2°C – Marjan van Aubel


23 September 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight designer Marjan van Aubel's contribution. Van Aubel, the winner of this year's Swarovski Emerging Talent Medal at the London Design Festival, chose to examine the way in which climate technologies are integrated in daily life. She created a chromatic scale of images in which close-up imagery of natural materials, rock formations and floods sit next to a final photograph of an orange solar cell . The sequence reflects on the need for a holistic approach to climate technologies, which she believes should be designed in such a way that they are seamlessly adopted by users and connect with the wider world around them.

Climate change forms an important part of van Aubel's wider practice. In 2012 she collaborated with designer James Shaw to create the Well Proven Chair, a piece of furniture formed out of mixture of foaming agents and wood shavings produced as wastage by the timber industry. She is also the founder of Caventou, a company that produces tables and stained glass-esque windows designed by van Aubel that integrate dye sensitized solar cellls into their construction. These cells use the properties of colour to capture sunlight and generate an electrical current.

Can you explain your response to the brief?

The thing that interested me about climate change is that everyone has a different perspective about it. Even professions that are seemingly unconnected to climate change, such as musicians, want to contribute to the debate. I really find it so interesting that everyone wants to approach climate change in their own way, because it is little parts and little contributions that are able to make real change.

Do those small contributions need to be coordinated however?

I think there’s a lack of communication surrounding the issues, so different professions don’t interact because they don’t realise that they’re working on the same thing. I find it very interesting to collaborate with scientists for instance, like I’ve done with my work on solar cells, while I’ve also benefitted from working with Lola Perrin, a composer who has created piano pieces about climate change, which are very inspiring: she uses a violin to mimic the sound of an iceberg cracking. These kinds of collaboration open up different perspectives.

How did you want to manifest these ideas for 2°C?

I looked at my research methodology and decided that I wanted to show a number of close-up images of natural materials. Maybe one picture on its own doesn’t make sense, but if you place all of these different perspectives next to each other, it starts to give you more of an insight into and a view of the issues around climate change.

Can you explain the set of images you decided to focus on?

They show natural phenomena like the sun and the rain, the corrosion of copper, glass, dirt and stones. I see beauty in these things. The first image, for instance, shows salt, which I find very beautiful. I wanted to show images that had a positivity about them. Alongside the materials there is also a close-up of solar cells in the laboratory.

Why did you include those with the natural materials?

Most solar cells are quite ugly and are put on roofs so that nobody can really see them. The problem with that, however, is that people don’t then form a relationship with the technology. So looking at ways of integrating technology into daily life in a more aesthetic way is something that I see as being the purpose of a designer. You can integrate the technology surrounding climate change with the way that we want to live. Solar cells can be super beautiful and if they’re beautiful, they become a way of communicating. The aesthetic becomes a function.

Climate change is something that you think about in your day to day work.

It’s the essence of my work. I’m not interested in just making a chair and I don’t like this label of “sustainable design”, because then it becomes a thing. Sustainability should be intrinsic, it's something that cannot be ignored. A design, by nature, has to be comfortable, aesthetic and sustainable, otherwise what’s the point?