REVIEW

Design Parade 14

Hyères

12 July 2019

At 4.20pm on Friday 28 June, temperatures hit 45.9°C in Gallargues-le-Montueux in the south of France. “This is historic,” the Météo-France meteorologist Etienne Kapikian told The Guardian. “It’s the first time a temperature in excess of 45°C has ever been recorded in France.”

That same weekend in coastal Hyères, some 200km east of Gallargues-le-Monteueux, Design Parade 14 opened to the press and public. Held at Robert Mallet-Stevens’s early modernist Villa Noailles (1923-26), the annual international design festival invites 10 young practitioners to exhibit work in the villa. The projects are subsequently assessed by a changing jury of established designers, curators, manufacturers and critics, which goes on to nominate an overall winner. On the opening weekend, all were assembled at Villa Noailles. The sun glared; the cicadas screeched; the people fanned themselves with Design Parade leaflets. The temperature was pushing 40°C.

It felt fitting, then, that more than one project presented in the competition pertained to temperature control. ENSCI Les Ateliers-graduate Maxime Louis-Courcier displayed two product prototypes: an air conditioning unit and an air humidifier, neither of which is powered by electricity. The cooling effect of the woven air conditioner is achieved by the employment of phase-changing materials sourced from agricultural waste. These fatty acids, explains Louis-Courcier, “absorb heat when they change from solid to liquid, and [are] usually integrated into walls in architecture”. Louis-Courcier’s design, however, sees almost 200 polyethelene rods containing the stuff woven into a minimalist wall hanging – a decorative object in its own right. “So in all the tubes there is this material that, during the day, absorbs heat progressively – it’s not instant,” he says. “You can line up as many as is necessary depending on the size of the room.”

The air humidifier exploits the natural properties of materials to similar effect. This upright object looks like an abstract evocation of a traditional ceramic radiator, the difference being its base, which holds a litre of water or so. The body, which is made from a mix of porcelain and paper specially developed for the project by Louis-Courcier and a ceramicist, slowly absorbs the water, humidifying its surroundings when it evaporates. “It’s an air humidifier but, technically, it should also cool the air, because evaporation has a cooling effect,” explains Louis-Courcier. Key to both objects is accepting that their effects will be more gradual than those produced by electrified counterparts. But the designer argues that this is something we’re going to have to get used to whether we like it or not. “Currently, there are other ways to get the same function [as the air conditioner and the air humidifier],” says Louis-Courcier. “But they use a lot of resources and electricity that we maybe will not have in the future.”

Maxime Louis-Courcier's Matières Spécifiques, two objects which regulate a room's temperature without the use of electricity. IMAGE courtesy of JPPM/Luc Bertrand.

Next door to Louis-Courcier’s project is a conceptual counterpoint of sorts. Marie-Marie Dutour’s Expressions thermiques consists of three objects which warm up the human body rather than the spaces it inhabits. Like Louis-Courcier’s designs, two of Dutour’s objects operate without electricity. A sandstone hand-warmer is heated by lighting methylated spirit at its core for a minute or two – it then retains its temperature for 20-40 minutes. Next to it sits what can only be described as a human-sized cat bed, which allows the user to curl up under a weighted blanket. “The heat from your own body is contained in the circular shape,” explains Dutour. “So it’s kind of like a cocoon.” Finally, a wall-mounted lamp which emits radiant infra-red light through a concentric metal lampshade (the type of heater used for outdoor restaurants), invites users to stand in front of it in an open-armed sun-salutatory pose. “It’s a really dynamic object that has great colours in its light and that allows you to feel dynamic and energised when you use it,” says Dutour.

In the grand scheme of things, the practice of heating spaces rather than bodies is a relatively recent phenomenon. As Dutour points out, it is both resource-heavy and ineffective. “Air leaves the room and needs to continually be heated up,” she explains. “Right now we’re having extreme temperatures, both in the winter time and in the summer time. Today we’re in the middle of this huge heat wave and you need to protect yourself against these extreme temperatures. But you also need to stop this vicious cycle of protecting yourself and simultaneously creating more pollution, which brings about more and more extreme temperatures.”

Marie-Marie Dutour's Expressions thermiques. IMAGE courtesy of JPPM/Luc Bertrand.

