Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Framed on the presentations 4.10 Designed Objects and 4.17 Life Cycle and Environmental Justice

Projections:
As proposed by Elaine Scarry in her essay: The Body in Pain, the artifacts that we create are embodied compassion of the human experience, bodily and mentally, socially, emotionally, psychologically needs. As a designer, I believe that there personal references to what I create, that I hold responsibility to the life and impact of the artifacts, that the step is to see these objects as non-specific to me, but universal in the manifestations of a human desire. But there is also the fact that these connective compassion is definitely stronger when I am working on creating the object as a one-to-one scale. As an architect, I am removed from the actual construction of the object, my hand is not on the hammer and yet, I am directing the overall location of the nails. That simultaneously, there are two scales at work, intimate versus general. And I think this shift in scales relates to the actual making of artifacts, that the major material used in the final piece is not the only one at play. There are other materials involved in the production of certain objects.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

re-appropriation


Being able to re-use materials, give them a new meaning, a new life is important. If there is a way to re-use or re-appropriate a material it will be better off used than using more energy to melt it, mold it, shred it, and/ or transform the material into a new material or product.

This image of an architectural project from architectural duo, D'Acosta and Turrent, re-claims materials found in the local area within Mexico. This project is a winery/ olive oil school. Since resources are limited in Mexico it is essential to re-use/ re-claim materials that are available. These architects have re-appropriated wooden crates, boxed spring mattresses, wine barrels, etc. to create this institution.

While building an adobe house in the slums of Mexico, as concrete, brick and rebar houses were going up nearby I was surprised to hear that the local materials (adobe) were not valued and un-appreciated. It is concrete that is valued. The people living in the slums want concrete homes, so they think, until they experience the properties of this material. Some will build a concrete house and after encountering the lack of circulation, heat given off they will go back to their grass/ found material huts. This so called lucrative material of concrete is not the way to go in this particular area. There is a reason it is not available.


In areas where resources are limited, using materials and goods that are available is essential. These available goods may not be desired but, are resources. In developing countries like Mexico, innovation and creativity come into play to take advantage of specific resources. As a designer, we should be looking at these approaches to harnessing valuable resources. There is much to be learned by studying the re-use/ re-appropriation of materials.


By understand the basic method of harnessing resources present, we as designers can narrow down and focus on alternative materials and solutions. We are able to be creative when the knowledge of materials is available.

I find Chris Lefteri’s approach to bringing/ sharing knowledge and awareness on materials to designers a valuable asset in the process of design. We as designers need to place importance and parameters on the materials we are using. Seeing and understanding the available materials, at our grasps, is essential in our decision making process.


A new spatial divider, this box springged mattress, is a captivating image especially understanding that it has been re-appropriated. This is one of those beautiful instances where the material/ product qualities are unique and when applied out of its intended context the beauty in its unfamiliar use creates a new transformed spatial quality. Maybe the beauty is in the re-appropriation? We should be looking at available resources when designing, as unique and beautiful materials/ products are at our fingertips.


http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-0418-escuelita-pg,0,6833153.photogallery

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ethical Jewelry

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent Toxic Release Inventory from 2006, says that metal mining is the worst polluting industry in the United States of all waste disposals. I argue then how can we make “green jewelry” not just an idea but also a practice. Luckily enough, once extracted precious gems and metals are never discarded and do not fall under disposable consumerism or planned obsolescence. As dirty the jewelry industry may be, its value endures within our social standards.

 

As a maker, I have found myself questioning and trying to understand the controversy behind my practice not only as an independent artist but also within the RISD facilities.

To really understand how green my practice is I have to first recognize how transparent the company I get my sources from is. Do they mine their copper or has it been recycled? This will allow me to take an environmentally conscious choice of material sourcing. I also question the ethical labor production of my materials. Was it a Fair Trade? Who has mined them, for how much? What environmental circumstance have the workers been exposed to? What is the manufacture’s energy consumption and environmental impact to their practice?  What about packaging, transportation, waste disposal?

 

The ethical use of labor has started since the Industrial Revolution but only recently has their been concerns for ethical jewelry production. Ethical material sources have introduced a distinction between two types of extractions: primary and secondary refining. The primary extraction is the mechanical and chemical extraction of metals directly from natural resources. Now because of the Hardrock Mining Reform in 2007, the extraction of metals must abide to environmental regulations.

 

Secondary refining, sources metal from previously refined products. Pawnshops and jewelers might send jewelry to be subsequently processed. This process does not apply for metal consumption only but also for other materials that might be used in the jewelry industry such as electronics, plastics, and fibers.  This lowers the demand, extraction and processing of new materials.

 

However the problem lies on where one can buy this ethical produced metal? Unfortunately, there are not many eco-conscious manufactures where jewelers can buy refined metal or industries that will buy your waste if you are not working with an industry. The whole idea of jewelers using refined metal becomes unapproachable because of the indifference and disconnect these companies have. 

