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Interview with Max about circular design in practice

From plastic bin to board table

For D/DOCK and its label Furnify, circular design means: to develop a sustainable circular approach for every design we are creating together. It’s the making of a cycle, in which resources are not only continuously cycled in various forms, but in which we also only add materials which are recycle-proof.

As an accelerator Furnify collects circular ideas and selects a craftsman from her network which fits best to this specific idea. For example, for years we collaborate with our partner Max Kortenhorst, from Circular Customs and with Henk from MaakHenk.They also created the iconic caravan from Google and the chain lamp from OVG Real Estate.

For our client ABN AMRO Insurances we worked with a dedicated team to reach a high level of circularity. One of the top design items is the boardroom table, which is made from 100% completely recycled resources. In this interview Max explains his way of working:

What was the first thing that came to your mind when Furnify and D/DOCK asked you to help out on this project?

“I was contacted by Sabrina (Furnify) with the request to join their thoughts about remanufacturing a boardroom piece. I say remanufacturing, because it was different from the many up-cycling projects we had done before. A while ago, we already discussed the ideal case where we could take pieces from a client, from a building or a room and bring it back in a thoroughly different, new, intelligent design. And for ABN AMRO we were able to start executing this idea, which sparked my eyes!”

How do you start working on this request? What research did you do?

“Circular design has an important first step: namely to make an inventory on what is available on site, to start a thought process. Any design is a translation of a wish or need so it’s right after the inventory process when the design puzzle starts. Furnify’s role is as a strong connector, a team which knows how to bring client, craftsmen, designers, second life stock providers together and then to a higher level of circularity.

After the inventory: how to fit these available items and materials in our new design? Step three is an intensive cooperation between the designer and myself to examine possibilities. Over the years D/DOCK, Furnify and I have established a great relationship. In this particular case we entered a pioneering, ‘experiment while working towards a goal’ project. A thrill for me but not without some healthy stress.

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We decided to work with the existing components of the old boardroom table and about 40 bins extracted from the old interior. I researched these products to know exactly from what materials they consist of. I ended up at the resale company in France, talked to the producing factory in China. No conclusive information was available, so I resorted to research documentation in the virgin plastics sector and publications on recycling properties of the two main components. From there the educated guesses and experimenting with temperature, pressure and moisture reduction process started.

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The designers have their specific ideas for these environments. How do you make sure your concepts fit in?
Here you touch a core part of the shift we are in now. We are moving towards collective design and production processes. On large scale BREEAM based projects where disciplines merge to ensure sustainable and circular goals of an overall project. On these smaller projects it is up to forward thinking designers and manufacturers to do rethink their working at an early stage. Knowledge of and the availability of materials and products are growing fast. Designers need to take more uncertainties into account. And that’s not always the easiest way.

Allright, you’ve decided to recycle the ugly plastic bins into a board room table. Melting some plastic into a flat table top and adding some legs seems easy-does-it. Is it?

No it is not, resources properties, especially a blend in these kind of recycling processes, are tricky. What you see often is a blend of virgin and recycled material, in an attempt to retain those properties. In this case one of the components was amorous, the other not, one draws moisture from the air, the other not. In my lab I use an industrial oven that was never designed for this job, dehydration appliance of great pressure is not what it was built for. So I had to dismantle it and build machine parts to add these functions. In various ways circular design, but also production possibilities, require a reverse engineering of methods and machinery.

It couldn’t be more circular. Explain?
In a sense of taking resources from a site and bringing them back it was. Altered design needed an extra leg, connections needed new screws where original parts were thinner in the new design and adding colours in the plastic came from a different source. Cut-offs from the furniture industry, so one could say they were rescued from ending up in the trash pile.

What would you do better next time?
I have learned about the importance of the collective, so I would intensify that the next time. Taking the client more along. Ideally a larger part of research I would move forward in the process. I would make that one of the joint goals of all participants. In the end we all enjoyed this exiting period, where part of the fun, is the journey we experience. My focus was on the end result, which is what it obviously comes down to. However the journey is a great part of the why of this choice.

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