On 1 March 2023 Make Good: Rethinking Material Futures hosted its second symposium in the V&A Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre. Here we share the recordings from this thought-provoking day.
The symposium brought together a panel of speakers who invited us to consider questions around under-utilised home-grown timber, and to look at issues of land use and ownership, management of forests and questions of access and inclusion. In doing so, the symposium complemented and aligned itself with thinking brought to the fore through the Make Good: Field Notes display.
The V&A’s Keeper of Performance, Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Christopher Wilk opened the day with a speech about the museum’s engagement with sustainability, followed by thought-provoking conversations with, and talks by, academics, architects, artists and designers. There was time for a Q&A at the end of each session, and these generated animated conversations between audience and speakers. The symposium was structured into six main sections.
In this first session, Ian Tubby from the Forestry Commission delved into the current and future state of UK forests, and access to timber resources. Henry Tadros from solid wood furniture manufacturer Ercol and Alex de Rijke and Kat Scott from the architecture practice dRMM then talked about the opportunities and challenges of utilising local materials and short supply chains in the design and construction industries.
IN CONVERSATION: STEPHEN BURKS AND MALIKA LEIPER WITH JOHANNA AGERMAN ROSS
Stephen Burks and Malika Leiper from Stephen Burks: Man Made design studio developed Crafting Diversity, a project in collaboration with Berea College in Kentucky, USA. Since 1855, student crafters at Berea College have learned to master basketry, weaving, broom craft and ceramics, using locally sourced materials. Stephen and Malika joined V&A Make Good Curatorial Lead Johanna Agerman Ross on stage to explore the studio’s collaboration with the students and the broader resonance pf the project for the school and for the design industry.
The third session looked into the future of our built environment through both material and digital exploration. It discussed communities’ use of resources and acts of care towards nature, but also how developing more considerate systems of sourcing materials can lead to more sustainable living environments. Summer Islam from Material Cultures talked about the architecture studio’s focus on researching locally grown and sourced materials to move towards a post-carbon built environment. Indy Johar from Dark Matter Labs spoke about the planetary scale of transition we are facing over the next decade, and how we should consider both material systems and spatial justice within this context.
Following on from thinking about resources and materials, the session considered international-scale networks of movement and trade. William Baker from Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, presented his recent research into a more sustainable rattan global industry, via the DNA identification and extinction analysis of the plant. Christien Meindertsma followed, to speak about her investigation into the possibilities offered by a flock of Rotterdam sheep’s wool and Benchmark founder Sean Sutcliffe concluded the session by sharing his experience of challenging existing structures within furniture manufacture and trying to implement Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Declare labelling to products.
IN CONVERSATION: HELLA JONGERIUS WITH JOHANNA AGERMAN ROSS
On the eve of the Milan Furniture Fair in 2015, Hella Jongerius released the manifesto Beyond the New, written in collaboration with design critic Louise Schouwenberg. In this manifesto, she and Schouwenberg made a convincing argument for how the design industry can rid itself of its obsession with the new and pursue more sustainable practices. Hella joined Johanna on stage to have a conversation about Beyond the New and other acts of provocation in her career.
The final session of the day introduced us to projects that seek to engage a wide audience with some of the issues discussed during the symposium. Joe Bray, of the Sylva Foundation’s Wood School, talked about the mission of the school that he heads up and how through their annual Summer Schools they are diversifying woodwork. Sixto-Juan Zavala of Queer Botany talked about establishing connections between queer people and nature via interpretive displays, botanical drawing sessions, and guided walks. And concluding the session, Georgina Bowman of Common Practice talked about her experience with community engagement and how this has informed Common Practice, her most recent initiative.
The Make Good Symposium 2023 forms part of the V&A’s Make Good: Rethinking Material Futures programme, which aims to encourage the stewardship of natural resources and considers the responsibilities of designers and consumers towards the natural world in a time of climate crisis. If you want to learn more about this programme of talks and displays please sign up to the Make Good newsletter.
Co-written by Danilo Marques dos Reis and Maude Willaerts