 

As another jeweler, Gabriel Craig mentions, “We must all begin the arduous task of rethinking jewelry, at least in terms of sustainability beyond our own lifetime”. This makes me realize we need to be intelligent in the way we use materials and not just create waste for waste but waste for food. One must question and understand every step a product undergoes. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

a belated blog post


BLOCKED

Air is the greatest insulator.  The Eskimos have known this for centuries. They’ve built with ice and continue to do so. It would be silly if they began building concrete igloos. Perhaps it’d be silly – or not. Perhaps they do start constructing masonry homes to communicate a certain economic or political ideal that exists within their society to those outside of it. And for those community members who decide not to make a material transformation risk how others perceive them. Would the idea of home and place alter based on this material transformation?  If ice cubes were to replace CMU’s, would it be legit to address the new construct as an igloo or would it take on a new form of identity? If ice cubes could replicate the appearance of CMU’s, would it even matter?

So, where does the Problem of Material Ethics end? Or rather, where does it begin? For me it doesn’t only begin with just ingredients, or a product.  Although a bit ambiguous, the scope of my response goes beyond my personal work into a broader sense of me as architect in the professional practice of architecture and design. My perspective on the Problem from one angle is the science behind an object and the other, its social implications that adhere to a specific economic model to reach a particular art form. All of these points working together, I believe, will point us blurrily to some questionable answer in an environmental realm.

So why concrete blocks and igloo construction? The question frames how the meaning of materials and its methods of construction can inform our understanding of culture and society.  How aesthetic is measured is somewhere between the science, manufacturing and building of blocks. It is a sketch on branding and the power it holds to influence perception and physically push a society to alter its particular culture.  

This occurrence of alterations in typological forms as experienced in our built environment is what I find so fascinating about architecture. A material transformation per say, is a visual form of communication. It is a response to meet some particular ideal in this scenario. The alterations made are visual ques to express a coming together of people. In reflection to the readings, I side with Justice as Virtue. I believe we have to revert to the original intentions of virtue as stated by Plato and amend its modernization of morality by finding justice of goods and property in relation to the environment.  Nowhere in any of the social justice texts, excluding the grassroots movement on Principles of Environmental Justice, does it question our human role in relation to the natural world.

I would be distraught if learned Eskimos were building with concrete if their climatic conditions were unaltered. Concrete would be an immense display of ignorance on their part, not to mention a waste of material with little regard to their immediate environment and its available resources. In addition to the way architecture has fashioned itself within a particular culture over a period time, is the importance of how we individually and collectively communicate our own identities and association with others in relation to a larger force, the environment.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eco-batsu mark

This is the mark that I introduced last Friday, meaning eco bad products.
Kokuyo, a stationary company in Japan, are taking this action for the awareness of environmental issues. I think this is similar to carbon footprint which is labeling their total emission of carbon dioxide on the finished products.

This Eco-Batsu (bad) mark was appeared on the Kokuyo catalog 2008 January issue. They labeled these marks on their products which lacked enough awareness of environmental issues. Their aims are to reduce these eco-bad labeled artifacts within three years and produce 100% eco-friendly producers instead.
I think it is a great action that showing their negative aspects in public and try to improve their products to become eco-friendly company.

The judgements whether their products are eco-bad or not is relying on their side. They divided the life cycle of their products in four categories, making time, carrying time, using time, and throwing away time. They label eco-batsu mark when the products do not passed each categories.
Some people said they do not want to see the bad mark on their products. Some people also skeptical about their standard rule of eco-batsu products. Kokuyo company will work hard on these consumer's voice and try to improve as much as they can.

Here is their web site.
http://www.kokuyo.co.jp/english/

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rethinking My Process: A New Composite Material

During my graduate time at RISD, I have found myself making my own material without realizing I was creating a composite material by fusing metal into fabric. I have been fascinated by this idea quite a bit, as I understood the method of electroforming.














Electroplating is the process of creating a metal coating over an object by controlling the electro-deposit of metal passing through an electric solution. A metal layer is built up on a metal surface, or on any surface that has been given an electro-conductive coating by the application of a paint that contains metal particles.

RISD’s Jewelery and Metals department has a small room with several liquid copper baths for students to experiment and make jewelry with. However, what can place inside a bath is strictly monitored. Only synthetic materials can be plated such as some plastics, glass, and wax. The use of organic substrates, will contaminated and unbalances the chemistry of the bath resulting of abnormal surface plating.  

Through rigorous experimentation and learning I started by wrapping nylon around wire forms and let the copper grow through he fabric. As I discovered I could use this method to fuse the fabric with the metal in a natural way as opposed to gluing the two together.  This process allowed me to further investigate how I could further fuse metal with fabric without having to use wire. Instead I added conductive paint to the fabric, which I subsequently plated.

