Outdoor Design Report 2011: Nature's Bounty 11.08.11

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Virgin shoes
OAT has designed the world's first fully biodegradable shoes. The Virgin Collection comes in a range of designs, including white sneakers and high-tops with brightly coloured soles printed with an abstract tree pattern. Designer Christian Maats has spent two years finding the right materials, which turn out to be "a combination of natural materials like hemp, cork, bio-cotton, and certified biodegradable plastics". When buried, they react with microbes in the soil to fully decompose within six months.

A biodegradable shoe that also looks good is reason enough to celebrate, but the real genius came from Maats' desire to give the recycler a "tangible reward" for their efforts. Wildflower seeds are hidden within the shoe's tongue. When the shoes wear out, bury them and flowers will grow, turning disposal into an act of rebirth.

Maats knows how attached people become to their shoes. The Virgin Collection offers the chance to have a permanent memorial. Will the flowers actually grow? "Definitely," says Maats, who is already planning different seed mixes for future versions. (top image)

Peter Jakubik
Hobby Panton
Slovakian designer Peter Jakubik has re-imagined the iconic Panton chair, cutting its immediately recognisable shape out of a tree trunk. Werner Panton's original chair (Icon 082) is hailed as one of the great mass-produced pieces of furniture; light, elegant and moulded from one piece of plastic. Jakubik's design is its opposite in almost every way; heavy, inelegant and cut manually from an irregular wooden log. He likes the contrast between the years of development put into the original and his own chair's raw immediacy.

Jakubik is inspired by the idea that "a user can create his own object, product or artwork, all depending on his skills". In an accompanying video he challenges others to make their own version, using an axe and chainsaw. But Jakubik insists his chair is not a critique on mass production, DIY or our wastefulness of resources. "I am not a person who critiques such questions. It is just an ironic interpretation of open source principles."


Suzanne Husky
Sleeper Cells
Artist Suzanne Husky has spent the last four months as an artist in residence at the San Francisco Dump. Using found materials, she has constructed a series of primitive huts, which she calls Sleeper Cells. Far from the utilitarian shantytown structures born of similar methods, these huts have fantastical fairytale forms: a sleeping porcupine of prickly scrap-wood and an owl's head with one peeping eye.

Their charming shapes belie a more serious social commentary, though, and Husky bristles at the idea that they might make a nice garden shed. "This is a site-specific proposal for a sustainable lifestyle," she explains. When finished (she is still in the process of constructing the final one), they will form a small village at the Hays Valley Farm in central San Francisco. She sees her work as a form 
of resistance against our environmentally unsustainable ways, getting closer to nature and returning to the primitive. Husky's drawings imagine forests filled with these strange structures – "free hotels for travelling people or activists". It is difficult to tell if her Sleeper Cells are intended to be utopian or dystopian, but they will certainly make an attractive place to sit out the environmental apocalypse.


Bas van der Veer
Raindrop and Raindrop Mini are polyethylene water storage barrels by Dutch designer Bas van der Veer. Shaped like oversized water droplets, they attach to most drainpipes and contain a watering can for collecting rainwater. In the larger version, overflowing water fills the barrel once the can is full, creating a reservoir that can be accessed by a tap at the base.

In some countries, "almost a third of tap water is used for the garden," explains van der Veer. Struggling to fit a watering can under the tap, only to carry it outside again, seemed to him to be a waste of both effort and water. Raindrop's convenience is as important for van der Veer as its green credentials. Only by making products "easier, cheaper and more fun", he argues, will people become environmentally responsible. The aesthetic is certainly fun too; its striking, pop-plastic form suggestive of a heavily pregnant drainpipe as much as a raindrop. Both designs have recently been put into production by the Dutch pottery firm Elho.




Marielle Van Leewen



Duncan Marsden

quotes story

Wildflower seeds are hidden within the shoe's tongue. When the shoes wear out, bury them and flowers will grow

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