Jonas Edvard: A Material Alchemist in Sustainable Design

 “I encourage people to be curious, to focus on the moment, to react upon feelings; right now is an interesting moment”

– Jonas Edvard

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On your way to Jonas Edvard’s studio located on a former shipbuilding segment of Copenhagen’s old industrial center, Nordhavn, you’ll pass through a maze of dead ends, construction sites, and waterways no longer in use, but now reclaimed by colonies of seaweed. At the beginning of your journey, you are welcomed by the nearly completed Nordhavn Metro station, the first of many that will be opening over the coming years to bring new colonizers to an area the city is hoping will become a global example for sustainable urbanization. Already, at the lower portions of Nordhavn headquarters such as the new “hyper-green” United Nations City building, and clean-lined uniform dwellings together with galleries, cafes and, yes, sushi restaurants are slowly advancing their front on the red-brick factory spaces of the not-so environmentally friendly manufacturing past.
Sustainability, green, eco-friendly, clean: these are all wonderful words, words we’ve seen see all over our respective cities on election posters, but nevertheless, no matter where you are in the world you won’t be able to escape them on your product packaging, advertisements etc. The marketing firms of multinational companies and the press teams of politicians know that they need to use these words to get the attention of the ever more environmentally conscious consumer and citizens. So, how do we make sense of this constant onslaught of green-washing? How are we to know whether our actions as consumers, choosing the objects that make up the little worlds of our houses or apartments, are having a positive impact on the world at large? Well, it’s a seemingly daunting task for any one of us to make sense of on our own.
This is an issue that product designer Jonas Edvard does not take lightly, utilizing some of the most ingenuitive methods of material innovation he creates his philosophy for sustainable living from the world that surrounds him and the world that he grew up in. This world is made up of a visual and material language comprising of: limestone, from the cliffs surrounding his childhood town; seaweed, growing in sometimes nuisance-like abundance along the Danish coast; and mushrooms, which cover the forest floors and help in reducing former-living things into dust, the state all objects enter just before vanishing into nothingness.

Early Influences

Edvard grew up in an area of Denmark famous for its limestone cliffs, a mineral made from the skeletons of tiny marine organisms and compressed over millennia into a gleaming white, highly useful structural material. The contrast of these natural edifices soaring out of the cold turbulent seas is something that penetrates his visual and material language even to this day. Edvard uses color, shapes and forms from nature, as well as visual cues, to create a catalogue of feelings, from which his designs spur into the physical world.
As a child, Edvard recalls experimentation, creativity and a connection to nature went hand in hand. He explains that curiosity came natural to him. On afternoons spent along the beach, he would encounter huge chunks of the limestone cliffs broken off into naturally sculpted, organic, statuesque beings.
When entering design school at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, this curiosity and dedication to experimentation did not fade away. As Edvard started studying for a Bachelor in Industrial Design, sticking to the basics could become quite rigid – especially in an environment with such international esteem as Danish design. While the teaching of design did not necessarily have a crossover to other disciplines in the fine arts, students were permitted to take courses throughout different disciplines. He quickly became bored with making furniture and design items such as “the chair” in a traditional sense. While taking courses outside the design school, and through a ceramics course in particular, Edvard was able to bring a level of sculpture and form to transform a raw material into a visual language.
A dedication and true respect for material are the defining factors throughout Edvard’s practice. By mapping out as much as he possibly can with the material and pushing it to its limits, he is able to reach levels of innovation that truly push boundaries. Edvard conveys how our relation to materials has shifted and how they have become signifiers of our evolutionary journey, for example in the Iron Age and Stone Age. The way that we use materials can bring us back to a way of thinking with a pre-historic effect and make us ask: why are we using these materials, just because they are around?

A Scientific Approach to Design

From his education, Edvard did not recognize and immediately push to investigate sustainability within design and his work from professors or the school itself. Edvard remembers a single course he took that was related to sustainability and there were indeed other outlets for this, but no incentives for green design. In Copenhagen, generally, there was more of a focus on urban gardening. All this confusion and lack of focus from his peers around sustainability pushed Edvard to investigate his own methods and to really address the prejudice around the understanding of sustainable design being just sustainable.
Edvard’s scientific research approach to his practice came naturally and, through his unique processes, he works with the end goal of developing a language from each new material he works with. This way of thinking wasn’t something he was directly taught, but instead stems from a high degree of curiosity from childhood. Edvard entertained himself by identifying rocks and other natural objects, reading anders trackel drawings, the lifeforms on earth, and the microscope. By mixing this scientific curiosity with a focus on fine art from his parents, his mission to find fine art from nature began.
Despite the level of conservatism in his schooling, Edvard found freedom within the courses. Due to an accident before starting his master studies, his way of thinking shifted to figure out what was important. There was no time for speculating, now was the time for action. His work investigated how to turn waste into something useful or how not to use waste, this led to his work with mushrooms, interested especially in its symbolism. These organisms decompose the waste of the forest for their energy, and, in turn, his work would use waste to build an aesthetic, functional object from waste material with a purpose in its afterlife.

