SLOW: A Project By AHEC Slow Design For Fast Change

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From November 2021 to February 2022, Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) opened its permanent collection for a special showcase of the sustainability and versatility of wood as a design material.

Initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), “SLOW” consists of nine projects from emerging designers working with American Red Oak, Cherry, and Hard and Soft Maple. Slow acts as a counter to “fast” consumption like fast fashion and fast food that encourage constant excess, and the Slow project’s contemporary designs represent fresh voices that articulate new ways of thinking about sustainability and accountability in terms of design, materials and production process.

The rise of ‘slow’

The values of our society are changing. As much as the rise of individualism generated a diversity of lifestyles and approaches to consumption, it has also brought about a changed understanding of quality in terms of design. Today, more and more of us are taking into account considerations such as the design process, production location and materials used when making buying decisions, alongside the broader concerns of sustainability and quality.

Products that keep materials in circulation for as long as possible are increasingly appealing. In parallel, the global COVID-19 pandemic has made people re-evaluate their lives and reassess how they want to spend their time, as lockdowns, working from home and social distancing have transformed the way we live and work. All over the world, once-hectic routines have been forced to slow down drastically, making people even more aware of what and how they consume.

The concept of ‘slow’ – as understood in terms of slow fashion or slow food – has come to entail a holistic approach to creative thinking, processes and products. It does not refer to how long it takes to design or do something, but rather to an expanded state of awareness; to accountability for daily actions; and to the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.

The next design generation

Nine young designers were hand-picked by a selection panel comprising their university tutors, the project’s manufacturing partner, German workshop Holzfreude, three professional mentors – Hanne Willmann, Sebastian Herkner and Garth Roberts – and the AHEC team:
• Maximilian Beck • Clémence Buytaert • Simon Gehring • Hansil Heo • Sarah Hossli & Lorenz Noelle • Anna Koppmann • Haus Otto (Nils Körner and Patrick Henry Nagel) • Theo Luvisotto • Maximilian Rohregger.

From one or more of four hardwoods – American Red Oak, Cherry, and Hard and Soft Maple – each designer has created an object that reflects their approach towards the theme ‘slow design for fast change’. The result is a wide range of products, including bowls, chairs, benches, shelving systems, tables and modular furniture elements. This variety reflects the diverse voices and ideas that define the design industry today, united by an emphasis on sustainability, longevity and a focus on quality.

Produced by Holzfreude, the finished objects embody the value of perfect craftsmanship as well as presenting a selection of the best emerging design talents in a unique historical context.

The shift to sustainability

Across the world, the throwaway culture of fast consumption is coming to an end. Consumers are becoming more and more conscious of the stories behind the products they spend their money on, favoring products that will last longer – possibly even for multiple generations. Objects that are durable, timeless in design and quality are increasingly a focus of consumers, individual designers and corporations alike. Slow design is fast becoming an economic mindset.

In this context, wood is becoming increasingly preferable as a design material, thanks to its natural look and texture and to its inherent sustainability – the perfect choice for ‘slow’ design.

“Strong, tactile and visually appealing, wood is essential in an era of plastics, over-consumption and climate change, because of its low impact on the environment and the fact that it can be easily recycled. As well as being a material for making, it is also a low-impact fuel and a carbon store. This project presents four underused timbers and questions the assumption that the most well-known varieties of wood are always the only ‘right’ woods to use,” said David Venables, AHEC Europe.

Designers today have an enormous influence on how products are made and where, with what and how they are manufactured. The future of this shift lies within the next generation of designers – the students and recent graduates who are likely to shape the industry for decades to come. Thus far, the global pandemic has largely robbed this generation of opportunities to showcase their ideas and products to international audiences. Thanks to AHEC and SLOW, they have both a platform to demonstrate their talents and an incentive to rise to the challenge and come up with innovative products, objects and ideas that reflect and accelerate the transition towards slow design.

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By Michael Snow

By Michael Snow, Executive Director, American Hardwood Export Council, Sterling, Va 703-435-2900

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