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Argentina does not immediately spring to mind as a country at the forefront of sustainable design, and yet it may surprise you. Designers in Argentina have long been aware of the problems that face the future of design; natural resources are being rapidly depleted and people are becoming more aware of the finite nature of crude oil. Using recycling in a number of innovative ways, Argentinian designers are creating beautiful objects for both private and public usage. Additionally, a number of designers are looking to design for solutions to problems of shelter and clean water in third world countries. With both humanitarian and ecological ethics, designers in Argentina are truly at the forefront of trying to protect the future.
Created by Argentine architects Matias Alter and Matias Carrizo and launched in 2012 at the Expo Logisti-k in Buenos Aires, Modularflex is an ingenious solution to temporary shelter. Lightweight, flexible and sturdy, each modular unit can be erected or folded flat in a matter of minutes without the need for heavy machinery or cranes. Folded flat, units can be easily transported to where they are needed most. When in use, they can stand temperature ranging from -5° to 120° Fahrenheit as they are made from insulated thermal panels similar to those used in supermarket cold storage rooms and fitted with electrical wiring and LED lights. The compact nature of the Modularflex modules also means that they take less energy to move and assemble, thus shortening the time it takes to transport. All these attributes enable them to be stored, saved, and reused in disaster prone areas, changing the way in which temporary shelter is constructed.
Woodworkers Gonzalo Arbutti and Matias Resich are the design duo behind carpentry workshop Laboratori. Between them, they aim to create simple and ethical objects using eco-friendly materials such as ethically sourced pine. The objects they create range from the fun and playful, such as children’s toys, to more everyday items like furniture. Additionally they have work with a non-toxic lacquer that can be used on the children’s toys, ensuring that they are still fun and safe to use. Using play as a means of creating their products, Arbutti and Resich assemble a number of elements that combine a sustainable ethic with bright and enjoyable aesthetics. Sensitive to the materials that they use as well as the way in which they use them is certainly what sets them apart.
Comprised of a team of design professionals, Gruba is dedicated to the creation of objects and spaces that provide alternative solutions to product design. The company tries as far as possible to work with salvaged materials to create new furniture and objects. This commitment to upcycling can be seen in Gruba’s brilliant S.O.S de Barrio line, a range of furnishings constructed from discarded roller blinds, salvaged from the streets of Buenos Aires. Created in response to the vast amount of blinds they found discarded around the capital city, S.O.S de Barrio creates a discourse between apparently useless waste materials and an attractive and useable piece of furniture. This unique series is an excellent example of urban recycling and the ways in which design can benefit the environment.
With the term ‘Eco’ in its name, it is hardly surprising that Eco Lala is a company that defines itself by sustainable design. By employing a system of the three ‘R’s (reduction, recycling and reuse) in everything it creates, Eco Lala aims to encourage responsible consumer consumption. Additionally, Eco Lala hopes to raise awareness about the environmental problems affecting us today as well as the consequences that our throwaway culture will have on the future. The products that they make are created by heat-pressing plastic waste that has been chopped up into a confetti-like state. Once this has been done, the new material is used to create a variety of products that are useful, brightly coloured, and, of course, eco-friendly.
With a grand view of the possibilities of Argentine design, Design Patagonia believes that both its aesthetic and social values are key in its inception. By re-evaluating the ways in which materials are sourced and used, the company believe that the impact on the environment can be substantially lessened. Additionally, by focusing on local resources they also protect the local knowledge and skills of people who work with these materials. Patagonia is a country rich in natural resources, from polished stones to native woods such as Lenga and Coihue. This richness in nature and heritage in turn inspires the products created. The Alerce folding screen, for instance, uses recycled Alerce tiles to form the screen, Lenga wood for the frame, and is joined together using a traditional means of leather hinging. Additionally it is hand-waxed, once again looking to local skills to give it a sense of uniqueness.
Looking to influence future generations, Pomada is a company that is committed to sustainable design solutions that have a low environmental impact. Pomada believes that reusing discarded objects to create its projects is a very productive way to obtain raw materials, not to mention being an approach that relates to South America’s regional identity. A culture that has often had to resort to a ‘Make Do and Mend’ way of life due to scarcity of materials from time to time, South America has become hugely innovative in ways in which to improve the quality of life. Creating bright and beautiful objects and furnishings, Pomada imbues its products with messages of sustainability, promoting more sensitivity towards the issues of recycling in today’s society. Additionally, the company is itself driven to find new means of recycling and production that lower energy consumption and reduce negative environmental impact.
Based in the Argentine province of Chaco, Arqom is a young creative company innovates, creates and develops sustainable projects in a wide range of design areas. By working closely with their clients and business partners, Arqom emphasises sustainable product development in all of their works. For example, the company’s Sebra bench places special emphasis on the use of woods native to the North East of Argentina that are either sustainable sourced or reclaimed. Cleverly constructed via links and sockets that work against each other to form structural tension without the need for nails or glue, this bench is clearly a high end piece of design.
Carro is an established brand based in Buenos Aires that creates a wide variety of bags and other textile objects. Based around the concept of portability, Carro products incorporate the use of recycled and discarded fabric such as jute coffee sacks to create bags, cases, and rucksacks that are attractive and comfortable to use. Giving each item a sense of individuality is something that is very important to the company, as it believes that this individuality creates a more personal involvement with the products that we buy. By caring more about our products, this lessens the need for a throwaway culture as we look after and care for our possessions, ensuring they last longer. Combining this with traditional North Argentine woven textiles gives the products a uniquely Argentine feel that also appeals to young and old alike. Inspired by the urban surroundings of Buenos Aires, these bags are useful, durable, and highly desirable.
During the coup d’état of the 1930s known in Argentine as the Infamous Decade, natural rubber was in high demand. As a result, a synthetic substitute was created known as B-Methyl-Buna or Buna for short. Despite being incredibly environmentally unfriendly, this material has been given a new lease of life by design company UAU Disegno. Founded in 2006, this company is dedicated to designing sustainable products, thereby rethinking design practices. The Buna series recycles this synthetic rubber to create stools and plant pots for outdoor use. In a variety of sizes, these simple yet effective modules can be arranged in various configurations to make the best use of a space. So by reusing a waste product that is hazardous to the environment, UAU Disegno have in turn improved it, both ecologically and visually.
Despite living and working in Milan, native Argentine designer Francisco Gomez Paz is worth a mention for his collaborative work with Alberto Meda on the Solar Bottle. The Solar Bottle is a low-cost container that is capable of disinfecting water via the SODIS (Solar Water Disinfection) system. This system essentially uses solar energy to destroy the pathogenic microorganisms that cause water-borne diseases such as dysentery, typhus and cholera. The bottle itself can carry up to four litres of water, but is relatively flat in its design. This facilitates storage and transportation, and the increased surface area increases exposure to the sun, thus improving the disinfection of the water. Showing Gomez Paz’s experimental approach to design as well as his drive to explore new technologies and materials, the Solar Bottle is a truly remarkable design.