June 12, 2012
Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven has always enjoyed experimenting with materials and production techniques. It is these experiments that have led to some interesting discoveries about texture and materials, a process that is central to his work as a designer.
“In a playful, freestyle way these experiments turn in to products, showing that form and beauty can be derived from an inventor’s brain. Design to me has always been a combination of disciplines — a combination of being an inventor, philosopher, functionalist, engineer, problem solver and stylist. Design is, in my belief, going to be our best tool to solve the problems that arise from the difficult relations we have with everything around us: digitalization, globalization, increasing distance with nature, pollution, loss of traditions, family and religion. Basically we need more empathy and we need the pro, ducts we use to be more empathetic to us. Proper design can successfully implement science into our everyday life, lighten the worries we should have about our future on this planet and empower us to do something about it. Design can educate us through self-discovery and allow us to share knowledge with others. It can bridge differences in language, customs and culture. Proper design can be humble and serve a purpose but it can also be provocative and visionary. I feel that I am in the perfect time and place, this is my renaissance,” he explains.
He stresses that a designer should design from scratch as often as possible and should try to avoid restyling products just to make them more trendy. It was Tjeerd’s curiosity about materials and specifically fibers that prompted him to order 100 palm leaves to Holland all the way from India. This followed after he came across the Areca Palm Leaf last year and went about exploring the material’s possibilities. He found a supplier in Tamil Nadu and ordered the materials for his studio in Holland.
He recalls,“It was expensive, 250 euros worth of palm leaf and took three months, but when the cardboard box arrived in my studio, I was filled with joy. I started experimenting with the leaves and soon realized they were so much more interesting when wet. They became flexible, strong and useful. But all was lost when they dried again, turning to their original brittle and fragile state. My team and I spent four months developing a biological solution to soften the leaves and to keep them in this state, resulting in Palm Leather, which has some of the same properties as leather and rubber. One of their most successful products is the Resort Sandal, which makes use of Palm Leather and is a cheap, fully biodegradable throw away sandal that can replace the plastic throw away sandals we use everyday.
Palm Leather is now a material innovation from Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven, and Tjeerd has created an entire line of products using this material, including Palm Leather journals, the aforementioned sandals and bags. Tjeerd adds, “Palm Leather can frequently be used to replace plastic, rubber or even animal leather. As a consumer you are supposed to consume, buy, use, discard — it’s a perfect linear process that we lived by for a century but in this linear process, we do not have to think about where the raw materials of the products come from or where our waste ends up. But slowly we have come to realize that we need to switch to a circular process in which the value of materials does not diminish but is recycled and reused. There are no waste materials, only materials that are not used properly yet. Of course, some waste materials are harder to put in a cycle than others but the palm leaf is an easy one.”
Tjeerd believes nature has provided human beings with so many materials in our environment that offer endless possibilities. “So many of our senses are tuned to react to materials without us knowing it. Therefore as a designer, I like to work with as many materials as possible, and I want to know all of them, where they come from, how they are made and what they are good for. This knowledge allows me to use the right materials for the right products,” he explains.
He says he loves to turn to nature to study the natural solutions that it provides us. He says, “The palm leaf is a great example. The long continuous fibers in this leaf are very strong and nature has lined them up perfectly into large sheets. These sheets of fiber protect the tree until they fall to the ground naturally. The leaves are dry and brittle and therefore of little use.”
On what’s going on in his head, when he sets about trying to find a design solution, Tjeerd says, “Strangely enough when designing a new product not much is going on in my head. Often it is an accumulation of experiences and accidents that bring the initial ideas, a process. From that moment on, though, it is important to think clearly about some aspects. Whom are you designing this for? How is it made? Can it fit in a techno or bio cycle? Is it social? Is it useful? But most importantly, why do you need to design this? And of course, the answers to these questions don’t have to be positive all the time. But they are essential questions that should not be ignored.”
Tjeerd says he’s a true optimist, adding,“We all have a unique opportunity to design for a sustainable and empathetic future and I am sure we will succeed.”Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven
9702 HA Groningen, Netherlands
phone +31 (0)624794045