Diabla Talks: Sustainable design by Oiko3 June, 2022
Since its early days, Diabla has not stopped focusing on innovative materials. Today, with the aim of continuing to strengthen the link between outdoor furniture and design from the recycling of plastic waste, Diabla joins forces with OiKo Design Office, a design and industrial development studio specializing in the science and engineering of materials for the transition to the circular economy.
The result of this collaboration, BALCONI, is a collection for balconies and small spaces made up of a folding table and chair that stemfroma calm, honest and recognizable formal inventionmadeout of a new material such as post-consumer plastic from soapbottles and detergentfrom plastic waste containers.
Your maxim is to design following the strictest circularity protocols. From the beginning, did you have a clear idea of the material that would shape an outdoor collection like BALCONI?
More or less, but not entirely. We knew that recycled plastic would be a main feature, but initially the focus was a greenhouse plasticbolstered withsome rice husks. After several developments, the finished result did not entirely convince us and the formats were not entirely suitable, so we switched to recycled plastic from detergent bottles, which was finally used in the slats. We have made the structure fromaluminium tube from the verystart due to its resistance, lightness and its easeto work with.
Although the etymology of the name of the collection is obvious, why did you choose this concept for your first design for DIABLA?
In commissioning the project, the main idea is that it should be a chair suitable for balconies, hence its small size. The English word forbalcón, in Spanish, is "balcony". So, in the studio, to informally refer to the project we called it “La Balconi”, but without the intention of giving it a definitive name. And the truth is that when the time came for us to present it in Madrid, Balconi had made such an impact on us that we couldn't name it anything else. And so, it stayed: Balconi.
In your projects you always introduce the sensory issue, an aspect that is also very present in each and every one of Diabla's designs. What emotional bond do you try to create with the BALCONI user?
The first thing is that it clearly and consciously evokes classic balcony chairs, but in an updated, revised way. There we wanted a connection to be generated intime. And then there is materiality. Recycled plastic as we have used it connects you with the waste, with the recycling process, the smell of soap lets you know that it was a container before a chair. If you look at it carefully you can identify the remains of popularbrand caps. We believe that these stimuli generate an emotion and, above all, lead you to imagine stories. To imagine how many clothes will have helpedto wash the place where you now sit. To think what would have happened to that waste if it had not been recycled in this chair.
Another of the premises of your work is local production. Can you tell us more about the origin of the post-consumer plastic waste that gives life to BALCONI and that have a definitive traceability?
As we said before, the waste comes from the selective collection of packaging in Spain. Common soap and detergent bottles that once we throw in the Spanish yellow containers for plastic, go to a waste selection plant, are crushed and conditioned to be able to recycle them into new products. It is true that there are now many brands that claim to use recycled plastic... in this case, the material used in Balconi is the first in Spain with an Aenor-certified post-consumer origin. This plastic is legitimately recycled from the packaging that all of us had at home just a few months before.
How many recycled HDPE containers from cleaning products gain a second life through each BALCONI chair and table?
It is relative, because not all containers weigh the same, but assuming that they were all large detergent bottles, we would have about 30 bottles per chair.
Last year, the chill area of Nike's Play Now space at the Barcelona Forum was your first foray into outdoor design. With BALCONI you go a step further, creating a collection of furniture made especially for the outdoors. What challenges have you encountered throughout this new project?
It's interesting, because even though it's the same material, the approach has been completely different. In the Play Now space, recycled plastic was combined with a wooden structure. Under the sun and rain, the wood degrades and the plastic remains. In contrast, in the Balconi collection, recycled plastic is combined with aluminium and here the relationship between the two is different. Aluminium is everlasting, but what about recycled plastic? Here is the challenge. Obtaining a suitablestrength of the materials that make up each piece regardless of their nature.
You have spent years studying and quantifying the environmental impacts and life cycles of materials and products from a design perspective... as well as carrying out projects to promote social involvement in recycling through transparency and showing its benefits and practical results. What is the biggest challenge facing us today in terms of the transition to the plastics of the future?
That's how it is. In our way of working, we integrate environmental impact analysis through LCA in the design method. In fact, we even work for many brands exclusively in the field of consultingfor theimprovement of their products on an environmental level. We have discovered a greatinterest in improving the sustainability of the processes, but also, in general terms, facing great barriers. In short, the main challenge is trying to continue keeping everything the same but also wanting to achieve a different goal. The inertia that has led us to the unsustainability of our system must be reversed from the roots. If you continue to work with the same supplier, with the same engineer and maybe even with the same designer, the result will most likely be the same and you will not get any change.
In addition to recycled plastic, BALCONI integrates aluminium, which is very present in the products manufactured by another of the Gandia Blasco Group brands, GANDIABLASCO. It is a material suitable for the outdoors and is recyclable after its long life, during which it gradually discovers a beautiful aging process over the years. What qualities would you highlight of this material?
You have described it perfectly. Aluminium is a light and resistant material. Possibly the most suitable for outdoor equipment. And yes, it is recyclable, but we must not forget that aluminium has a great impactin terms of itsextraction, so it is essential to guarantee its recycling to ensure that there is enough recycled material on the market so that we can make recycled aluminium products. But its great feature is durability. The most sustainable product is the one that is used the most, for the longest time.
Madrid Design Festival 2022 hosted the collective exhibition Inferencias, from the Il•lacions gallery. You participated in it with the AZ01 recycled plastic chair together with the creative director of Diabla, Alejandra Gandía-Blasco, who presented her photographic work Comporta 2018, autumn 19.38. Both creations are based on taking advantage of the expressive value of what the industry rejects: the aestheticization of industrial plastic waste and errors in photography, respectively. What have you taken away from this experience?
We share many points of view with Alejandra and the “Happy Accident” is something that unites us in our most artistic works. Posing this dialogue between industrial material and photographic image speaking the same language, although in different forms, so to speak, was amazing. Not to mention the excellent exhibition organized by the colleagues from Il•lacions. A very emotional and intellectual mix. Vitamins for creativity.