April 2021

How can independent post-industrial designers work with corporate companies in a way that doesn’t reinforce the status quo of production links? For ONTketen (UNchain) and its Belgian partners the creation of a new natural material is one answer.

Ontketen is a Dutch word that translates as ‘unchain’ in English. The use of the word in the case of this project refers to the unchaining of production lines that are often unsustainable, complex, global, and even alien to one another.

Over the course of three years the ONTketen project is modestly trying to break down these global chains to a more local level, one that builds alliances between social and sustainable enterprises, industry and creatives. Local in every sense is key, from the goal to reduce carbon emissions because of the link between source and production to social impact – the project will be working to generate local jobs for creatives who may otherwise have sought global support.

Sep Verboom, the co-ordinator of the ONTketen project from the Livable platform, states that this project is about, “lessening international production, and proving the possibilities of waste materials that are locally sourced, natural and versatile. We want to invite creatives and companies to work together with a new natural material in the hope of producing innovative and real-world outcomes.”

In 2020, the first year of the ONTketen project, there was a focus on research and development. The project partnered with the employees of Pro Natura, innovators in the bio-based economy, to source native fibres from the ‘green waste’ that is left over from the work they do ecologically maintaining parts of the Belgian landscape. These fibres were then given directly to the local company Circular Matters, which used its expertise in plant-based materials to create and produce a material that can be considered a sustainable alternative to wood.

This year project will be carrying out more in-depth research into this new biomaterial and approaching companies to partner with designers. There will be an open call later this spring that will invite creatives to form relationships with these companies and work together to develop a new application for the material. The objective for the year is proving that if creatives work directly with industry from the beginning then there will be a greater opportunity for them to turn their ideas into realities; ideas that can shape and infiltrate our daily lives in meaningful ways.

During its last 12 months, ONTketen plans to reveal prototypes which are near to or in-fact ready to be launched onto the market. This phase is about developing an environment in which companies and creatives are able to take the time to work together to experiment with this new natural material and ultimately produce something significant and sustainable.

The developing collaborations have the potential to make new discoveries that each partner – and the rest of us – can benefit from; an outcome that each link in the chain can be proud of.

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Biobased result Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Brewery binder Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Brewery binder Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Fibers Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Greenhouse processing Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Maintenance Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
Lab Livable Ontketen ©Aaron Lapeirre
This article appeared in DAM78. Order your personal copy.