The Seymourpowell team pick out four key themes from this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan
Rewilding goes beyond sustainable ambitions to maintain the status quo; it means repairing damaged ecosystems, restoring and protecting the Earth. This movement has roots in the 1990s, especially evident in architecture and urban planning, seen in Milan’s iconic Bosco Verticale completed in 2014. Since then, and with the burgeoning climate crisis and recent COP26 summit, rewilding is extending its tendrils to more categories and sectors and blossoming as a mission for positive change among designers.
Tangible urgency: Trees took centre stage at the Supersalone, setting the agenda of environmental stewardship, and tapping into a rapidly growing narrative around our symbiotic relationship with forests and their importance within climate action. A collaboration with the ForestaMi project saw 200 trees destined for the streets of Milan create a sparse wood at the Fiera. Shrubs filled the place of empty fair stands, creating a calm, reflective oasis between exhibits. In Brera Botanical Garden, the installation Natural Capital by Carlo Ratti Associati in collaboration with the University of Milan seeks to make CO2 visibly tangible. Dark circles on the ground represent humanity’s CO2 footprint and can be compared starkly to clear bubbles representing a tree’s captured carbon. Italian luxury retailer Mohd partnered with Studiopepe to reveal their latest collection and share their view of the home of tomorrow. The showroom was transformed into a green-filled escape where design and nature beautifully intertwined.
Coexistence: Key projects embodied the essence of rewilding by counteracting the human attitude of dominance over other species, instead looking to collaborate with nature. Vestre and Note Design Studio’s Habitats collection addresses declining biodiversity in the city; the log bench, for example, is constructed around a fallen tree trunk, creating seating and a home for non-human species.
Vestre and Note Design’s log bench has a function for both human and non-human visitors. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Assisted ecosystem: Graduates reacting to the Earth’s declining ecosystems imagined positive uses of technology to assist regeneration. Segev Kaspi’s Forest Ranger Druids project devised a line of robots responsible for preserving forests. Each robot has its own role in management and their actions change based on the forest’s needs. In the ocean, Coral City by Anna Kaiser and Kyo Mangold proposes a modular coral reef made up of 3D-printed parts developed with marine biologists to attract coral larvae to its surface and adapt to the warmer temperatures.
Biophilic palette: The CMF palette of rewilding has raw geological and biological origins, inspired by intense spices, rock surfaces and a multitude of verdant greens.
Segev Kaspi’s robotic Forest Ranger Druids play a crucial role in wildlife preservation. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
This year’s Salone Del Mobile proved to be a pioneering event where circular and sustainable displays spread across the city. The pandemic has clearly accelerated the urgency of the climate emergency and brought more mature solutions to market. With shops and manufactures forced to closed, brands had the time to develop holistic strategies for sustainability with circular systems, easy assembly and disassembly and modular design solutions considered. In this low-impact direction, designers embrace industrial styles and ubiquitous construction materials to create unexpected surfaces and products that challenge conventional approaches.
The CMF palette of rewilding takes inspiration from nature. Image Credit: RAPHAELLE MUELLER
Adaptable structures: Adaptable structures offer a pragmatic and evolutionary solution for exhibition displays and furniture design. Using raw construction materials that can be reused or recycled, these systems combine geometric rigour with simple assembly to deploy endless configurations.
Inspired by Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione, Stefano Boeri and Andrea Caputo – with engineering partner Lukas Wegwerth – designed a flexible modular wall system that offers various display opportunities for brands to exhibit at the Fiera. Using recycled wood, all the display materials and components are devised to be dismantled and subsequently reused. Back in town, Tom Dixon partnered with Valextra Flagship Store to present a display of ten monumental LED light forms. The design celebrates the circuit board, a product that is found everywhere, in its purest form. Made from two simple elements, a circle and a square, the boards can ‘be configured and reconfigured in an endless number of sculptures’, Dixon says.
Rejecting complexity: To maximise material use and minimise processing, brands and designers are exploring digital fabrication methods and simplified construction. Standardised industrial elements are assembled through mechanical or interlocking techniques, focusing on form and composition rather than complexity. Design Italy spotted pieces by e-commerce platform Cyrcus Design where Denis Santachiara showed a large laser-cut aluminium plate used to cut 363 pieces to assemble 218 different products. Meanwhile, Mallie Gautreau’s graduate project Strap System: Weaving the Volume simplifies construction methods to limit material wastage and enable easy disassembly. Using only textile strips to shape the bag collection, they are able to address form, construction and material simultaneously.
Industrial look: Infinitely recyclable, aluminium has proven a popular material for durable and modular lightweight construction. Strong, versatile and cost effective, the material is well-suited for modern sustainable design and production. Pattern of Industry, a furniture collection by oneseo Choi, uses aluminium profiles paired with coloured block sides to create beautiful geometric patterns and unique compositions. Raw imperfection, welding and production marks become inherent to the industrial look, like the Foamy Fantasy chair by Studio Finemateria. Made with standard size aluminium parts and exposed polyurethane foam, the seat clasps and honours two overlooked materials and sublimates industrial aesthetics.
