Utrecht Manifest, biannual for Social Design published several articles on design and sustainability. We have selected some products and questioned ourselves about what the sustainable factor is.
One of the most important factors that ought to be taken into account is extraneous to the product: the consumer’s habituation to specific types of products. Take, for example, our addiction to electrical equipment. Since the invention of the electric vacuum cleaner and the electric lemon squeezer, a massive industry has developed with the aim of avoiding as much manual labour as possible in home and kitchen. This has spawned a never-ending stream of products for our comfort and convenience, but these appliances have undesirable side-effects even without their guzzling of energy. In his introduction to the 1981 book, Design ist Unsichtbar (Design is invisible), design historian Lucius Burckhardt tackles böse Objekte – ‘malign objects’ – and uses the example of the electric onion-cutter, which is intended to cut onions swiftly without the user enduring malodorous hands. However, in order to clean the machine it has to be dismantled, thus losing any time gained and leaving the user with smelly fingers all the same. The usual solution devised by designers, who think in terms of objects instead of problems: an onion-cutter cleaning machine. Ad infinitum. Burckhardt was saying that designers should devote more attention to cohesive systems than to autonomous objects that completely ignore all other equally autonomous objects. Dick van Hoff is one example of a designer who is re-evaluating manual work in the kitchen as part of a greater system: a social space where cooking is more than a series of functional operations. Van Hoff’s motive for designing kitchen equipment that relies on manual power rather than running on electric power has less to do with environmental awareness than with his desire to consciously experience the steps necessary to a meal’s preparation. His food processor, blender, mixer and lemon squeezer are made of cast iron, chrome, glass and wood, and are driven by simple motions, such as pulling, rotating and moving back and forth. When using Van Hoff’s kitchen equipment the preparation of food is once again an activity that requires physical concentration, actual work. And why would you head to the gym when you can get a good workout in your own kitchen? Because of the energy savings these machines are also good for the environment and one’s conscience, and thanks to their quirky design they are conversation pieces that inject the social space of the kitchen with new élan. Text by Max Bruinsma