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Zane Berzina: “Today‘s ideals are tomorrow‘s normality”

Zane Berzina: “Today‘s ideals are tomorrow‘s normality”
Foto: © Julia Wolf

How can designers learn from science? And how can sustainable design be made more visible for the industry? The greenlab, a laboratory for sustainable design strategies, was founded in 2010. As an intermediary between design, science, and the industry, it is aiming for synergies between these disciplines. We talked about it with one of its founders, Zane Berzina.

INTERVIEW   Boris Messing


CCB Magazine: Ms. Berzina, you are an artist, designer, university lecturer and one of the founders of greenlab. What appeals to you about the interface of design and science?

Zane Berzina: To start with I would like to state that designers and scientists are not that different as one might think. Both scientists and designers have in common that they want to improve the conditions of this world. They just use different methods to achieve this. I am interested in the synergies that arise when these methods and cultures are combined. And furthermore, I think that these kinds of science-design collaborations are highly important – the problems of the 21st century are so complex that single disciplines cannot resolve it, even if trying very hard. Interdisciplinary approach is needed and design plays here an important role. As the design theorist Victor Margolin states design „produces tangible results that can serve as demonstrations of, or arguments for, how we might live”.

CCB Magazine:What does your work as an artist consist of? Or do you see yourself today more as a scientist than as an artist?

Zane Berzina:If honestly, since I am teaching full time at weißensee kunsthochschule berlin there is no time left for my own creative studio practice, unfortunately. This is very time consuming and intense. Now I am busy curating various processes, collaborations, student and research related structures, which also require high amount of creativity.

CCB Magazine:The greenlab is a laboratory for sustainable design strategies. University projects are networked with practice-oriented research. What synergies can result from this? What is the added value?

Zane Berzina:We know that design discipline often engages in conceptualizing and planning of products, environments, processes and systems that does not yet exist, by connecting complex knowledge from various seemingly unrelated fields and serving as catalyst for our futures. In the past decades design has evolved far beyond making objects towards system design and user-centered participatory practices. When tackling a problem, designers are practicing contextual awareness and critical reflection, explorative, open-ended, non-linear and practice-led research coupled with problem solving strategies, yet keeping the bigger picture and end users in mind while coming up with non-standard solutions. This is what we do also in greenlab, by applying sustainable design strategies into practice.

The problems of the 21st century are so complex that individual disciplines can no longer solve them. That's why an interdisciplinary approach is needed, and design plays an important role here

CCB Magazine:How many projects has greenlab already initiated since its inception?

Zane Berzina:It is impossible to count how many student projects we have fostered. It must be a few hundred. A selection of them can be seen on our website. What I definitely know is that this past academic year we had our 10th yearly topic “Acker, Löffel, Campus” focusing on the future scenarios for the planned enlargement of our college campus. 25 students took part in this project and developed concepts individually or in small teams. There were projects that addressed material and waste streams within the college, mobility on the new campus and connectivity with the city as well as community building with our neighborhood, just to mention a few. But previously we have had projects looking at sustainable materials, social design, circular design, food design, bio design, etc.

Top: Material samples from the project "Cooking New Material" by Youyang Song. All materials are based on fruit waste. Bottom: Handbag made from fruit. Photos: Youyang Song

CCB Magazine:Have projects from the greenlab in cooperation with research and industry been able to establish themselves as mass products or established services? Do you have a prominent example of a particularly successful project?

Zane Berzina:We see us more as initiators of new concepts within the field of sustainable design provoking a dialogue between the design talents and the industry. One semester (which is the timeline for a typical greenlab project) is too short for the development of real products. We get to the conceptualization and first prototyping stage. As a result, many student projects have won prices in prominent design competitions. However, several projects have been so promising that they have been successfully continued as BA or MA projects or even as start-ups or a research undertaking. Here I would like to mention a few projects, which once started as a greenlab projects: New Blue by Tim van der Loo, Black Liquor by Esther Stögerer and Jannis Kempkens, Mujo by Malu Lücking, Juni Sun Neyenhuys and Annekathrin Grüneberg, Cooking New Materials by Youyang Song or Wild & Root by Linda Lezius. New Blue develops zero waste strategies for denim, Black Liquor explores the potential of lignin as a sustainable material obtained as a waste stream in paper production, Mujo develops packaging from algae which dissolves in water after use without leaving any harmful substances, Cooking New Materials works on vegan leather solutions but Wild & Root offers very special sustainable and delicious catering experiences to its customers.

There is no doubt that the industry benefits from collaborations between research and design. Because young design students are an immense source of fresh ideas and very motivated to be as unique as possible in their design approaches

CCB Magazine:How can the industry benefit from such joint projects?

Zane Berzina:There is no doubt that the industry is benefiting a lot from such collaborations. Young design students are an immense source of fresh ideas and very motivated to be as unique as possible in their design approaches. Furthermore, design  and design thinking have many strategies and methodologies that can be used effectively to make significant contributions to the industry by communicating its history, processes or results as well as its benefits to non-specialist audiences.

Top: Cooked asparagus with a difference: Anton Richter makes bowls from asparagus scraps. Bottom: Asparagus box instead of Styrofoam. Photos: Anton Richter

Zane Berzina:As stated already earlier on, I see myself in a role of a curator and a mentor – setting up the bigger context and developing the design briefing for the individual projects, connecting the dots, encouraging and also paying attention to detail. Basically, initiating and then overseeing the entire process together with my colleagues.

CCB Magazine:Are there other institutions besides greenlab - university or otherwise - that are trying to create an interface between art and science with practical applications?

Zane Berzina:At our college there is DXM – Design und Experimentelle Materialforschung, which is the research facility of the Textile and Surface Design Department in that I am also involved. It combines material development and design aiming for meaningful solutions to current challenges of our society and environment. An interesting development is the Fraunhofer-Netzwerk Wissenschaft, Kunst und Design, which was founded several years ago. It explicitly funds science-art/design collaborations within the context of the Fraunhofer institutes.

CCB Magazine:A prediction, please: Will sustainable design products and services soon become the new normal? Or will they end up being great ideas that win awards but have no impact?

Zane Berzina:This will surely take time until the overall industry will change its way. But thanks to the European Green Deal directive, I think, that we might have light at the end of the tunnel. I hear more often from the industry that they are seriously researching more sustainable ways to produce and it is not only greenwashing. There is no other way forward. And I think that we shall see the design awards more positively – very often today‘s ideals are tomorrow‘s normality – so they have a long-term impact after all. Although I also would like that positive changes happen more quickly.

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Rubrik: Innovation & Vision


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