary public art installations are commonly required to be “interactive”, which is often interpreted by artists as the need to create variable lighting effects linked through computing to the oscillating levels of some environmental parameters. After working on projects like that, lately I have had the strongly growing impression that such installations are more closely related to the kind of consumer’s illusions described by Guy Debord in Society of Spectacle than being really engaging for people.
In the era of the social networks we can observe a spreading interest in “do it yourself” projects, as proven by viral video tutorials on Youtube, that teach you how to make almost anything. Free 3D modelling softwares and 3D printing technologies are making design and fabrication processes much more accessible to non-designers. Besides, I believe design is always for people and inspired by people anyway, so wouldn’t it be more engaging to actually involve the public in the creation of an installation? Shade of Light, a project I worked on recently, is a solar-powered, luminous pavilion greatly inspired by this idea.
It was conceived as a lightweight shell structure covered by a skin made of upcycled CDs and solar LED light modules fabricated from everyday plastic waste such as cup and bucket lids. Invaluable help was given by Format Engineers, a team of structural engineers with multidisciplinary expertise ranging from structural design to coding, who have worked on international projects like the Vanke Pavilion by Daniel Libeskind at Milan Expo 2015. They came up with a cleverly designed reciprocal shell structure to be constructed from reused electrical conduit pipes, calculated to well withstand winds despite its relatively light weight.
Every day people toss countless plastic items. Who knows how many cup lids end up in the rubbish bin of a cafe belonging to one of those chains that I am not going to mention because they make awful espresso. By inviting people to co-create Shade of Light with us with donations of specific items among their plastic waste, we hope we can encourage them find some unexplored potential in what they mindlessly throw away every day.
The pavilion was designed to be erected in Cambridge, England, next February, to perform dynamic colourful reflections and to provide a glowing space in the darkness of the garden at night. Due to the lack of financial support to cover the expenses, currently the realisation of the project is severely threatened. Whether we can build the pavilion or not and how many solar lights we can integrate will greatly depend on people’s participation. However, Shade of Light has enriched me with an enlightening design process and I hope I will be able to bring the project to other locations in the future with Format Engineers.