Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
It is only very recently in the history of industrial and product design and training that the consciousness of environmental sustainability and social responsibility has entered. Design like art, was primarily considered a medium for self expression and creativity. However, the degradation in our built and natural environment has now made the design community aware of the need to look at materials and products in terms of their long term impact on people and the planet.
Anu Tandon Vieira, a graduate of the National Institute of Design, is one of those who have taken the twin agenda of environmental sustainability and social responsibility to heart in her design of furniture. She created The Retyrement Plan, with a specific aim of addressing the waste situation in India. She chose the use of old and waste tyre materials, cords made of waste aluminium foil packets and waste fabric chindis and plastic waste cords in her work.
Speaking of her motivation to choose this line of work Anu says, “We at the retyrement plan, have not approached industrial, auto, packaging waste as waste per say, but have seen it’s intrinsic strength as an asset. A tyre even after it has stopped being roadworthy still has immense strength and can be a frame or armature for a piece of furniture, at a fraction of the cost of any other material. The same tyre that takes thousands of years if ever to disintegrate can be incorporated and transformed into a product that is allweather, rugged and practically indestructible. Plastic wrapper sheets when twisted have the strength of steel cables and these woven over tyres can be transformed into some excellent seating for public spaces.”
The choice of using waste materials instead of fresh raw materials adds an extra layer of collection and cleaning into the process. This slows down the production and adds to the final cost of the product.
Combining the aesthetic training of NID with her passion for the environment, she also reached out to craftsmen who migrate to the cities in search of work. These artisans usually struggle to find crafts based work in an urban mileu which is focussed on technology and are reduced to unskilled manual labour. Anu takes them into her fold, and retrains them to use their original handicraft skill with newer materials that they may have never worked with before.
Speaking about the need to connect waste management with craft she says, “We in India are blessed with a rich and diverse craft tradition at many levels of excellence. This clubbed with ingenuity and resourcefulness that are strong traits often born out of poverty can be our formula for creating a model that addresses the growing need for finding a relevant solutions to both unemployment in our craftsmen and utilising the ever growing problem of industrial waste.”
While industrial recycling solutions can handle larger scales of waste, Anu feels that the handicraft industry can provide employment to a larger number of people. She feels crafts based solutions can be upscaled to reach out and benefit the masses. She points out that there are many levels of skills required in the making of any product and by balancing centralised mechanised processes with decentralised hand made activity, the scale of production can be expanded manifold.
Anu’s range of furniture goes from sofa sets to swings to independent stools and living room sets. The products are vibrantly colourful and sturdy to use. While she doesn’t yet have a store of her own, orders are flowing in steadily showing the growing appreciation of her work.
Anu feels that design education is becoming more commerce driven and the focus is moving away from crafts. This is unfortunate because India has a wealth of crafts traditions that are dying out slowly. As our cities waste output grows uncontrollably, it is a fantastic opportunity for designers to apply their problem solving skills in addressing these two issues imaginatively, and constructively, finding appropriate, aesthetic solutions to this issue.
This article is part a series under the Green Idea campaign called The Beauty of Recycling conducted by eCoexist and Studio Alternatives and sponsored by the Government of Maharashtra, Environment Department. The team aims to raise awareness about the aesthetic and financial potential of recycling.
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