Material Timeline

2013 – Mushrooms

In MYX, Edvard utilized mushroom-mycelium, the fungus’ stringy, root-like structure that in normal harvest would be discarded for compost and bio-waste. Edvard grew oyster mushrooms on forms laden with plant fibers, where, after collecting the edible portions of the mushrooms, the mycelium had “glued” the fibers to their solid shape. The resulting lamps embody a sustainable life cycle: originating from waste products of the farming and textile industries, creating a food product, and lasting as a functional art form for however long you deem fit, before being able to be composted and returned to the earth.

2014 – Seaweed

Together with fellow Danish designer, and current studio-mate, Nikolaj Steenfat, Edvard created Terrior inspired by an ever-present staple of the Danish landscape – seaweed. Looking for inspiration for sustainable materials from their immediate surroundings, they stumbled upon this seemingly obvious choice. The seaweed grew in abundance right outside their studio and they were able to harvest it themselves, a therapeutic ritual of their day they would start to look forward to. After a process of experimentation, they arrived at a procedure where the seaweed could be cooked into a glue and combined with up-cycled paper to give a surprisingly durable material. This material could be used to make a variety of highly desirable design items, with a range of natural colours, which, after use, can be broken down and used as a fertilizer. All this potential comes from what would again seemingly be a waste product, even a nuisance by some standards.

2015 – Limestone

Gesso is the Italian word for plaster and is one the most important structural and building materials still used to this day from ancient Roman times. Since childhood, this has been a material that Edvard has been quite familiar with; when working on a new collection for an exhibition in Paris, he chose to return to this impressionable part of his past. Crushing the blocks gathered from a local quarry into fine powder, the limestone is then combined with a bio-resin and, through a process more similar to that of a chemist’s, a series of densely textured patterns emerge. The collection lamps and side tables are featured as part of the Danish Crafts Collection organized by the Danish Arts Foundation with support from Lhoist Denmark.

2018- “Dust”

As with his previous works, Edvard takes an often overlooked material, which is rather a mixture of many materials at the end of their lifecycle, dust. The Relic project began in 2018 for the Chart Art Fair curatorial project. in this investigation, Edvard’s starting point was the word “relic” and the manner in which we project value upon objects, for example, relics for ships and saints, etc. In many cases, these relics are the most perishable materials on the verge of becoming nothing. Edvard collected various dust types and began to mix them together with a lack of control in the process, simply experimenting, testing, and allowing the material to determine its own existence.
Through a process of trial and error, Edvard landed on his final solution; he worked on numerous test tiles and threw away the ones he was not satisfied with. One morning, he saw that the test tiles he had discarded in the dumpster had transformed into something he liked. When first created, the surface is fully pigmented in one solid color, but, as time passes in the curing process and due to the dust composition and pigmentation, more and more black dots appear until Edvard decides to freeze this process. Apart from these new heights reached in material innovation, Edvard matched this innovation through his material language; objects are normally dead and useless when not in their intended use – how can they make something that can transform into something else? In this sense, objects in the relic collection take on various lives through their versatile function, a side table becomes a lamp, a table or chair, a sculpture; objects of function just as viable for their sculptural presence.

Sustainability with Meaning: Understanding the Full Life-Cycle

When asked about the evolution of the focus of sustainability since his education, Edvard expressed that now it is much more accepted, but also that it is part of a marketing agenda. This word is used too much and doesn’t look at the whole context. There’s a significant difference between the origins of materials used to create objects – virgin versus reused. There is definitely a need for design in creating objects that are truly sustainable and developing the physical language of design as well as in judging whether an object is valuable or necessary. Edvard encourages people to be curious to focus on the moment, to react upon feelings; right now is an interesting moment.
Focus on sustainability is finally beginning to take its – frankly overdue – place in global development. This can be seen to shape how we design and create our cities and worlds at large or how we chose to build our personal world and the objects that we select for it. Setting sustainability as a long term priority and not just as a fleeting trend will take more than the hunt for green leaf icons on the plastic chair we’ll use for one summer then throw away.

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Jonas Edvard is a young Danish designer working and living in Copenhagen. In all his work, he takes an alchemist’s approach to design, experimenting with natural resources and creating products whose striking materiality, used in a brand-new context, gives new life to the object itself. Edvard is committed to exploring the possibilities of sustainable design, and he pursues his work with a strong focus on the aesthetic value and functionality of raw materials, investigating the history of their use and the future of their existence.

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