In this project I have investigated metallic materials, focusing on copper and aluminum. The aim has been to better understand their origin and becoming, how they act in their natural habitat. To me, metals are industrial materials with a somewhat dim origin. I percieve them as more ”natural” (less tampered with by human) than plastic and less ”natural” (more tampered with by human) than wood or paper. In order to develop new, zero waste, energy efficient production processes in a circular economy, I believe that producers, as well as designers, need to better understand the materials they work with.
I was presented to the company Proton Lighting and their production of luminaires and was asked to somehow work with their waste material. The punching method that they use today leaves scrap pieces and creates bent corners on pieces that cannot be used. The metal scrap is remelted and turned into new sheet material. I decided to try this reforming method out myself with scrap aluminum. Melting under an open flame made the aluminum oxidize, creating a lot of waste. Sand casting forced a lot of form restrictions while plaster casting with an original wax form turned out to be such a wasteful process.
My learnings from this has been that even when recycling a material, the production process can create waste. To live sustainably in balance with other life forms on our planet we need to reconsider our use of certain materials. Even though a circular economy is a good start, the efficiency of the technical cycle must be problematized.
The technical cycle of metals starts with mining, in the case of aluminum and copper, mining of bauxite ore. After refining the ore, electrolysis is used to separate the different metals. Having been recycled maximum times within the cycle the metals should be collected and the ”systematic leakage and negative externalities” should be ”minimised.” According to the Sustainability Principles formulated by the Natural Step ”In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust.” I decided to try copper plating through electrolysis as a method, imagining that this could perhaps be a way to naturalize these substances, when they can no longer be recycled. The result gave me a greater understanding of the natural forms of copper as it grew onto another material in coral or moss like shapes.
I have learned a lot about production methods and metals during this project. Presenting and exhibiting it I hope to mediate insights and questions to producers, fellow design students and the public that could be an inspiration in creating new methods of production. I would want to look further into what esthetic qualities are valued in mass production and how they would have to be challenged in order to enable zero waste production.