A new material was formed enhancing the properties of the fabric that otherwise on its own could not have. I was able to give structure to the fabric by bending and shaping it around the metal construction. Because I was using fabric, this allowed to make large but light jewelry still being three-dimensional. This new composite material made me question how the integration of metal and fabric could change or impact the way we see jewelry and apparel. Further Interest grew on how I could use this to create jewelry. Or was it jewelry that I was trying to do?

            Inspired by the technical aspect of this process and knowing more about composite materials, I have questioned the life cycle of this medium.  Can I reuse the raw materials that I had once used? How bad is my process for the environment? How is RISD being responsible about this technology?  It made me happy to find out that I could refine the copper even though many industries do not process alloyed metals. As for the fabric goes, It is a poly organza material tha



Friday, April 3, 2009

Footprint of Materials

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Embodied Energy Responsibility


I agree that there are limits to our abilities and limits to reason within the context of sustainable design. Although I have the desire for design that is entirely sustainable, from the moment a mineral is mined from the earth, through its operational life as a product and finally in its degradation or obsolescence, I still feel that realist in me saying ‘yeah, that’s a great idea, but who the hell can pull that off?’ It is entirely unrealistic for a single designer to take on the responsibility of an object. In most cases, the objects we create have been worked on by others in some facet. Ultimately, I am not able to be on location as aluminum ore is being mined, nor am I able to be at the factory where window frames are being extruded, so I must be able to put faith in those before me. True, we are able to make decisions about whom or where we select our materials from, but because they are a separate entity, there is always some level of disconnect that forces a level of trust. For some, it may not be a level of trust so much as a level of not needing to know or care. Is this where the issue is? Do we need to make it a more essential issue, like those nutrition labels that tell what ingredients are in a food product? Do we need a nutrition label of energy, of social impact, of economic impact? Do we make it harder for people not to care or know? If a company is forced to label their product with the working standards from which it was developed, would the people purchasing it begin to change the market demand, and would the manufacturer become more self-conscious of its business practices?

As a hired designer, time becomes valuable. Not many clients will tolerate paying a designer to spend hours upon hours researching every last Btu of energy, hand that worked on, or dollar exchanged in the production of every single material that will be used in the realization of a design. It would not only be unacceptable use of time for the designer themselves, but it would also be unacceptable use of time for the paying client’s wallet.

I have decided to represent this idea through Whole Foods’ Whole Trade Guarantee. This label, though perhaps excessively large, easily informs the customer that the product is of high quality, directs greater funding to those producing it, improves wages and working conditions, supports sustainable environmental practices, and financially supports a social institution. It hits the triple bottom line in one little (or not so little) green stamp. I don’t have to give it another thought because I trust the company which has distributed that stamp.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Detaching Environmentalism from Politics

In understanding the term Green as it is used in the current environmental movement, we find out that it is based on the “Four Pillars” of the German, GrĂ¼nd (Green) Party. The Four Pillars, written in 1984, represent the founding principals of the political party as ecological wisdom, social justice, grass roots democracy, and non-violence. I believe this is central to any discussion on current trends in making a more environmentally responsible world come to fruition.
Although I understand the logic of these core values and believe they hold true as goals societies should aim for, the political ties these pillars have are too strong and therefore have an inherent opposition simply because they are placed as political objectives. I believe that in order to have a clean environment, the motivation to change needs to be understood by all regardless of political leanings. The least politically tied goal of these pillars is ecological wisdom, it seems there can be common interests, profits, and benefits regardless of right or left wing politics. It is hard to say the same thing for social justice, grass roots democracy and non-violence.
The “best” solution, in terms of a broad reaching and effective one, in my view is a politically neutral solution and for this we turn to research, facts, numbers and charts. The benefits of a Life Cycle Analysis are key to helping companies recognize their ecological impact. A parallel can be drawn to the Nutrition Label Act of 1990 that created heightened awareness about the food eat and more importantly, the choice to make an informed decision as a consumer. If the government is to take a stance it has to be on behalf of the consumer because, especially in a country like the USA, it is the only way to encourage companies to change their methods of production.
In the natural world, a close look at an ecosystem shows the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers where each is dependent on the other for survival and a return to earth means eventually becoming earth and feeding the system again. The EPA’s definition of LCA as a Cradle to Grave concept is “raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth”. There are two basic concepts that we can extract from this phrase that directly feed the more thoughtfully developed Cradle to Cradle approach. First, the phrase “returned to earth” implies that it is simply put back in the earth but not necessarily benefiting anyone or becoming anything else. This is reinforced by the second concept in the phrase, “ends at” these two words have a detrimental affect on our current approach and understanding of product life. If the term “ends at” needs to be used, then it should consider the point at which the raw material is formed again making the complete cycle the end point. McDonaugh and Branghart have explained this concept most successfully in their collaboration with Rhoner Textiles in Switzerland where they were able to produce cleaner water leaving the factory than coming in and the waste material was used as insulation for local agriculture.
Although the moral implications of social justice and environmental action are equally important, the politics involved in the resolution of the social aspects of our society are much deeper today than those implied by a more ecologically conscious world today.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Durability in Architecture


