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The future is circular – in pursuit of this vision, the Kunstgewerbemuseum is dedicating its eighth Design Lab to the theme of the “circular economy”. On the way to a circular society and economy, materials play a key role. In close cooperation with the Hans Sauer FoundationDesign Lab #8: Material Loops – Paths to a Circular Future provides this discourse with a platform, and presents circular thinking and action through a selection of ground-breaking design projects. The network of participants stretches from Berlin out across Germany and beyond, to Italy and the circular city of Prato.

Make Loops Not Lines: From the Circular Economy to the Circular Society

In our current economic and social model, the use of resources and objects largely follows a linear model, that of “take, make and waste”: resources, natural raw materials and even finished products are largely dumped or thermally recycled, rather than being consistently reused and repurposed. At the same time, global material consumption has increased eightfold over the past century, and is expected to rise by a further 17 per cent by 2050. The direct consequences of our throwaway mentality are not only glaring ecological problems but also an increase in social inequality and exploitation along globalised production chains.

Unlike the linear economic model, the circular economy aims to interlink material flows to create a circular system. In future, products and materials should be designed and constructed in such a way that they can find a new use at the end of their life cycle or be redeployed in technical or biological cycles. Important factors here are design models that prioritise long-lasting products which can be repaired and dismantled, along with the careful use of all resources involved in production, but also the use of materials itself.

The circular society model goes one step further and tries to encourage approaches that go beyond technological and market-oriented approaches. It is to be understood as a vision of a fundamental social-ecological transformation guided by the concept of circularity. This suggested expansion aims to show that the transition to a circular system is a task for society as a whole. In concrete terms, this means that circularity must become a guiding, structuring and active principle in numerous areas of society, always keeping the social good in mind. Only through cooperation, participation, the building and sharing of knowledge, transparency and accessibility can we move beyond linear rules, organisational forms, knowledge systems, and most importantly, realign some of the prevailing values and objectives of our society.

The Role of Material

Material and material consumption are at the centre of the problems of a linear economic system. It is assumed that 80 per cent of resource use is determined during the product development process. This means that both designers and producers have a great responsibility in working towards a social-economic transformation and a circular system through the choice of materials they use. In the hands of consumers, the material can finally become a product that is capable of forming part of a circular system.

The Biosphere

The material of the biological sphere can be seamlessly reintegrated into natural cycles after being used as a nutrient – this includes, for example, the clothes made of Ugandan barkcloth by the London-based designer José Hendo or the leather-like material Sonett155 developed by Johanna Hehemeyer-Cürten and Lobke Beckfeld, which is made from cellulose waste from the textile industry and pectin from apple peels.

The Technosphere

In the technosphere, material circulates that can no longer be returned to nature, such as new scrap from the metal industry, which metal designer Lilli Gruber forges into high-quality tools in her project Stahlwandel. Plastic – a material dominating the technosphere – is represented in the exhibition by cirplus, a global online retailer of recycled plastic. The X-Chair by Hermann August Weizenegger was also designed according to the principle of “cradle to cradle”. The aim here is to maximise the lifespan of materials by returning them to the technical cycle as often as possible.

What Can Visitors Expect?

After an introduction to the basic features of a circular economic and social system, visitors to Design Lab #8 will encounter a wide variety of materials and their specific use – from bricks made of mycelium to recycled plastic or animal guts from the slaughterhouse – along the production and recycling chain. The projects on display range from materials already used in industry and examples of best practice to speculative experiments by design students from the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, the Berlin University of the Arts and the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle.

The Circular City of Prato

The city of Prato is situated in the north of Tuscany, and has been known around the world for its textile industry since the 19th century. Continuing a long tradition of sustainable resource management, Prato is today on the way to becoming a circular city – a city that operates according to the principles of a circular society. Through innovation in production processes, the regeneration of urban spaces and the strengthening of social cohesion, Prato hopes to complete its transition to a circular city by 2030. Design Lab #8 presents Prato’s concerted application of the principles of circularity by way of case studies from the textile and other sectors.

The Green Museum

The exhibition itself is a museum experiment in material optimisation and resource conservation. The exhibition architecture comes entirely from the museum’s own holdings. Printed products are avoided and largely replaced with handwriting.

Digital Reader

The Digital Reader for the exhibition reveals the importance of materials in the transformation to a circular economy on the basis of over thirty circular projects and excusive statements by renowned specialists in the materials field. The diverse exhibits illustrate that the issue of materials ultimately affects all areas of our lives, but above all our decisions as consumers. The reader is published in German and English and is available for download free of charge.

Download Reader English (medium resolution PDF, 9,9 MB / PDF in high resolution 18,3 MB)
Download Reader German (medium resolution PDF, 9,9 MB / PDF in high resolution 18,3 MB)

Design Lab #8 is curated by Claudia Banz (Kunstgewerbemuseum), Barbara Lersch (Hans Sauer Foundation) and Kaja Ninnis (Kunstgewerbemuseum).

A special exhibition of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

About the Design Lab series

Since 2019, the exhibition series Design Lab has invited selected design studios, students and activists to present current projects and to enter into a discourse with the collection of Kunstgewerbemuseum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The series is curated by Claudia Banz, curator for design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum. It is supported by the Kuratorium Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation).

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  • Monday closed
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Museum of Decorative Arts
Matthäikirchplatz, 10785 Berlin

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+49 (30) 266 42 42 42

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