Nomad-Friendly Furniture, Volcanic Vases, Biomechanical Fabrication: Environmentalism at Milan Design Week

Sustainable design firm Hyloh takes us on a tour that highlights design for disassembly, planet-friendly craftsmanship, and nature-inspired manufacturing procedures.

This is a guest post by Sarah D’Sylva, director of design and sustainability strategy at Hyloh, commissioned by Kickstarter Magazine.

At Milan Design Week, more than 2,000 exhibitors from 165 countries convene to share creative ideas, exhibit ingenious inventions, and predict future trends on a global stage. And at last week’s celebration, sustainable design — from life-cycle planning to “slow manufacturing” craftsmanship to cutting-edge biomimicry and 3D printing technologies — was in no short supply.

At Hyloh, we analyze the events of Milan Design Week through a strategic lens. We identify and connect the common themes across a plethora of projects related to design principles, material advancements, and sustainability conversations. In this roundup, I’ll share a few of the high-level themes and exemplary projects that caught our attention.

Design for disassembly

Designing for disassembly, while not new or novel, has always had great merit. A product made with even the most environmentally friendly materials is usually not compatible with current recycling and composting systems; designers need to do more to consider the end of a product’s life cycle.

The next generation of this movement is motivated by more than just sustainability; it reflects the cultural shift toward fluidity, mobility, utility, and efficiency. The projects on display challenge our prefabricated and preconceived society, offering flexible shapes that can be used and changed several times, adapting to our ever-changing lives.

Tense by Panter & Tourron @ Alcova

Tense acknowledges our interest in global mobility and offers transportable, tool-free neo-nomadic furniture essentials held together by the force of tension.

Still Running is about hacking our appliances to prolong their lives, encouraging us to consider our appliances evergreen and multigenerational.

Still Running by Marta Sternberg @ Ventura Future

Transitory Yarn explores a systems infrastructure that makes it possible to dismantle and reknit items again and again with exquisite circularity.

Transitory Yarn by Anna Neumerkel + Max Scheidl + Alexandra Fruhstorfer @ Broken Nature Exhibit, Triennale di Milano

One of the biggest problems in the textile industry is the processing of mixed synthetic fiber waste. Considering that “every second, one garbage truck full of textiles is burned or sent to landfill,” this project investigates how moth larvae could be farmed to break down and separate this waste on our behalf.

Clothes Moths Service by Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia @ Ventura Future

Craft, culture, and conservancy

We saw large brands and small creative studios alike embracing sustainable “slow manufacturing” and craftsmanship in an effort to conserve both our rich historical traditions and our endangered natural world. Artisans and designers are celebrating ancient techniques, processes, and materials — and applying them in new and exciting ways.

Pique-Fleurs is a contemporary take on the indigenous Peruvian Shipibo-Conibo tradition of palm weaving. This technique can be applied to local materials anywhere in the world, offering a new type of hyper-localized product.

Pique-Fleurs by Roel Vandebeek + Maakbaar @ Ventura Tortona

ExCinere transforms volcanic lava and basalt rock into a building material. Breathing new life into materials that have been important since the Bronze Age, this series of wall tiles symbolizes the enduring relationship between humans and the impossible forces of nature.

ExCinere by Formafantasma @ Alcova

Each of this light’s handmade porcelain layers is glazed from the inside, a process based on the Chinese “rice grain” technique from the 14th century.

JHA PORCELAIN by Jacqueline Harberink @ Ventura Future

These bowls are made from sand and flour that’s baked into hard shells in a home oven. Starch molecules act as binding agents and create unpredictable organic forms, expanding in the cavities of the metal support and allowing unique pieces to materialize each time.

Terra Cotta #1 by Talia Mukmel @ Broken Nature Exhibition, Triennale di Milano

Deploying digitization

The design industry pushes the boundaries of performance and aesthetics in materials and processes. And in many cases, nature both informs and benefits from these advances. From algorithmic fabrication inspired by flower blossoms to 3D printers that use biodegradable materials, the intersection of advanced digital tools and sustainable design principles was on display at Milan Design Week.

In Floraform: Florescence Zoetrope, computer simulations and cultivating algorithms draw from natural phenomena to carry out digital fabrication that explores the process of differential growth rates and shifting proportions typical of the biomechanics of flower blooming.

Floraform: Florescence Zoetrope by Jesse Louis-Rosenberg + Jessica Rosenkrantz + Nervous System @ Broken Nature Exhibition, Triennale di Milano

Scientists and designers are collaborating to explore the potential of advanced bioprinting technologies to help support and restore cells. The Tissue Printing project entails writing software to generate customized vascular structures and airways that can then be materialized using tissue bioprinting techniques.

Tissue Printing by Rice University + Miller Labs @ Broken Nature Exhibition, Triennale di Milano

Terramia is a housing prototype made entirely of natural materials such as bamboo and clay. The fabrication process involves drones, which enable faster construction in hard-to-reach and rural areas.

Terramia by Stephanie Chaltiel @ Ventura Isola

As we see 3D knitting becoming more mainstream as a manufacturing technology, it is continually finding new applications, forms, and functions. SenseKnit is an experimental pavilion of knitted fabrics made from technical yarns and post-consumer plastic bottle polyester. This structure achieves built-in performance — acoustically, structurally, climatically, and visually — from a single material.

SenseKnit by Material Balance Research + Politecnico di Milano + Stoll @ Ventura Isola

The Venus Stool uses an efficient additive manufacturing process to create a form derived from a Venus’ flower basket sea sponge, and minimizes material use by incorporating plastic from fishing nets harvested from the ocean.

Venus Stool by Humanscale @ Broken Nature Exhibition, Triennale di Milano

This interlocking 3D-printed modular form — part sculpture, part pavilion — is made from a mix of polylactic acid, starch, vinegar, and glycerine, with wood pulp for the printers’ base filament.

Conifera by COS + Arthur Mamou-Mani @ Palazzo Isimbardi

Sarah D’Sylva has an affinity for understanding how emerging consumer and cultural behaviors relate to product design and material selection. Curating this insight into bespoke content, design concepts, and material strategies, Sarah excels at making materials and processes as coveted as good design. Sarah trained as an industrial designer and was a senior design strategist at Material ConneXion in New York before cofounding Hyloh.



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