'Moving Parts' Exhibit at Toronto's Interior Design Show Spotlights Tackling Climate Through Design
Make it out of better materials and design it to last.
Treehugger has visited the Interior Design Show (IDS) in Toronto for years, looking for the latest in sustainable design. Every year, the posts get shorter as everyone makes dubious claims about sustainability. But this year, one booth stood out: Moving Parts, a collection curated by Will Sorrell, national director of IDS, and Joanne Lam of Picnic Design.
The booth itself was a model of restraint and minimalism, with a painted backdrop and a plan taped onto the floor. The introduction noted that "good design solves problems—and the last few years have presented us with a lot of these."
One of the problems that we have to solve is waste. The top of this workstation is made of chopsticks. Chopvalue says, "Little consideration is given to this single-use utensil that has traveled approximately 9,000 km and served its purpose for only 20 minutes of a meal. Chopvalue has recycled 50 million chopsticks to date."1 They sell a nice-looking line of office furniture with chopstick tops and faces.
Path Chair from Humanscale
In front of the Chopvalue desk are pieces of the Path Chair from Humanscale, designed by Todd Bracher.
"Each chair’s structure is made from recycled materials—6.24 lbs of ocean-reclaimed fishing nets and 3.25 lbs of ocean-bound plastics, mainly yogurt cups, collected within 50 km of coastlines. Humanscale’s fabric—FormSense Eco Knit—provides additional ergonomics and is made with recycled materials, with hardly any offcuts. This chair goes beyond net zero targets towards net positivity. It has multiple certifications in sustainability."
Cyrc Studio's 3D-Printed Chair
Cyrc Studio said that "fast furniture is an environmental fiasco." All of its designs are produced on large-format 3D printers using recycled plastic.
"It is imperative that we create a future where the simple act of owning a vase or a chair doesn't come with hidden costs from extraction, production, and exploitation. The pursuit of ethical, climate-positive, zero waste furniture is what drives us."
I wish I had known about them last term of teaching, as Cyrc Studio's website is a lecture in circular design. Also, for years we have discussed the promise and problems of 3D printing—Cyrc shows how it should be done.
The Boxr Bench
This Boxr thing doesn't look like much, and that's the point. Architect Eric Martin of North of Modern called it a "smart bench" that doubles as a box with a keypad to solve the problem of deliveries of stuff when you are not home.
We have shown other versions that looked like lockers, but the Boxr is much more discreet and does double duty. It can also contribute to the sharing economy: "Boxr lets you share tools, toys, and books with your neighbors when you're not home."
Umbra Bike Concept
We have discussed the problem of storing bikes in small dwellings, so the Umbra Design Lab has taken a new approach: It designed a bike that doubles as a piece of furniture. It's a bench! It's a table! And it is a cargo bike! According to Umbra:
"This unique bike concept allows the consumer to store the bike in their apartment as a unique piece of furniture while also making it easy to bring outside with them—whether commuting to work or going for a stroll. Utilizing this idea of mobile furniture, its transformative design, turns it into a bench, making it great to use as a sitting spot when out and about or easily store once at home. It makes it fun to sit and eat at the park or take a break from your ride and enjoy your surroundings, all without having to worry about public seating."
It is an interesting idea, but I wonder if it suffers from what I call the Shimmer Syndrome, where on "Saturday Night Live," Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner argue whether Shimmer is a floor wax or a dessert topping, and turns out it does neither particularly well.
Notably, in the video, designer Sung Wook Park rides a Strida folding bike, the same bike that Treehugger founder Graham Hill designed a special hook for so that he could hang it in the closet of his tiny New York apartment. I wonder if that isn't still a better solution.
Eames Shell Chair
Much has changed over the years, but much has stayed the same; there are two Shell Chairs designed by Charles Eames in the exhibit.
"It is a design icon, seen in many different settings all over the world. It has seen many moving parts since its creation. Originally, the chair was made with fiberglass, a strong, pliable material which lent itself well to creating the biomorphic shell shapes."
The two on the left were bought by my mom in the late 1950s and are in the original fiberglass.
"However, using fiberglass presented environmental hazards, which drove a switch to polypropylene in 2006, followed by a return to a safer, newer fiberglass in 2013. In 2021, Herman Miller switched the material for the Eames Molded Plastic Chair portfolio to 100% post-industrial recycled plastic—saving the equivalent of approximately 112 tons of plastic per year and a 15% carbon reduction annually for the product line."
But it is also important to note that this is a 70-year-old design still going strong. Perhaps the most important sustainability message of all is that good design is timeless.
Lam and Sorrell have assembled a master class in sustainable design, noting that "this collection of designs marks the ability we have, simply through our choices as consumers, to make a difference in the world."
We can buy stuff made of better materials, with better designs that might last as long as an Eames Shell Chair, aesthetically and functionally, and we can keep it forever. That's the future of design.