Earth as a Contemporary Design Object



Presentation / discussion and Selection


Abstract, Paper / artefact, and Poster


Jasper Van der Linden
Elke Knapen
Bart Janssens

Files: abstract, poster, full paper

Fragments from proceedings (‘paper submission’)’:


Unfired earth materials present an opportunity for sustainable architecture on different levels. From an environmental point of view, earth has a triple benefit in the life cycle; the resource being abundantly available, the low need of energy to process the material and the potential for harmless disposal at the end of life. dditionally, in order to create a successful sustainable design, the material needs to be appreciated by its users, whether it is used for a building, building component or an object.

This research aims to put forward ways of using earth in a contemporary way through the method of Material Driven Design. The aim is to propose unfired earth material applied in a way that is attractive to the user and, meanwhile, taking into account environmental aspects. Exploratory interviews and a survey with a public of laymen and architect/designers were done to analyse the way they experience (unfired) earth. This input was used during the designing and building of an earth object; a combined phone vault and bedside lamp.

Rather than designing a building or building part, an object allows to go more profound into refining the shape, texture, production process and finishing method. Meanwhile, the deliberate choice of making a daily object, allows to introduce a more general public in order to provoke discussion on the material experience of earth. This way the object design can potentially function as a catalyst, between raw material and full-scale construction.

This paper gives an overview on the former steps (interviews, survey) and following reflections on potential tracks of using earth when applied in a contemporary western European context. The research for design phase guided the design process towards a specific shape and materiality. The process of materialisation is briefly presented, from material tinkering to a very defined production process. Lastly, a further example on how to apply a similar research and design process in future earth designs or applications on an architectural scale will be presented. Keywords. earth; contemporary; design; material experience

Throughout this paper, the designing and building of an object out of earth object has been put forward. The use of the Material Driven Design method guided the design process, onsisting of several consequent steps: a technical and experiential characterization of unfired earth, followed by the creation of a material experience vision and concluding with a design and built prototype of the design.