The Belgian design scene is vast and diverse. Belgian institutions are always at the forefront of supporting the people, new projects and products that make our country dynamic and unique.
Studio Plastique - The object becomes.
They founded Studio Plastique in 2017 in Brussels after graduating from Design Academy Eindhoven. Their work combines imaginative scenarios and critical reflections with in-depth investigations of complex material supply chains and technological infrastructures, thus pushing the boundaries of what design aims to achieve.
WHAT IS GLASS?
(Theresa) Glass is an amorphous material that has its origin in nature and that is transformed through various processes into a material that we call glass. Glass is man-made. It's transparent, it's beautiful. It has diverse and endless possibilities and it's endlessly recyclable.
(Archibald) Glass is molten sand, with additives, with ingredients that are added to change the properties of the material that we call glass. You can have borosilicate glass and soda-lime glass. They are different recipes with different properties. Glass is usually transparent, but it can also be opaque depending on how it's processed. It breaks, it's fragile, it's sharp. But it is also very smooth, soft in the curves it takes when it's shaped. It needs a lot of heat. It is a matter that is very hard to tame, to shape.
(Theresa) It’s somehow also a paradox because the original material that glass is made from, sand, exists because of very, very long processes. On the other hand, the glassmaking itself is something very quick.
(Archibald) Glass is also a very versatile material that really defines the time we live in. It is an ingredient that is part of almost all of our devices, phones, computers, televisions, microwaves and fridges, printers… But also, in architecture and optical fibre communications … When you work with wood or metal, you have a lot of processing to do in order to have a finished product. But if you work with glass, it's quite an immediate process. When you look at a wine bottle, it's moulded glass; it’s shaped and it's not worked anymore afterwards.
Can you talk about the way you work?
(Archibald) Usually, when we develop a curiosity for a material, it starts from observations and discussions between us. As designers, we touch all sorts of materials and we shape connections and processes.
(Theresa) And then more concretely, in the case of glass, we try to find out about various devices, what is made from the glass within our daily environment. Like a microwave, that we then take apart to find the ingredients: glass, glass fibres, silicon, microchips...
How did your start your studio?
(Theresa) We set up with a common mindset: there's already so much in the product world around us, and we didn't necessarily feel like contributing to that. We were really curious about how things are made, or how could we could improve existing structures and systems that are in place, in order to create products.
What will you do in ten years?
(Archibald) Will the microwave still be there? We are currently tapping into a flux of materials that is coming from a device that is currently relevant and currently fashionable. But how long will this stay this way ? Our work is also to question how we consume, how we use, how we assemble these devices. For example, in the newest appliances, the glass is mostly glued in, which is really very painful work to detach. Whereas the first microwaves, the older ones that we came across, are screwed or clicked together. So already such very simple design decisions or engineering decisions change and also make certain things more possible than others.
The European context in that sense is quite important to us because it's where we work and live, but it's also a context where the creation of value is changing a lot. There isn’t much manufacturing, there's not much like material stuff left. And at the same time, proposing objects to the general public that have a story to tell, that have a link with nature, with the trash, is also an important aspect.
The added value of the objects that we are making is that they are really telling the story of something that exists in daily life and that, at the same time, is transformed locally, although it is sourced globally. A microwave, for example, is constructed of components that come from all over the world, is assembled in one country, but then is transported through many countries, and then finally used in your home.
I think our biggest strength as designers, as Studio Plastique, is that we can be link-makers, we can be matchmakers with an empathic approach, because the structures of economy, the structures of how the world functions on a geopolitical level are governed by something else than empathy and common sense.
Could you talk about this backstage importance of your objects? What about your relation with the audience or users of your design research?
(Archibald) For us, it's super important to bring these backstage aspects to the foreground as much as possible: the end-consumer, the user, the public. Many of those processes are not visible to the public. Why? Because industry is on such a big scale that it is happening behind closed doors or because it's on purpose. They don't want the public to know certain things because they might raise questions. So, making backstage and research aspects visible is one way of labelling and creating the relationship between consumer, production, resource and location.
(Theresa) Buying something is really easy. You see something that appeals to you in any kind of environment, a supermarket or a shop, then you want to own it. You will consume it for a few years, maybe just a snapshot of enough time. And it's easy to discard it, to dump it or to put it directly in your home trash. But somehow, by creating an object that carries DNA that tries to include storytelling, I hope maybe that makes you ask questions during your day: what do materials actually mean in your life? Where do they come from?
(Archibald) I think, consciously and sometimes maybe also a bit unconsciously, there is an educational side. Not that we want to necessarily educate everyone but, as a designer, you get an education where your curiosity is triggered, where you ask yourself questions, where you make informed decisions. I think this is something the whole of society can benefit from and profit from. If this is facilitated, why should the crowds be kept hidden from information about the resources?