This humble chair kickstarted the sustainable design revolution

In a world the place the whole lot from shampoo bottles to playground tools to leggings are produced from recycled plastic, it’s exhausting to consider there was a time when the fabric wasn’t ubiquitous. But when British designer Jane Atfield created a chair made solely of post-consumer recycled plastic in 1992, the thought felt positively revolutionary.

[Photo: courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

Called the RCP2, Atfield’s chair was made of colourful plastic bottles that had been chipped and compressed into boards—a easy however groundbreaking concept that earned her a spot in design historical past. Now, 30 years after the RCP2’s creation, Atfield is partnering with New York City gallerist Emma Scully to create a restricted reissue of the seminal design.

Jane Atfield [Photo: courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

Atfield was a pupil on the Royal College of Art (RCA) when she got here throughout a pattern piece of board produced from plastic bottles, created by the Missouri-based plastics recycler Yemm & Hart. It was the primary time she’d seen something prefer it. While folks within the early ’90s had been beginning to pay attention to the issues created by plastic air pollution, she’d by no means encountered anybody who was making issues out of used plastic within the U.Ok. or Europe. Entranced by the fabric, she had a few of it shipped throughout the Atlantic within the hopes of utilizing it to create furnishings.

[Photo: courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

“I wanted to celebrate the material itself, and the message in the material, which was to . . . make a connection between waste and consumerism,” she says now. “It was the vehicle to explore social and environmental themes within furniture because most furniture wasn’t speaking about those things at that time.”

Newbury Corn Exchange Outdoor Cafe chairs and tables from Made of Waste recycled plastic, ash, canvas, 1996. [Photo: Jane Atfield/courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

The results of these reflections was the RCP2 chair, introduced as a part of her commencement showcase. Inspired by Gerrit Rietveld’s iconic crate chair, which had a boxy form and used castaway supplies, Atfield’s design featured clear strains and a easy silhouette that deliberately targeted the attention on the fabric itself. The recycled plastic board was so vibrant that some viewers thought it was painted, flecked because it was with the colours of the bottles and the fragments of their labels nonetheless recognizably contained inside.

[Photo: Sean Davidson/courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

Though Atfield by no means made greater than 60 copies of the chair, it was a groundbreaking contribution to the evolution of furnishings design, and one which Atfield has been well known for since: variations of the RCP2 are a part of the everlasting collections on the V&A Museum and the Design Museum of London, and the chair has been included in volumes about design by such publishers as Taschen.

[Photo: Sean Davidson/courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

“The RCP2 chair wears its heart on its sleeve, insofar as the design puts the post-consumer recycled-plastic material center stage. It is a polemical manifesto about alternative design values,” says Gareth Williams, the curator who bought the chair for the V&A in 1996, who’s now a professor of design at Middlesex University. “This deliberate decision to shout loudly about the green credentials of this chair situates it in a time and place. Environmentally sustainable design was still in its infancy, so the point had to be made with force.”

It was some extent that Atfield continued to pursue past the creation of RCP2. She went on to discovered Made of Waste, an company for recycled supplies devoted to taking Yemm & Hart’s thought of turning trash into new supplies and adapting it for British waste streams. At a time when recycling infrastructure in London was nonetheless being developed, Atfield devoted herself to discovering and repurposing the whole lot from Marks & Spencer coat hangers to used plastic wrap from catering firms.

[Photo: Sean Davidson/courtesy Emma Scully Gallery]

It’s Atfield’s lasting legacy as a “pioneering eco-designer” that satisfied Scully to associate together with her this yr and launch a restricted reedition of the RCP2 chair as a collector’s merchandise, which is being offered for $3,500.

“This was a really critical contribution, intellectually, to the history of design,” says Scully. “It was at the forefront of thought about how to tackle post-consumer waste.”

For her half, Atfield is glad to see the methods by which recycled plastic has grow to be extra mainstream within the three a long time since she created the RCP2. But, she says, in the end, she goals of a world by which there’s much less plastic, interval, and the place governments step in to control the fabric in order that it’s not overproduced. If plastic goes for use, she thinks it ought to be primarily in medical purposes or different circumstances the place nothing else will do.

As lengthy as we’re on this interval by which an excessive amount of plastic continues to be being created, although, she sees recycling as a transitional resolution and hopes the RCP2 can play a task in inspiring folks to get inventive with waste.

“I still can’t quite reconcile the lack of urgency, particularly within the industry and manufacturers,” she says, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”

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