In reflecting upon my position or where my ethical line is drawn, I find that pollution is a necessary evil in architecture. The extent to which we pollute can be debated and the consequence of all our choices can be weighed, but to some extent there will always be an environmentally adverse part to the process. I think that we can be more deliberate in our choices of materials, construction processes etc. and then have an understanding of where the failure is in our process to begin to try to correct it or make it "less bad", However to embark on a goal of making something completely "green" seems somewhat hollow. Having your goal be checking every box in a LEED checklist so that you can declare a certain level of environmental certification is just too easy for me to believe in. Understanding the implications of your choices and knowing that you cannot achieve everything but can achieve some of the goals on that list, and achieve them to the highest order is what I believe in. This is durability in architecture, something that will last over time and will function well within a certain set of parameters. At some point the building will live long enough so that the initial environmental cost of construction will have been worth it. These building are able to transform over time in their use and allow the user to occupy them in a number of different manners. Designing not for one specific use but for varying uses within one specific duty.
An object I would compare this idea to is perhaps a pair of Doctor Martens because you can wear them with a pair of jeans, or your sunday best.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Problem of Material Ethics

March 20/28, 2009

The building industry has such a large impact on the environment in several ways - from the demolition of the site, to the actual construction and then to the operation of the building’s multiple systems. Areas such as material selections and the installation of certain objects (ex. plumbing fixtures, floor tiles) also contribute to the impact on the environment. It is a difficult line to draw since all areas relate to one another. But to expand into very broad terms, relegates it to generalized grand gestures and less of the specificity in the actual consideration of materials.

In my previous work at a historic preservation architecture office, we considered the intangible in conjunction with the tangible aspects of architecture – that to preserve the original material of the walls (by repairing rather than demolishing) is to maintain the craftwork/intent and the historic significance imbued in the overall structure. But there is a certain compromise in the renovation of these historic structures – where does it become absolutely necessary to recreate the element that was there before? Could something that looked very similar but of a different material be suitable? How much are we actually contributing or taking way from the historic significance of the property by this substitution? What of localism – what if something that was prevalent in the surrounding areas is no longer available and that to obtain that material requires an enormous amount of effort (eg. hardwood)? I feel that the overall gesture of preservation – the recycling of a historic structures sits very well with me, that I can not only believe in the reuse but also in the continuation of the past into the present. But it is in the details that make the work unsatisfying - that to maintain the historic significance is to disregard avenues where one could lessen the impact on the earth, for example, the choice to use a ‘greener’ mechanical system or to minimize the alteration on the historic fabric by choosing a more compact, less intrusive, and less ‘green’ system. Or that the desire for authenticity results in having to order a very specific type of wood from another country. How do we work within this existing framework and determine what can constitute material ethics? Where does one draw the line in regards for ingredients? How much should the intangible (cultural and historical values) affect the intangible? Or is the life cycle of the structure itself (continuing the life cycle of these structures/materials) overrides the need for that specificity? Does the larger picture justify this comparison?

In historic structures, there are varying degrees of intensity. On one side there are the house museums where everything is kept intact - the building’s original function is halted in time. The other side is adaptive use where the building’s function is changed to allow for new programs, new systems and new materials. I am more interested in adaptive use – I am more excited by the navigation of the historic integrity with the introduction of new material/program. Preservation to me at this point, has been always more about the intangibles values imbued in the tangible materials. Compromise is inevitable but compromise as I have seen it, has always come from budgetary, aesthetic and historic concerns rather than environmental ethics. I am mulling over how to reconcile or adjust one’s framework so that this concern for the environment, for our material responsibilities to that of preserving these structures for their historic significance.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Considering Material Practice

Material selection, the production of objects for use and the impacts of objects on the human world are interdependent aspects of material ethics. At the beginning of this semester, I was most focused on the issues surrounding social justice. I began with an interest in exploring the appropriation of an impoverished aesthetic through design. As seen in work of many designers, such as the Campana brothers, the aesthetics of poverty are often translated to appeal to the middle and upper classes through products. This appeal for the impoverished appearance leads to a lack of understanding of the meaning and consequences behind the image. Often this appropriation exploits the ideas and image of the poor for design inspiration; yet the disadvantaged receive no compensation, nor are they served by these products out of their economic reach. I see an opportunity here to employ and learn from the values behind an impoverished aesthetic to inform issues such as social, economic and environmental sustainability. I am interested in creating objects out of an aesthetic of poverty that can both serve the communities they are inspired by and learn from their values to inform the design process overall.


