Upcycling our waste crates in response to LDF’s Day of Design challenge


Exhibitions and Loans
September 16, 2019

Our Department of Design, Architecture and Digital (DAD) – responsible for exploring and responding to pertinent issues within design and society – have collaborated with the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College and the Royal College of Art, to bring LDF’s Day of Design to Exhibition Road on 22 September, from 11.00 – 17.00. The road will be pedestrianised and filled with installations, talks and activities focussed on design solutions to climate change.

As part of our commitment to sustainability, we’ve set about creatively and mindfully tackling our organisational waste. We’ve developed two exciting furniture upcycling initiatives using our surplus stock of exhibition packing crates, demonstrating how we can give our waste materials a meaningful life beyond their limited purpose.

Rose Worrell sanding down packing crates to make a folding bed
Rose Worrell sanding down packing crates to make a folding bed

Nine Designers have been partnered with clients from the 999Club, a homelessness charity in Deptford, to co-create a piece of furniture for them to take into temporary accommodation.

Jacob Walls, design mentor said:

This project spoke volumes to me. Not only were we given the opportunity to bring a new life to the V&A’s crates through their eco-friendly project but also, as a designer/maker, have the chance to use my experience to help towards a truly rewarding cause.

Michael and mentor Alex Brooke with their stool
Michael and mentor Alex Brooke with their stool

Chile, who is working with designer Oscar Murray to create a storage unit for her vinyl records, says the project has exceeded her expectations:

It helps you look at the world in a different way. There is a huge crisis on the planet about waste and pollution so this is a way to demonstrate to people that they can do this too – every man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Dean, who became homeless after a relationship breakdown, has been working with his design mentor, Ellen Svenningsen, to make a throne out of reclaimed doors:

The piece I’ve used for the back of the chair has “fragile” marked on it. I’ve only painted lightly over it so you can still see that. That reflects my mental state. A chair has to be strong and supportive but inside you can still be fragile. And after everything that’s gone on in my life, I need to rest. That’s what this chair is for.

Dean and Ellen work together to cut down the exhibition crates
Dean and Ellen work together to cut down the exhibition crates

John, another client of the 999 Club felt the project really caught his imagination:

It has given me determination and a sense of teamwork. It’s unbelievable, really. It makes me feel worthwhile. I have a sense of purpose. I’m coping well. After this course, I want to make stuff. Now, I believe in myself, and that I can go back to work and be part of society.

Liam Motyer measures the drawers for John’s writing bureau, which will also incorporate mannequin parts from the V&A
Liam Motyer measures the drawers for John’s writing bureau, which will also incorporate mannequin parts from the V&A

Additionally, an open call was launched for designers to create a range of dining furniture, also from our waste packing crates, for a Food Waste Feast that will be held at Day of Design event. Following the event, the furniture will be donated to People’s Kitchen – our catering partner – for their new premises at the Royal Docks. Designs were encouraged to be modular, transportable and multi-functional, to aid their use in a community dining setting.

Ji Ji and Minyi Zhang model their stools made for the Food Waste Feast
Ji Ji and Minyi Zhang model their stools made for the Food Waste Feast

Rob, a student at the Buildings Craft College created a dual-purpose piece that provides seating and allows for planting. He said:

It has given me a taste of what to expect as I get closer to graduating as a furniture designer/maker in 2020. The V&A has a special place in my heart as I have spent many hours learning about design and social history from the thousands of artefacts on display. I sincerely hope that my bench can go on to a worthy course and give someone as much pleasure as I have had making it.

Rob Parker shows off his mobile plant bench
Rob Parker shows off his mobile plant bench

Some designers have chosen to retain the original shapes, aiming for an industrial finish, whilst others have opted to experiment with the form and textures of the wood to create pieces that are less recognisable as crates. Some have incorporated upholstery and paint finishes, all made possible by the generous donations of vegan leather and paints from Ultrafabrics and the Forest Recycling Company.

This has been a unique opportunity to bring the design community together to build social networks, explore creative collaboration across the cultural sector, and highlight the ways in which we can unite design and social change in new ways. We’d like to thank Lewisham College for providing essential workshop space, and Festool for sponsoring the project with a generous donation of power-tools.

You can see all the finished pieces at the free Exhibition Road Day of Design on 22 September, from 11.00 – 17.00.

Please note that Exhibition Road will be closed to all vehicles between 08.00 – 20.00 on 22 September 2019. Alternative disabled parking bays are located on Prince Consort Road and Kensington Gore.

Michael sanding his stool
Michael sanding his stool made with mentor Alex Brooke
Tom Oleson sketching out designs for Tasia’s sewing table
Tom Oleson sketching out designs for Tasia’s sewing table
Tasia and mentor Tom Oleson discuss their design for her sewing table
Tasia and mentor Tom Oleson discuss their design for her sewing table
Maria Saeki admires her modular feasting table for People’s Kitchen
Maria Saeki admires her modular feasting table for People’s Kitchen
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