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Designers inspired by the Ocean
Innovation in water management
Learning to Relate to the Ocean
- Eye on Design
There are few activities more suited to tapping into your creative brain than staring across the deep blue sea. Here are some designers who have channelled the spirit of the sea into objects, furniture and art.
Areniscos and Undae by Victor Castanera
Victor Castanera was born and raised in Barcelona, and his lifelong proximity to the sea has been a constant source of inspiration. “My parents often took me to the Costa Brava, so the sea is one of the most important things of my life – it is something that’s always present in my mind,” he says. The work this influence has yielded includes the Areniscos collection, a series of bowls made by the sea: Castanera pours water into sand to make a hole that acts as a mould, and then fills it with a non-toxic material that dries to form a sand-encrusted bowl with rough edges – each one unique and leaving no trace or waste. Another series, Undae, are vessels made from an ecological resin that’s poured vertically into moulds to create imperfect and inconsistent layers that resemble waves. In one version, the resin is mixed with wood flour and sawdust to look like sand and seafoam and in another black and blue pigments give them an inky, oceanic quality. Both collections are a meditation on the creative capacity of nature. “One of the things that I admire most about the ocean is the constant movement of water and randomness of these movements,” the designer says. “I think my work reflects visually this act of chaotic harmony.”
Ocean Travertine by Clément Brazille
In shaping travertine – a limestone that grows in the ocean – into a collection of furniture, Clément Brazille approached the material in a manner more akin to carpentry than stonemasonry. As one might with wood, he carved the rock into tubes to reveal the layers of age within. “Inside each stone tube, you can see the different sedimentation deposits that correspond to years, like a tree trunk,” he explains. In other words, he says, these travertine tubes are an “ocean sampling”. The result is an elegant range of desks, high and low consoles, side and coffee tables with slender legs and sleek tops. Furniture made in natural stone or marble is often weighty and decadent but Brazille’s collection has a delicate simplicity to it – in its smooth, linear shapes, its delicate forms and its gentle colouring, it has the airiness of ocean waves. But these pieces are far from ephemeral: the travertine is strong and long-lasting, and each is numbered and signed by the designer.
Ocean Terrazzo by Brodie Neill
Over the past few years, Brodie Neill has produced a series of designs using Ocean Terrazzo, a material made of hundreds of tiny fragments of plastic from the world’s oceans. This technique addresses his concern about the waste washing up on the shores of his native Tasmania. “What were once white sand beaches are now littered with plastic, from small fragments to whole plastic bottles,” he says. Conscious that it was impossible to know the age and chemical makeup of the fragments, Neill conducted many experiments with different types of melted microplastics. Ultimately, he settled on adapting a traditional terrazzo technique – plastic fragments (70%) combined with a binder (30%) to create an aggregate material. The resulting designs are Gyro and Flotsam, tables that have the air of ones that would have historically been made in marble, timber and ivory, but subvert this conventional idea of luxury with a vibrant plastic surface instead. “For the Gyro tabletop the composite was inlaid in a kaleidoscopic diagram in hues of blue to depict the Earth’s longitudinal and latitudinal lines. The Flotsam collection is cast completely as singular pieces: the ripple pool is created in all-white terrazzo to reflect the water and the bench is made from multicoloured ocean plastic fragments to reference the floating nature of the plastic waste.
Abyss by Duffy
“I have always had a fascination with the ocean – I spent a lot of my time when I was younger surfing and waterskiing,” says Chris Duffy. “As a result, I spent a lot of time looking into the depths, waiting, looking and thinking and nearly drowning many times.” Duffy’s limited edition Abyss series of tables and artworks captures this sense of staring into the ocean. From the side, they are designed to resemble a geological cross-section – with layers of wood carved to form dips and valleys. From above, looking at the glass surface is as if gazing into the sea, and seeing its depths with uncanny clarity.
“Unlike some of my other designs, I knew almost exactly what the finished product was going to look like before I even drew it out,” Duffy says, explaining how he tried out several materials and methods to bring his vision to life, but ultimately found the first one he tried – layering sheets of glass one on top of each other – was most effective. “This effect reminded me of those times staring into the ever-darkening depths.”
Ocean Memories by Mathieu Lehanneur
Each one of the Ocean Memories series is a three-dimensional snapshot of the sea in all its turbulent, restless glory. Following on from several other pieces by Mathieu Lehanneur inspired by water – including Liquid Marble, a series of installations that captured a rippling sea on the surface of blocks of black marble – his latest collection again employs digital design techniques to evoke the movement of a liquid, which is then rendered in white and grey marble and polished bronze to form the surfaces of tables, benches and stools. Frozen between solid and liquid, the objects have a sense of the surreal and, for Lehanneur, are a reminder of our inextricable dependence on and connection to the oceans. “This series forces us to confront our past, our present, and our potential future,” the designer said in an interview with the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, which represents him. “It represents the tangible implication of our human state; living in a living world. When facing the ocean, we feel both our strength and fragility.”
The idea for La Pausada Belleza Del Movimiento Acuático (The Paused Beauty of the Aquatic Movement) popped into Violeta McGuire’s head while she was scuba diving – she wanted to create an artwork that felt like a bubble, ensconced away from everyday life. She envisaged a wooden/brass circle with a glass covered space in the middle that captures fabric moving slowly and hypnotically inside it. Looking at it, she felt, would make you feel calm and peaceful, like looking at the ocean. The delivery, however, was less straightforward. “I started experimenting with different motors, and various water circuits that allowed me to materialise the idea as a sculpture that would run in the long-term,” she says. “I spent almost a year and a half trying to figure out all the details.” But McGuire says she has always identified with slowness and the rhythm of life underwater. “I often feel like nowadays we spend less and less time for each thing we do, and we run around without noticing our surroundings. Sometimes I feel anxious about this, and I feel much slower than everyone else,” she says.