After considering the readings and discussions of this class, I am now more conscious of how material selection and the production process impact social and environmental justice. I am now asking myself to think more deeply about how my choice of materials (even in model-making) is just as important as the intended production and function of the product. I was and still am focused on who has access to the objects I design, what needs or wants they serve and how they contribute to excessive consumerist tendencies. However, now I am also considering how people are affected by the materials I choose to build even my models and prototypes. What are the working conditions of the factory workers who produce these materials? Is their health being jeopardized? Are they being paid a fair wage? Is the environment being degraded in the communities where the raw materials are being sourced? I must also envision a production process. Who will be involved? How would their working conditions be considered? During use of these products, how will the materials affect those using them? And after use, where will these products go? Will they be dumped in disadvantaged communities. These are all questions that I must consider in moving forward with my interests.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Roselle's Random Thoughts

Within the realm of architecture I typically work with materials that are composite. Some of these materials consist of plaster, foam core, and cardboard. Foam core seems to be the worst of these materials. The ingredients of foam core consist of polystyrene in the center with white clay coated paper or kraft paper on the outside. Polystyrene is one of the most commonly used petroleum plastics. Where is this made? What is the difference between polystyrene and polyethylene?

Is there a way similar to Caroline’s work, that we can use foam core as a composite. Foam core takes a long time, if it ever disintegrates in landfills. It is important to look at the Life Cycle of these products and the ecological footprint of them. Where are they being made, who is making them? Where do the materials of these composites come from? Are these companies out sourcing and providing jobs for people in the community with good/ safe work environments or are they the next Walmart?

As an architect it is important to know/ understand these ideas of Life Cycle which ecological footprint falls under. Do you use materials that are mined/ harvested in the area? Or do you specify an exotic wood that comes from Costa Rica? I get to decide these things in my architecture as I get to also decide which materials to use in models. As clients come to me it is my responsibility to specify materials that I think are ethically responsible. I would choose the Zumthorian approach to materials using local materials in the area, with a small ecological footprint, where the ones mining/ harvesting the materials are treated right.

At the large scale of architecture I understand the importance of social justice, life cycle, and “sustainability.” As far as the materials we currently use at RISD in the architecture department it is far from these ideas. I have no clue where the materials I am using come from. Is plaster better to use than foam core? What is the best mold making material? What is the best for the maker to be breathing?

I am interested in exploring ways of recycling foam core or other non-recyclable materials that end up in the trash as part of a composite or hybrid material. I am not sure that melting petroleum products is the way to go, but there has to be another process of re-using. Even thinking about plaster, how can it be broken up and used with another material to achieve a certain effect. We could create the new CesarStone with casted material scraps.

Caroline’s work is great, very inspiring. I am excited to start thinking about ways in which we can re-use our materials and make a new composite material.

A Rambling Response to Unknown Materials and Life-Cycle Thought

I found last week’s class to be interesting, but I found Caroline’s presentation to be fascinating on Saturday. For me, as she discussed this new material or product that she is studying and designing, I became excited for the opportunity to join in the experimentation. So much of what we learn here at RISD, or at least in the architecture department, is the amazing possibility of studying a material and discovering how to apply it. However, in our education, we stick to very standard materials, i.e. wood, rope, paper, metal, cardboard, plaster. Theses are materials that have been around for a very long time and have an entire history of experimentation and application associated with them. The really energizing thing about the used paper/plastic hybrid is that it is an unknown entity. The opportunities are completely uninhibited by any previous knowledge or expectations of the material, which would allow for such amazing exploration and experimentation. This is where I would love to see our department push more – the exploration of new material, not just the exploration of known materials, but also that of unknown materials. When I say unknown, this could mean the application of a material that is unknown to anyone, such as this plastic/paper hybrid, but it could also apply to the materials that are known to many, but relatively unknown to architecture. It becomes a little sad to me when someone will discuss the design process of an architect, almost always includes some description of opening up a printed catalogue of options and selecting. We are at a art/design school, it seems to me that it would be the perfect opportunity to apply every angle of design thinking that exists throughout the students of RISD toward pushing a new material and see what its potential really is, across all disciplines. I also believe that pushing us to work with this unknown material which has been created out of waste could bring a new level of engagement with the Design for Disassembly Movement. There are plenty of people in the architecture field considering these issues of life-cycle, so it would be great to give them the opportunity of not only designing for disassembly back into their original components, but also the ability to design for disassembly toward the creation of new materials via the hybridization of the materials being used from an outdated/obsolete structure. The more options we give designers, the more we’ll be amazed by what the materials are capable of. Once a materials has been pushed, played with, and tested by the design field, it will trickle down into common knowledge and gain acceptance as a material, no longer fighting a losing battle against social preconceptions and prejudices, allowing for wider and larger scale application. It brings life-cycle awareness to an accessible level. In school, we learn to think of life-cycle and embodied energy from the moment the first element of gathered from mother Earth. It includes every plow that every scraped land, every worker who even breathed on the raw material, up to raw material processing on to the other side of the spectrum of manufacturing, installation, use, removal, and disposal. Although in an ideal world, we would be aware and responsible for every single bit of energy and impact a product has during its life, it becomes too great of a snowballing mess to be conquered by each and every one of us. We need a system where you can trust that everything before your point in the process has been done with the highest standards and that everything that will happen after your time will also be handled with the highest standards, so that you could really focus all of your energy into making sure to handle your period in time with the highest standards, but unfortunately, we still cannot depend upon anything before or anything after our moment of intervention.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Way We Make

