From Iceland — The Need To Collaborate With Mother Earth

The Need To Collaborate With Mother Earth

Published March 23, 2012

The Need To Collaborate With Mother Earth

Contemporary design and design discussions should not be left unattended. Design is a powerful methodology. Designers are of course not the private owners of imagining things unseen, but their profession depends upon it. They can shape reality in front of us with new shapes of common things, like a chair, and even at their best create new ones—things unseen take visible forms. But not always with good consciousness. Especially in the turn of the new century. Designers are the authors of man-made landscapes and more than 90% of what comes out of “creative” minds is junk. Sometimes I get the feeling that contemporary design is driven by guilt. But the smell of springtime—new thinking, with a new generation—can be detected in the Icelandic design community, blossoming at the annual DesignMarch coming up later in the month.
DesignMarch opens March 22, with a day of lectures at Gamla Bíó in downtown Reykjavík, featuring the foremost local design thinkers alongside internationally renowned names. This day is usually one of the highlight events. Previous speakers have included Winy Maas, Ilkka Suppanen, Siggi Eggertsson, Bjarke Ingels and Paul Bennett. This time we will have from the Netherlands Marije Vogelzang, a pioneer in food design. She is among other things known for the experimental PROEF restaurants in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Also from Holland is Koert van Mensvoort, a scientist and artist from Next Nature. From Finland comes Tuomas Toivonen, an architect and musician known for his interest in public sauna culture. From New York comes Icelandic graphic designer Hjalti Karlsson—co-founder and owner of They will give lectures and partake in a panel for discussion.
They all have interesting perspectives on contemporary design culture. I especially look forward to listening to Koert van Menswoort. Famous for his award winning website,, and a book of the same title, he raises the question how far man can or should go in reshaping nature. We live in a time of climate change on our planet, witnessing the impact synthetic biology has on Mother Earth or the impact of mass-urbanization. Well, designers are responsible in too many cases and that is what I mean when I say their minds these days are driven by guilt. Of course they sometimes excuse themselves by stating that they are just tools in the hands of others, politicians, capitalism, communism or whatever.
There has to be a turning point. Nature and man should reunite. “Where technology and nature are traditionally seen as opposed, they now appear to merge or even trade places.” That is the core in Menswoort’s thesis. “We must no longer see ourselves as the anti-natural species that merely threatens and eliminates nature, but rather as a catalyst of evolution. With our urge to design our environment, we cause the rising of a next nature, which is unpredictable as ever: wild software, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us!”
I am not sure about this but I look forward to the discussion. I totally agree and see that the design world is undergoing both introspection and re-valuation. I think the core in this is to learn how to collaborate better with Mother Earth instead of trying so hard to master her. She in fact shows no mercy in the end, and is so much stronger than most of us imagine. What’s important is rethinking what is and making it better if needed, as can for instance be seen in the project Designers and Farmers, which will be exhibited at SPARK Design Space. The project entails designers and farmers bringing together their professions and fresh, creative minds to create unique products. What comes out is true alchemy, which should be the real role of respectful designers.
Lots of other interesting events will follow. The Association of Icelandic Product and Industrial Designers will do a group exhibition displaying new work from 32 designers at Brims House at Geirsgata 11. MUNDI, one of the finest talents of the youngest fashion designers, will present his latest collection, ‘The Journey’, in Rauðhólar, a cluster of pseudo-craters in Elliðarárhraun lava fields on the outskirts of Reykjavík. Kraum, a design shop at Aðalstræti 10, will introduce five fresh re-designs of the classic Icelandic pancake pan, an item that has belonged to every local kitchen cupboard for decades…
These are just a few events that that demonstrate the trends. In any case we need to give design some thought. The things we design end up designing us, whether we like it or not.
Photo: Page spread from the book NEXT NATURE—The nature changes along with us. Edited and designed by Koert van Mensvoort and Hendrik-Jan Grienvink.

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