Tom Dixon’s LED circuit boards take a simple form that can be endlessly reconfigured. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Enduring metals: With plastic the number one enemy, designers are increasingly turning to traditional metalworking processes to create unexpected surfaces and magnetic finishes.
The Foamy Fantasy chair by Studio Finemateria honours two overlooked materials. Image Credit: SALVATORE POLLARA
Hands Up by Sebastian Bergne is a tray made from a plan mirroring steel laser cut. Image Credit: SEBASTIEN BERGNE
Jamie Wolfond’s Type Vase was made by welding together stock brass tubing. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Floris van Dyke’s painting is transformed into a sensory experience for the visually impaired. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Wellness is a theme that has permeated every industry over the past five years. Amplified by Covid-19, the term has come to encompass attitudes towards mental health, eating, sleeping, working and everything in between. In Milan there was a clear shift towards empowerment through wellness, approached holistically through cross-modal experiences that drive positivity and purpose and are mindful of the individual and their place within the community.
Inclusivity: Themes of accessibility and freedom characterise the growing expressions of inclusive design, particularly exemplified in the Lost Graduation Show. Highlights include universally functional products like Sarah Hossli’s Long Armed Chair, developed with care home residents to aid mobility and accessibility to the simple act of sitting. The chair uses contemporary aesthetics that strip away the stigma of assistance to create a design that would be at home anywhere.
Nan Zhou’s Characters help young children to learn the Chinese alphabet in a creative way
At the Dutch Masterly Pavilion, artists Jasper Udink ten Cate and Jeroen Prins asked the question: ‘How can the visually impaired experience the Salone, an inherently visual event?’ Their immersive experience recreated a sensory version of Floris van Dyck’s Still Life with Fruits, Nuts and Cheese, translating the painting through sound, smell, texture and taste.
Design for children: Lockdown bought a sharp focus onto children’s developmental needs and adaptive ways of learning. An influx of projects explored how to better nurture children’s wellbeing, like KOKKO by Nicole Magagnotti Panizza, an adaptive wearable toy that acts as an ‘escape space’ when children experience sensory overload. Tactile learning tools like Nan Zhou’s storytelling characters familiarise preschool children with Chinese characters while allowing them to create their own stories.
Hermès’ immersive sensory installation showcases its latest home collection. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Enriching spaces: Lockdown prompted designers to rethink daily rituals, creating solutions that bring ease, comfort and control. In the workplace, BuzziSpace’s products use holistic acoustics and zonal differentiation to create ‘Hubs for Togetherness’, whether in the next generation of offices or at home. In one notable show, Hermès delivered a full sensory experience to present its latest home collection. The set design takes over five house-size lime plaster huts painted with bright geometric motifs where visitors can discover and contemplate the collection’s colour palette and shapes, accompanied by an experiential aural and olfactory composition.
Bethan Laura Wood’s Bon Bon Double Wall Lamp exemplifies the fun, positive aesthetic. Image Credit: EMANUELE TORTORA
Joyful CMF: A movement of positivity is counterbalancing the lack of sensory stimulation during the pandemic. Reminiscent of Dada artists translating the horrors of the First World War into irreverent and rowdy work, this colourful and confident aesthetic sees surrealism moving back into design.
Rive Roshan’s Sand in Motion collection comprises eight objects 3D printed using sand
The overnight adoption of online working and socialising rituals has blurred the lines between our physical and digital realities. This was reflected in Milan with progressive products born from surrealist digital origins, manifesting in fantastical physical expressions. Designers are questioning how we behave in these hybrid spaces and what we’re prepared to trade for seamless convenience.
Connected ecosystems: With our homes becoming more dynamic than ever and work set to continue in the domestic space, home technology has become omnipresent. Chinese tech giants had a strong presence this year, with brands like Xiaomi, Haier and Hoover exhibiting new domestic digital experiences with fully integrated and silent tech. Haier’s internet of things (IoT) installation uses voice-assisted technology and data collection to demonstrate how in the future you could prepare a dinner for friends entirely ‘remotely’ using the hOn app. Casa Xiaomi also impressed with its white, pure, yet engaging range of connected home products. The near-silent standing fan particularly stood out as a high-quality player against other brands. The branded apartment reveals different ways of living and sharing technology within the domestic space, allowing owners to manage the functions, consumption and performance of everyday objects. However, it poses the question of whether this smart home would require you to get rid of all your home electricals and replace them with a single branded ecosystem, or will tech giants start talking to each other to unify around an open system?
Raised awareness: In reaction to the use of technology, designers addressed concerns around online privacy, data harvesting practices and increased daily screen time. Julia Janssen’s project One Click questions the notion of ‘informed consent’ currently written under the EU law. Janssen makes the complexity and opacity of data harvesting tangible by printing the 835 privacy policies users accept when clicking ‘Got it’ on DailyMail.co.uk into a 300 page book. The project is an invitation to slow down and understand what we are agreeing to online. While becoming more integrated, invisible and seamless, we wonder how future technology can address the tensions of human consent?