Inherently or not, an artist’s work is shaped by the nature of its medium. Trying to push away perhaps by its conventionality, the materiality used by students and their designs in mind converge.  Many are driven by the qualities of either natural or synthetic materials, which can also dictate a student’s working process. This however can be convenient and can offer a sense of direction to a maker. At the same time some materials can limit our desire to express an idea. Some materials do not perform of have certain qualities that one might be looking for changing the end result or a design.

It is interesting to see how every department, it be the furniture, architecture or industrial design, has a different dialogue with the materials and resources they gather and use. For the furniture department it seems important to use recycled material to built upon from but still using “new or raw materials” to create a hybrid between the two. It seems like the process of experimentation and creating furniture made out of composite materials is common.  However, I find interesting student’s concern to use recycled materials to make furniture but contradictive the amount of waste that can be produced by making for instance a chair.

In the architecture department, it seems like students take the time to fully understand their material selection. They test their materials to make sure they respond to what they are looking for while still being interested in it.  This dialogue between the artist and their medium allows them to negotiate the boundaries between the material and their ideas.

Forcing students to use specific materials like corrugated cardboard, plaster, or wood is a good learning experience to understand the behavior of such. Hundreds of models and prototypes are made with affordable materials for students to development their ideas. It is something I find in common with many departments where exploration is encouraged and the endless amount of idea production is reinforced. The process can very wasteful, even more so if the materials used are being converged with others that are hard to take apart if those were to be recycled.

It doesn’t seen that much after thought has been given to the way ideas are being developed in relation to our material consumption and exploration. It’s hard to find a balance between making biodegradable resources, using little energy or not polluting in the process and designing an efficient product. Because more thought and awareness is being addressed to these concerns at RISD, it might affect the way we make and question the consequences composite materials can have to its environment.

It is good to hear that the department of industrial design is trying consolidate years of inefficient material production and packaging design since the industrial revolution to a more efficient and recyclable end product.  Bringing to use more eco-friendly materials into our design might inspire other departments to act and react to these issues that are affecting the way we live and make.    

Friday, March 6, 2009

Ming's musings, March 6, 2009

Thinking about the framework of the inhabitation of the environment in our design process (from Chris Rose’s article) – how is it that we view the problem, how we decide on what we want in the material, how we want it to act…
It is true that how the fabrication of materials run counter to the way the environment interacts with other members of the living nature family. That harm to the environment is not calculated/considered at all in the numbers of the industrial revolution – that it is only several years after the fact, that industries are forced to find alternative for a more eco-sensitive way to do what it is that they do (i.e. do not dump your toxic waste into the river). But how much of that kind of impetus pushes for a new material to emerge? How much of those big industries with their tried and true product really investigate for a new material (process and product). I wonder how much emphasis should be spent on the new eco-sensitive material investigation when in fact that arena is insignificant compared to the production of existing materials – that perhaps our focus is not so much on the new, undiscovered, uninvented but rather toward a modification of the existing harmful, inconsiderate products available on the market. The huge elephant industries needs to change in order to make a significant positive impact on the environment in line with all the little mouse industries – I guess, I feel that clean-up is a major concern in the environment, that it is not enough to be pushing for new frontiers. So much of the environmental problems facing us now are pressing and that it is all about just trying to get the water out of the boat as fast as possible instead of thinking about a new motor.
Biomimicry is a rather exciting field in that science and technology are looking to what was around us all this time, to learn how to design things that can do things more efficiently. Indigenous crafts and technology is so fascinating in that sense, in that there is this high level of sensitivity to the system that is the environment (a pause to look around) so that their products retain draw upon that. I think a lot of our products have no sensitivity to how it works with other products, that it lacks that integration to what surrounds us so much. That there is in mind, this cycle, of birth and death and rebirth, that there is none of this synthetic, cooked materials that cannot be put back into the ground.

Painting Department





Furniture Department

In wandering through the furniture department, I found the use of composite materials to be extremely experimental. Students are investigating the implications and physical limits of new and old materials.


