At Salone del Mobile 2022: Design with Nature

At Salone del Mobile 2022: Design with Nature

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Wall*E. I love the film’s post apocalyptic-vision—in which humans have to flee the planet not because of nuclear war, or off-the-rails weather, or some other dramatic cataclysm, but rather because of garbage.

Design with Nature entrance with sign

To quote another sage with a dark and whimsical sensibility, Shel Silverstein, “It piled so high it reached the sky.”

exhibit about paper with huge stacks of newspaper

“Design with Nature,” an ambitious exhibition by Mario Cucinella Architects this week at Salone, doesn’t merely complain about throwaway culture or even create poetic paeans to the strange mise-en-scene of trash, but rather proposes solutions.

Options for converting trash into textiles

The look of the exhibit intends to evoke nature, or perhaps (in a somewhat utopian vision of the future of urban areas) a synergistic relationship between nature and cities, as serpenting swaths of green snake through a constructed environment, their proximity suggesting mutual dependence and respect.

Plants and circular benches

In “Design with Nature,” however, the pockets of “stuff” aren’t made of off-gassing, chemically manipulated materials, but rather sourced in a thoughtful and sustainable way, relying on centuries-old knowledge and techniques rather than the machinery of industrialism. The stacks of paper below offer an example. Zooming in on the signage reveals a philosophy of reclamation and re-use of this plentiful product, which for most of the modern age has been treated as mere waste.

Design with Nature paper exhibit

This idea—of relying on what is already plentiful, and presumably what we would typically throw away, to build our infrastructure—is a core notion of the exhibit.

palm fronds and banana leaves
Bamboo exhibit

Paper, palms, bamboo, and banana leaf are just a couple of potent examples of how nature can enrich our environment if we cultivate it with care and with respect. However, the exhibit’s reach extends past plentiful natural resources to plentiful artifical resources, or those that we’ve already extracted and manipulated.

Design witih Nature huge structure of giant tree trunks

Central to this notion is a reinvented mind-set, as Design with Nature encourages us to un-do our conception of the city as wasteland, as an entity that’s intrinsically antithetical to nature. To the contrary, cities can and should be great sources of raw materials. Design with Nature thus expresses “a bid to (re)build the difficult equilibrium between territory, city and landscape, exploring the themes of circular economy and reuse, starting with the idea that cities could be possible ‘reserves of the future, where most of the raw materials used in construction could be obtained.”

Natural design materials in displays with informational signage

Indeed, one of the exhibit’s central themes is “the city as a mine.” This is a revolutionary notion, to be sure, provoking us to re-consider not only the idea of the city, but also the idea of what it means to source materials. Mining, in this context, is not tearing into a mountainside, but rather using our intuition, our collective artisanal know-how, and our communication skills to create a network of re-use and re-purpose.

timeline of design and nature

The project insists that this mind-set must go beyond the usual suspects of plastic and cardboard, demonstrating how unlikely waste products like fruit peelings, leather scraps, and insulating panels can be reincorporated into a circular economy and made to become something else.

view of the earth from above with contrast between nature and the built environment

Design with Nature runs through Salone’s close on Sunday, June 12. The final day features a sustainability presentation showcasing end-of-year projects by Master’s students at Cucinella’s School of Sustainability.

attendees at curvy tables

Find out more at Salone del Mobile.

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