Julia Janssen encourages us to think more about what we agree to online. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Born digital, made physical: Living in a digital world for the past two years, designers are developing new modes of practice where digital matter becomes raw material for creation. At Nilufar Depot, Andrés Reisinger’s surrealist furniture collection Odyssey is configured as a union between physical and digital, where the physical work cannot exist without its digital image. The installation plunges the visitor into a futuristic realm, questioning the emotional terrain and theoretical implications of digital-led design.
Andrés Reisinger’s Crowded Elevator chair was inspired by Bauhaus engineering. Image Credit: SEYMOURPOWELL
Back in town, Nilufar exhibits Audrey Large’s sculptures Some Vibrant Things. We spotted Audrey’s work back in 2019 and already loved the vivid and futuristic palette of finishes and colours that her work conjures. Originating from a virtual and interactive show the artist uses ‘extracting’ and ‘converting’ tools to craft unique baroque sculptures. She ponders: ‘When files materialise into objects, do they undergo a gentle or brutal transformation?’ We like to think that virtual and physical can merge beautifully, offering the possibility to make things unique with on-demand production and customisation benefits.
Neo prints: Another shift brought by digital led-design is the push for 3D printing. Out of prototyping and into product launches, it brings new materiality to market, such as graphene PLA filament, 3D-printed sand and home compostable biopolymer made from Sicilian orange peel.
THE FUTURE OF TRADE FAIRS
With countries around the world accelerating their vaccination programmes and the hospitality sector reopening, business travel is returning. However, additional costs, documentation and sustainability concerns will make us more selective travellers, making trips where only necessary. With a backdrop of the climate crisis, wildfires spreading across the globe and Sicily recording a European all-time temperature high of 48.8°C, we questioned: ‘Is it necessary to go to international trade fairs?’ It would be more sustainable to attend digitally, but these gatherings are opportunities for creative minds to come together, sparking innovation and resolving issues of our time.
At Seymourpowell, we decided that physically attending Salone del Mobile was essential, for invigorating inspiration and to support our design community in its first decisive steps back to recovery. So, we asked: ‘How do we balance creative collaboration with planetary responsibility?’
Travel and mobility
One change that could massively influence the environmental impact of international fairs would be for visitors to choose to travel by train. Based on data from Trainline, our train journey used 92% less CO2 than flying. We were pleased to see other travellers making similar moves this year; according to Euromonitor, ‘48% of global consumers [chose] sustainable travel features versus 52% mass market options in 2021’. But what are the consequences of a mass migration to rail?
We predict travellers will likely combine travel destinations and go away for longer periods of time. This means there will be a need to facilitate bigger suitcases, remote working and home office accommodations. As a result, and from our experience travelling to Milan, trains will need to adapt to meet the needs for flexible living, working and resting. During our 13-hour journey, the space fell short of our needs for office, sleeping, dining and mediative zones. It goes without saying that desktop set-ups and Wi-Fi demands will be vital for intercity trains.
Adapting from work to rest, we noticed storage was also problematic and we are not alone. In a 2019 study we conducted into the needs of the travellers of tomorrow, 65% of nomadic businesswomen said that cabin storage didn’t help them to organise themselves during the journey. Could we create better storage solutions within seating areas to accommodate the accoutrements required for working, relaxing and socialising on board?
Thinking more holistically about the wellbeing of travellers, there is an opportunity to embrace a slower journey and transform the experience. We hope to see more empathetic experiences that help travellers unwind, recharge and reset their senses – from sensorially adaptive interiors to mood-boosting menus.
An unseen and overlooked carbon impact of major events is the swathe of digital content creation. With an influx of social media posts and live streams, what is the carbon cost and how can we curb the burden while still sharing and celebrating design?
Quantifying the exact impact of digital attendance to fairs is a complex and laborious task, but to give a bit of context we found that uploading one photo on Instagram is equal to the carbon created to drive 1.3m in a light vehicle. Although this seems small, the cumulative effect is substantial. According to Salone del Mobile, in 2019 there were 97,000 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #Fuorisalone2019, which created carbon emissions equivalent to driving from London to Spain.
Considering the totality of hashtags, posts and uploads for digital shows, we start imagining the toll this takes. The Shift Project, a French think tank specialising in digital carbon impact, proposes we curb our over-consumption of digital content and move towards ‘digital sobriety’, making conscious changes to reduce carbon-heavy digital activities. They call the transition ‘Lean ICT’, which we tried to put into practice during Milan 2021 by:
1. Prioritising images over video. On Instagram, consuming video is ten times more carbon intensive than an image, according to Greenspector. We condensed our posts and prioritised the grid over more carbon-intensive stories.
2. Upgrading devices less often. Some 45% of the energy consumption of digital devices is in the production stage. Despite new handsets by Apple announced during our trip to Milan, we will be sticking to our older handsets for longer.
3. Using Wi-Fi where possible. ‘Using a phone over a mobile network is at least twice as energy intensive as using it over Wi-Fi,’ said Lancaster University’s Mike Hazas. This proved difficult moving around a city-wide fair like Salone del Mobile. We hope to see more public, free and safe Wi-Fi coverage to aid lean ICT practices in the future.