I first stumbled upon this interesting sculptural piece. At a first glance, this binding material appears to be pantyhose. But with further exploration, I found the wrapping to be a self adhesive tape which adheres to itself, but not to the objects it holds together. Here it is used to support the piece while glue dries. However, this example reflects a way of approaching combining materials so that they are able to be disassembled and recycled easily.


Next I began a conversation with Nora who creates new pieces of furniture from found objects and new materials. Here, the components of an existing metal and glass lamp combine to become a new composite material incorporated into a larger whole. This leads to many questions: How do we define a composite material as distinct from an object composed of several parts? Do the separate parts of this existing lamp read as individual parts of a new whole or does the lamp exist as a unified single entity which is a component of a larger piece? Does the passage of time and a previous life for the lamp mark the difference?




In the two photos above, Nora has employed an existing metal mould, expanding foam and new wire work to create a stool. She used a two-part solution expanding foam to pour into the found mold to create the cushion for the stool. What is interesting here is that the mould has created part of the form, but also remains a part of the final piece, leading to no waste.


This jig Nora used to form the wire work in the piece above is composed of plywood and other laminates. These are partially recycled materials made from leftover wood parts. However, they fail to consider the environment at every stage as the other ingredients in these composites are toxic, and the laminates themselves are difficult to reuse or recycle. A large volume of material is used not for the piece of furniture itself, but as a support or aid in forming the end product. This creates a huge waste stream when the furniture is finished. What if the students created their own plywood and laminates out of shop scraps to serve as jigs and other forms for draping?




Overall what I observed in the Furniture Department reflected and further opened the ideas of no waste and considering the environment at every stage. What seemed to set Furniture’s approach apart from ID’s is the lessened concern for functionality and reproduction. With these limitations removed, students seemed to experiment more the the possible properties and context of numerous materials.

Jewelry Department







Amy Arguedas

Bright light. White. Sterile. Linoleum floor. Ventilation booth. Rubber gloves. Piece of burned wood . . . biology lab? Nope. But close. A mini kiln, I believe, has replaced the Bunsen burner, turning this space into a lab for resins and enamels.

I turn and am immediately confronted by a low table lined with wax routers in a room the size of a recording studio. Bolted into the wall behind me is a minerals list, charting the strengths of some of our beloved gems. And in the corner, below the sink’s super-sonic water filter, is a spaghetti strainer tilted up against a shallow basin filled to the brim with those itty-bitty rocks we’re familiar with seeing in fish tanks.

In a studio space across the hall, dangling from the ceiling, are giant vacuum hoses –canary yellow, coiled in black and looking as if they rolled off a page of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. Adjacent to these odd creatures are the most peculiar of them all: a display of orbital buffers and sanders, which happen to be stationed in front of welding masks tacked into the wall.

You’ll need muscles, not a mouse, to operate in this department. No where will you find a computer. Instead, prepare to dig through heavy drawers filled with containers of delicate tools used for making the tiniest of silver knots. Then scan carefully organized walls in an impeccable fashion to grab hold of a massive, wooden handled instrument in hammering out some magnificent alloy.

Power fills this place in every sense of the word. Energy takes form from the electrical outlets spaced at regular intervals throughout each room, to the time it takes in sourcing material, all the way to the effort one makes in salvaging scrap pieces of dust. My modest understanding of jewelry making tells me there is something embedded between the formal operation of making and the intrinsic processes of working with metals, resins and enamels that can be applied to our new generation of ‘crafts people.’

The success of a piece be that it purchased and worn. Aside from any aesthetic judgment, its desire links back to the creator’s skilled knowledge of material and fine attention to detail. These also being the two main ingredients of our design challenge in conquering what ‘ecologically responsible design looks like.’

To take and frame this with C.Rose's observation exercise in drawing everything but the intended object analogous to constructing ‘green’ design principles, how do we evaluate by not looking at it aesthetically? How does purchasing power change if considering the color, cut, clarity and carat of a gem is no longer of value or fashioned?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ceramics studio visit





The beginning stages of ceramic pottery : clay from the bag to prep work for the wheel.




Addition of water in order to manipulate the clay on the wheel. Not exactly a change of state but perhaps a change in material properties as the clay absorbs the water.










Leftover clay pieces are discarded in a bin with water to be recycled.















Above: Bisque pieces; bisque meaning that the clay pieces have been fired in the kiln and are now ready for the application of glazing paint.



Glazing powders - classified by their chemical names. Perhaps there is the addition of other chemicals to create the glazing liquid...



A sample wall of glazed clay pieces that shows the color and sheen of the glazing after the clay piece has been fired for the second time.






A final piece.

The process of ceramics is about stages of phase transformation of the initial material (clay). Through the addition of water, the clay can be manipulated to any shape and forms . Then a minor subtraction of the water through air-drying, only to be sent through an intense firing process that pulls out all the water inside the clay, creating new bonds to harden the clay. I am curious about the process of glazing - how exactly does that glazed paint affix itself to the bisque clay, why is it necessary to send the entire artifact back into the kiln - how does this differ from other color-application process? How does this chemical reaction/process affect the design process/experimentation of the ceramic artist? questions questions...