An awareness of the ecological cost of design is palpable in Montreal-based designers Leila Desrosiers Arslanian and Charlotte Barbeau Desjardins’s Série 6000, too. This project consists of an aluminium bench, table, and vases anodised with a lime green coating. An orthodox furniture project upon first glance, Série 6000 is significant because of the constraints that Arslanian and Desjardins set themselves in producing it. Working in collaboration with a Quebec-based aluminium manufacturer, the designers only used off-cuts and waste materials for their furniture pieces. Moreover, they drew the inspiration for the shape and function of the bench and trestle table from the load-bearing properties of the aluminium itself. “When we received the pieces, we saw that they had a really structural language,” says Desjardins, referring to the T-shaped beams that form the bulk of the bench and trestles. “So we wanted to make objects that suggest the same load-carrying profiles.”

The principle of using industrial off-cuts and waste as design materials echoes the work of young design collectives such as Sweden’s Malmö Upcycling Service, and its open-source supplier list S.P.O.K. In times of ecological crisis, using virgin materials increasingly seems indefensible to a younger generation of designers. But already-existing materials also come with their own background stories, applications, and associations, which can help prompt design decisions where there would otherwise be a blank canvas. The lime green colour, for instance, was chosen for its proximity to the anodisation shade that is standard in the aviation industry. “We really love the process of working with something existing,” says Desjardins. “If we start with something that already has a shape and a story, it’s easier to just get what’s already there and push it as much as we can.”

Leila Desrosiers Arslanian and Charlotte Barbeau Desjardins' Série 6000. IMAGE courtesy of JPPM/Luc Bertrand.

The 10 Designers exhibition is most successful when highlighting young designers grappling with topics such as these: sustainable manufacturing; energy and resource efficiency; consumer behaviour. Not all projects do. Some are simply delightful, such as Flavien Delbergue’s Asobi collection of vases, lights, and cup-and-ball games, which are so exquisitely crafted that they look more or less ready for the shelves of The Conran Shop. Similarly, Gregory Granados’s Step, a collection of unusual percussive instruments designed to be played collectively, is nothing short of charming. Carlo Kurth and June Fàbregas’s spiral staircase, which pivots around its own axis as you ascend it, also offers whimsy to an everyday object. While lacking the topical urgency of Dutour, Louis-Courcier, Desjardins and Arslanian’s projects, these are all commendable for their beauty and careful execution.

Gregory Granados' display at Villa Noailles, which was awarded both the public prize and Grand Prix. IMAGE courtesy of JPPM/Luc Bertrand.

One display stands out for its consideration not just of current manufacturing processes, but historical ones too, and the ways in which monetary value is generated through labour and material transformation. This display featured the work of Colombian designer Simón Ballen Botero, whose Mirrors for Gold and Suelo Orfebre comprise a collection of glass and gold-plated mirrors and recycled glass vessels respectively. The material history of the objects – which are produced in Colombia by local craftspeople – are all thoroughly researched. The vessels which make up Suelo Orfebre are composed of glass stained with the residue of the Colombian mining industry: iron, copper, silver, and gold minerals. These are precious metals whose extraction in Latin America effectively bankrolled the Spanish Empire in the Early Modern period. Similarly, explains Botero, “the project Mirrors for Gold explores the exchange between the Spanish colony and the indigenous people in the Americas. When the Spanish arrived they brought glass pearls and pots, and they exchanged them for gold. Gold was so abundant there that it wasn’t perceived as valuable.” Botero’s collection sees the same type of colourful Czech glass beads melted down into decorative terrazzo-like surfaces, which form the handles and bases of gold-plated hand and table mirrors. “With this project I wanted to reverse that history,” he says.

Simón Ballen Botero's Mirrors for Gold and Suelo Orfebre. IMAGE courtesy of JPPM/Luc Bertrand.

A few days after 10 Designers opened at Design Parade 14, researchers from the World Weather Attribution Group established that the heatwave which had swept across France at the end of June had been made five times more likely because of human-induced climate change. “The new record of 45.9°C set in France is one more step to confirmation that, without urgent climate mitigation actions, temperatures in France could potentially rise to about 50°C or more[…] by the end of the century,” said Robert Vautard, a scientist at France’s CNRS.

It felt fitting, then, that Louis-Courcier’s air conditioner and air humidifier received a special mention from the jury when the prizes were announced. Botero’s historically resonant Colombian mirrors and vessels were also honoured in the Eyes on Talent x Frame Special Mention category. But the popular visitor vote and Grand prix du Jury were united in their choice: Granados' Step, the collection of collective instruments composed from everyday objects. "Music is not only for musicians," says Granados. "We all have ears so we should use them. It’s also dance and movement. It’s a way to connect the music and body.”