Inspiring Product Urbanism

Our built environment has the power to dictate the social, economic and cultural relationships that humans have with one another and with our planet. But as our planet’s resources begin to dwindle and our population continues to grow, the rise of contemporary urbanism is meeting a growing need for sustainable environments and products. This development has catalysed the product design industry to address how we intervene with human-made problems in new ways, resulting in product innovations.

As a society, we rarely question where our materials come from, or what waste products were left in their wake. Studio ThusThat explores ways of transforming Red Mud — waste from the alumina industry — into a series of ceramic tableware and tiles. They use bauxite residue to test and develop their own clay bodies, slips and glazes. For every part of aluminum made, up to 2.5 times red mud is created, totaling over 150 million tonnes of red mud produced annually. The residue is currently left in giant disposal sites, propelling ThusThat to recognise that the environmental importance of this project lies in showing the potential of this secondary resource in place of raw virgin materials.

While all waste can’t be repurposed, it can be removed. The problem of plastic pollution in our environment can seem overwhelming, distant and complex. This type of pollution has specifically proliferated in our urban landscape due to the lack of individual responsibility for waste. To address these challenges in human behaviour, Kenneth Arnold created the Waterside Gobbler: a tool for people to engage in taking care of the environment. The project connects people to the issue in a tangible way and empowers them to take action. Situated along urban canals in places where plastic naturally collects, the design uses gamification to encourage pedestrians to have a bit of fun while picking plastic from the water, ultimately reducing what travels downstream into rivers and oceans.

Citizen activation doesn’t just encompass ‘taking away’ from our environment, but also adding to it. Viral Nature, by Martina Taranto, takes inspiration from past civilisations by embodying the aesthetic of ruins while transforming outcomes of their crumbling material into objects that promote biodiversity. The Echoes Series is a collection of living furniture made up of a composite material that is 84% organic and can host life. Pioneer plant seeds can be embedded in the blend; when mature plants spread autonomously through the wind, they contaminate the surroundings with native wild vegetation. The material can be seen as an ecological intervention to address desertification and soil degradation.

Ecologically impactful innovation has a leading role in our society’s progression toward a more sustainable world. However, sustainability isn’t just proliferated through advancements in ecology. In these times, it is the role of the designer — the generalist — to approach a more sustainable future by implementing innovative top-down or bottom-up solutions, turning on its head the original practice of mass production of common median goods. Product design is undergoing a transformation: from expanding scope through niche opportunities in vast systems with unaccounted-for waste, to activating individual citizens to engage with their direct environment by giving to it or taking from it. As we continue to shift our relationship with the planet in a better direction, the human race is immediately responsible for promoting change in our urban ecosystems for an adaptable and cohesive future.

Red Mud Studio ThusThat>2018>London, England

The team sourced the Red Mud from Alteo, in the south of France, one of the first alumina refineries in the world. Metals such as aluminum and copper are celebrated for their infinite recyclability, yet behind them are equally useful material byproducts that are invisible to the public eye.

Although neutralised when fired, eating off a plate of industrial waste may still seem odd to some. The obscured nature of the industrial process, its brute mechanisms and its gargantuan scale all run in opposition to the usual perception of ceramics which elicit warmth, fragility and finesse. It is precisely because of this contrast that they chose to make Red Mud into ceramics. Additional info:

“In a world of finite resources, we need to reconsider our notion of ‘waste’ and uncover the potential of these unwanted materials,” explains Böckelmann.


The Waterside Gobbler Kenneth Arnold>2019>London, England

Kenny Arnold enjoys using a playful approach to engage people, make a positive impact and explore the boundaries of possibility. His current focus is on developing projects that can accelerate the transition to the circular economy. It incentivises participation through play by encouraging citizens of all ages to clean up their environment while having fun.

Kenny has a background in toy design and has worked on projects that combine education with design for a range of organisations including the LEGO Foundation, KIDmob and Publicolor. Additional info: projects#/the-waterside-gobbler-1/

The Waterside Gobbler presents an opportunity to educate and engage the public visitors of urban waterways by framing the problem in a positive, playful way.


 Viral Nature Martina Taranto>2019>London, England

Every piece of the collection is inspired by artifacts and architectural elements of past civilisations that have dominated Sicily throughout history. They are not exact replicas of the actual styles; instead, their shapes are suggestions and fascinations from a blurred cultural past.

As the outcomes of Viral Nature are seasonal objects, they can be placed in parks, natural reserves or gardens. Fascinations and magical elements characterise Martina’s design language, which aims to generate visceral, behavioural and ethical reactions. Through narratives, she proposes futures built on synergies, interactions fostered by storytelling and empathy through strong aesthetics. Additional info:

Martina Taranto is a multidisciplinary creator with a practice that combines critical design methods with functionality