Alexander Schul on environmental-conscious design

Alexander Schul is a young German designer, winner of the 2019 Rossana Orlandi Guiltless Plastic Contest, with his project “Substantial Furniture” project.

Aiming to use plastic waste for the creation of a new aesthetic and style of sustainable furniture, Alexander Schul developed a collection of products, from seating to lighting. Substantial Furniture is a functional collection that proves one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

DesignWanted interviewed Alexander to find out more about it. Let’s take a closer look.

Who is Alexander Schul? What moved you to begin this career? Ultimately, why do you do what you do?

Alexander Schul: “I am a 25-year-old product designer. I do what I do, simply because I believe my talents are in the mathematical/technical and creative field. I saw product design as a possibility to combine both.

Nowadays I see my practice as a tool, enabling me to create ideas, proposals, and solutions that aim to improve our lives. In the process I usually try to consider a current problem we are facing, the industry and our life standard, always searching for a win-win-win situation.

You won the Rossana Orlandi Guiltless Plastic competition. How did you found out about it and how was the overall experience?

Alexander Schul: “Shortly after graduating in 2018 my work was selected for the Designblok Prague diploma selection. After winning the 1st award, Rossana Orlandi, who was part of the Jury, recommended me to apply with the project for the Guiltless Plastic competition.

The project was entirely self-motivated, meaning I didn’t design it for a specific competition. Therefore the overall experience was quite amazing and reassuring that my approach to design does make sense.

Sustainable design is on the rise and everyone seems to be doing it. Why is Substantial Furniture, an alternative and award-winning solution?

Alexander Schul: “I think the Substantial Furniture line is an alternative and award-winning solution to other designs dealing with sustainability because it combines functionality, industrial reproducibility, and a pure aesthetic at the same time.

The pure aesthetics, hence the choice to use only one material, makes the objects visually easy to integrate into any interior. The Substantial Furniture pieces are not only functional in their use, but also in their storage and shipping since they are composed of flat packable parts.”

Alexander Schul: “The process of production would only involve cutting, press-molding and then CNC-milling of the material. After that, all the parts can simply be assembled with screws.

The sheets get produced by Smile Plastics. The visual pattern of the material originates from the diversity of the starting material; plastic waste. Therefore the creation of patterns is a natural option that actually simplifies the production process of the sheet material. Separating all the colors would be a far more difficult task.

The small reflective details you can see in the material are the shredded remnants of aluminum lids which conventionally get used in yogurt cups. The resulting pattern / visual appearance not only looks interesting but also arises from an efficient manufacturing method.

What other designers you are inspired or influenced by? What other fields and inputs outside of the design world provide you inspiration? 

Alexander Schul: “There is not really one particular designer I am inspired by. There are many existing ones which I like.

For this particular project, my aim was to transform the once disposable trash into something that will be long-lasting, in terms of quality but also visually. Therefore I actually tried to use the 10 Commandments of Dieter Rams, whose designs have proven to be timeless.

Alexander Schul:Outside of design, I am interested in Philosophy and Architecture. I, lately, really enjoy listening to Alan Watts. He is known for interpreting and popularizing Eastern Philosophy for a Western audience.

I think Philosophy enables us to see things from a different perspective at times. To me, that can be really useful in order to create a good concept about a topic.”

Unlimited budget, unlimited resources: what is the project that you would develop? What would it look like?

Alexander Schul: “Unlimited budget and unlimited resources… that is a really difficult question. I think it´s good to have a limited budget and limited resources because otherwise there are too many options.

However here are my top 3:

1. A luxurious hotel entirely made from environmentally friendly materials: solar power, furniture made from recycled plastic, electric cabs, biodegradable packaging, etc. etc. etc..

2.  Designing houses for the Mars colonization.

3. Designing my own electric car. One that doesn’t look like it’s going to slice you up in case of an accident.”

Which are the main values, core concepts or style inclinations that, above all, will always represent the studio and yourself?

Alexander Schul: “I think sustainability is a topic that I´ll always integrate into my work in one way or the other. To me, sustainability is not a trend, but the topic of the coming decades.

I believe the biggest circumstance influencing design in the last century was the industrial revolution, resulting in new approaches such as seen by the Bauhaus or Ulm Schools. The new approach was to design for efficient industrial production, which resulted in an entirely new style.

We are entering a period of time, where we have to integrate the thought of reusing and saving resources more into design. The careless use of resources is leading to problems we will have to face in the future.

It means designing for better sustainability, for a more circular economy. Designing products that use recycled material and that are better recyclable, more resource-efficient, or simply are long-lasting.”

Can you give us a comment to tackle the eternal dilemma of ambitious students: “Should I get a job or start my own firm?”

Alexander Schul: “Currently, I’m busy completing my Master’s Degree at Ecal and I don’t know yet what will come afterward. I think the advantages of getting a job is security and regular pay, whilst you usually still progress and learn. The upsides of starting your own firm are freedom and excitement.

I think it depends on your personality. If you are easily stressed out and are often anxious about the future, you should probably get a job first. If you like the excitement and think you can manage the up and downs that are involved in starting your own firm, whilst being able to face the potential failure, then you should do that.

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