A new generation of designers focuses on ecologic activism instead of making a trendy new sofa. To demonstrate this vital shift in the design world to a broad audience, Design Museum Gent combined forces with various local schools to organise Design Festival Gent; an ode to the numerous design ideas that could change the world.

Spreading across three locations within the Belgian city, Design Festival Gent gives the floor to 160 ecologic designers and artists. ‘With this festival, we want to signal that the ship of nineties star design and object-making alike has sailed and is far gone,’ stated Siegrid Demyttenaere, co-curator of the festival and co-founder of DAMN°. ‘We try to open the eyes of the mainstream and tell them there is a broader definition of design. Design isn’t just about making pretty things. This festival is a manifestation of design as an act of activism and experiment.’

The time for a festival like this is definitely now. ‘There is a new generation of designers whose first concern is to create design that doesn’t weigh on the climate in any way. They consider design as a platform to change the world.’ There are a myriad of valid design projects that tackle almost every climate problem. For instance, single-use plastic could be exchanged for bioplastic made from algae, as French designer Samuel Tomatis proposed; Construction materials like concrete would have their ecological alternatives, for example hempcrete (from hemp and limestone), in a project of Estonian designer Hannah Segerkrantz. Ghent-based designer Sep Verboom shows that byproducts of reet and grass could result in a biomaterial and be used to produce boards for drawers and cabinets. Every piece of waste can be transformed into a new material. The possibilities of eco-design are endless.

Yet, nothing changes. ‘Matching these ideas with the industry is the most important task and the hardest one,’ Demyttenaere explained. ‘Think of how many years the oil industry has already existed, creating fixed processes and ways of working. You can’t just say: from now on, you’ll be growing algae.’ The industry needs to be forced into change, by applying ecologic regulations that matches the ecological impact of their products with a certain price to pay. Of course, those are political decisions. ‘I believe in a bottom-up process, creating a consciousness among people and let that worked its way up to politics. Covid made us see that we can actually stop the global machine if we wanted to. Why not make a global shift for the environment?’

Top 5 Projects From Design Fest Gent

Elise Eeraerts – Possible Patterns

At the Design Museum Gent, the lower floor is completely taken over by designers and artisans that utilised earth as a material. Sand, clay and earth have gained an enormous interest over the last years. Artist Elise Eeraerts, who intensely works with soil as a material and a metaphor, constructed a wall out of Belgian rammed earth in geometrical shapes that had found their origin in ancient cultures. The project Possible Patterns was conceived in collaboration with Grond Studio for the exhibition “Variations in Earth” at Valerie Traan Gallery in Antwerp in 2021. The show was curated by BC Architects, a Brussels-based office that builds with rammed earth excavated at construction sites across Belgium.

Elise Eeraerts, Possible Patterns, “Variations in Earth”, Valerie Traan Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium, 2021. In collaboration with Grond Studio / Photo: Cinzia Romanin

Studio Samuel Tomatis – ALGA

The usage of algae might just be the biggest game changer towards a climate-positive design world. Algae grow in vast amounts in the sea and can be used as a basis for a myriad of materials, from bioplastic to yarn. French designer Samuel Tomatis shows us an array of possibilities.

Studio Samuel Tomatis, Seaweed Bag / Photo: Matthieu Barani

Basse Stittgen – How Do You Like Your Eggs?

A small project with a big story. German designer Basse Stittgen demonstrates that every type of waste could be transformed into a perfectly usable material. After creating bioplastic with cow blood collected from local slaughter houses, he now recuperated discarded eggs to create small bioplastic objects. Stittgen takes up the biggest challenge of our food industries who regularly dispose perfectly edible products because they do not fit the industrial standard and process, and in this case, eggs without a perfect shape.

Basse Stittge, How do you like your eggs?, 2019–Ongoing

Hannah Segerkrantz – Hemp-it-yourself

A major part of the exhibition at Design Museum Gent shows various alternatives for construction materials with a large ecological footprint, such as concrete. Estonian designer Hannah Segerkrantz proposes hempcrete, a sturdy climate-neutral material made from hemp, water and limestone. Her project comes with an open-source platform to create your own hemp objects, from building blocks to interior objects.

Hannah Segerkrantz, Hemp-it-yourself, 2020 / Photo: Luca Tichelman & Hannah Segerkrantz

Dada Chapel

The most ecological way of designing is preserving. In the heart of the city centre of Ghent, a historic complex consisting of residential houses, a garden and a chapel has been carefully restored and is now reopened. Dada Chapel hosts incredible baroque craftsmanship, artworks of Maarten Vanden Eynde and a new distillery.

Installations - Dada Chapel Distillery © Sam Van Assche

Dada Chapel Distillery in Ghent, Belgium.

Design Fest Gent:

Various locations in the city of Ghent Until May 1st

More info: designfestgent.be