Environmentally friendly art you can sit on sounds a little bit like a Mad Lib, but that’s exactly what was on display at the Evergreen Brick Works on Tuesday night.
Design by Nature is an annual design competition that promotes furniture and public art. Founded in 2011, it challenges local artists and designers to create original works using salvaged materials. This year’s four winning designs, chosen from a field of almost 80, were unveiled on Wednesday. They’ll be on display at the Brick Works until September 21.
The winners were a bench made from wood salvaged from an old airplane hanger, a series of cast composite cubes that can be used as tables or benches, a home for bees, and a bench made of dirt and sand that will slowly erode away, revealing an internal system of seats.
Design by Nature founder Matthew Cohen was in charge of managing interior design and furnishing at the Brick Works when it first opened. He says the competition is a continuation of his original vision for the space.
“When I left, I really wanted to establish a continued relationship between the design community and the site,” he says. “And I wanted to see things filter through that weren’t necessarily for the ages, but were new and interesting and would make people think.”
Sue Madsen is the co-founder of Design by Nature. Until her recent retirement, she worked as the director of Canadian architecture and design for the event’s major corporate partner, design firm Teknion. Teknion was also heavily involved in the building and design of the Brick Works.
“I think we both had very like-minded wants in terms of continuing the relationship here,” she says. “All our clients [at Teknion] are architects and designers. How do we embrace them into a relationship here at Evergreen?”
Last year’s inaugural contest had a little over 30 entrants. This year, the number more than doubled.
Cohen says all four of this year’s winners managed to marry form and function.
“This year, we had a specific ask by the Brick Works to focus on functional furniture,” he says. “We wanted interesting pieces that were evocative and made people question things like what a bench is, but that could also be used and survive the rigors of being in the public.”
The pieces on display have already had to survive the elements in a way that most of their creators hadn’t anticipated. Wednesday’s event was originally scheduled for July 9—the day after last month’s massive flood. All of the pieces were already in place on the eighth, and the storm put them under more than a foot of water. They all survived surprisingly well.
Designer Scott Eunson created the airplane-hanger bench, which he calls End-Grain Block Bench. He made it using a computer-aided router, and charred it with a roofing torch to give it a dark finish. He says the idea for the bench came from the wood itself.
“It’s made from Douglas Fir, and it was part of a hangar built in 1938 at the old Malton Airport,” he says. “The pattern began as a section of softwood end-grain. Softwood is a lot simpler than hardwood in its structure. It’s basically just rows and rows of tubes. I’m interested in patterns you find in nature. So I took that, and instead of making tubes, I made divots, and then each prototype got bigger until you could sit in it.”
He adds that his ideas about sustainable design mesh remarkably well with Design by Nature’s broader goals.
“It’s the idea of using nature as a generator of form,” he says. “They think about it on a city scale, but I think you can do it on any scale.”
Cohen says that in the long run, he’s hoping to export Design by Nature to other cities around the world.
“This is a very replicable model,” he says. “It will do well wherever we decide to take it.”