Architecture Department






Although it is still early in the semester, the fourth floor of the BEB has been buzzing with activity since early January. Degree project research and design began with the start of Winter session and never saw the break between semesters as anything more than a three day weekend, if that. So, for all intensive purposes, I am observing a section of the department that is already in the middle of a long semester, deep into rounds of exploration for some, research for others, and the early phases of architectural design for the remainder. No desk seems to be the same. Each student has their own repertoire of materials. For some, they are materials they have tested previously and have developed an intimate knowledge of, seeing them as reliable, yet exciting materials. Looking around, there were no materials that I felt to be unusual for the department, but it was clear that each individual had developed a preference for certain materials.

Around the floor, a few people were exploring use of sheet acrylic, a common material in the BEB, but being explored both for its material properties as well as its formal abilities. In most cases, working with sheet acrylic can nearly guarantee use of the laser cutter in the basement, as seen in the first image, where dozens of quarter sized circles were sliced out of 3/16” acrylic. However, one of the significant problems with this material is hardly noticed until you land yourself a studio desk on the south side of the building next to a great window that pours in sunlight and fresh air. During the traditional school day, roughly 9 am – 6 pm, the laser cutter does not get much use. Unfortunately though, from 6 pm until roughly 12:30 am, that laser cutter gets a full workout. There is an exhaust vent that pulls the toxic and generally nauseating fumes out of the laser cutter room, but then it dumps it directly outside of the window for the unexpecting students on the upper floors to breathe in, leading to horrible headaches and nausea.

Another materials, known to all architecture students, yet not frequently utilized is the reflective sheets of mylar. Every second year graduate student and forth year undergraduate is forced to take advantage of two major characteristics of this materials in order to study acoustics in design proposals. First, the reflective nature of the material allows for the use of a laser beam to determine how sound will bounce off of surfaces and secondly, the flexibility of the product allows for easy application to most model surfaces.

The next two images show two very common materials used at all stages of design development and representation. The third image shows a series of plaster casts that one student has been studying. The fourth image shows 1/8” corrugated cardboard, which is being used for its thickness, ability to layer and modify layer by layer, as well as the opportunities allowed by the voids of the corrugation. For many students, it is a joyous product because you can cover a lot of area for not a lot of money, which is great for study models that you would not consider precious.

The last two images are of fabric-like materials. The first being a heavy felt that has been rolled, sliced, wrapped, folded, and stitched. The second is a heavier leather material that has undergone similar explorations as the felt, but is now being stitched together with metal wire joints to begin forming a surface system.

Unfortunately, within the department, early on, there is encouragement to produce as many iterations of an idea as humanely possible in a 24 hour period as opposed to thorough study of a few models. Although as you continue through the program, students begin to control this idea more, there is still a vast amount of waste that exits that building through the garbage cans at the end of each semester. As I live in Providence year round, I have walked through the various floors of the BEB after everyone has cleared out their individual studio spaces, but before the maintenance team has had a chance to clean it all up, and I have consistently been horrified, semester to semester, year to year, by the volume of trash.



Graphic Design

Hand tools they use are scissors, rulers, glue, exact-knife, such as composite materials. 
They have their own computers and printers on their desks. One student was using a really huge computer and have another computer on the same desk. It seems it is very common to have two computers and handling them in a specific use.  They do book design, motion design (graphic), logo design, identity design, magazine, poster.
Each student has their own printer on their desk. But for a large piece, such as event posters, they share the huge printer.

This is the silk screen, which is very famous for Andy Warhol.
They said it is just same as print-making. 

The piece made by the silk screen is considered of having more artistic quality than a piece just done by a printer. 

In terms of recycle, they correct blank papers which is no-print on it (sometimes it happens by mistake) and also print-paper. These are recycled in a different way. They also recycle blades for exact-knives or other kinds of knives and Ink cartridges for the printer.

My curious about recycling is its classification. These paper classification I saw at Graphic design department is easy to deal with because it depends on whether the print is on the paper or not. However, in our daily life, our products are basically composed of many materials. For example, my ball-point pen, it is made out of aluminum, plastic, brass, and ink inside. So, I wonder how can I classify this composite material when being recycling. 
So, I think that for designers, they should pay attention more on the clearness of classification  on our products. That makes it easier for us to do recycling. 

And also, I am very curious about their process of being recycled. I heard sometimes recycle might bring another negative effect, such as polluting air, or to invent new recycle machine, another row materials have to be exploited from developed countries. But it is obviously true that human population are increasing and our world economy is dominated by capitalism, recycling is inevitable for our future survival. 

I think by putting recycling as a fashionable movement, more and more people are willing to do recycling.