Stools made from upcycled paper waste by a group of HKU Design+ students. The project leaders for the task were Huynh Ngoc Anh Duy and Fergal Tse Yau-wai. Sustainable furniture like this might be in stores sooner than you think.
Most people walk past construction sites without paying them any attention. Not Niko Leung Hong-ken.
Curious about what lies beneath, the Sai Kung-based product designer hunts down subsoil from different parts of Hong Kong from which to craft sustainable homewares.
Her medium – rammed earth and ceramics – continues one of the oldest construction techniques in China, while giving new purpose to discarded material that might otherwise be stockpiled or end up in landfill.
Leung’s two years working at architectural manufacturing company Royal Tichelaar Makkum in the Netherlands fuelled her desire to research purposeful reuse of discarded soil from building sites.
Construction sites like this one provide Niko Leung Hong-ken with the raw material needed to create pots for BeCandle candles.
In 2015, she returned to Hong Kong and, in 2021 – upon securing funding from Design Trust – she co-founded Hong Kong Soil with architectural designer Loky Leung Lok-kwan.
“It’s difficult to get the material,” Leung explains. “Dirt is low cost and widely available, but to recycle it for non-builders’ work is nearly unprecedented here in Hong Kong.” Nevertheless, the partners were able to source about 15 tonnes (16.5 tons) with which to experiment.
Not all of the raw material is suitable. A good soil for rammed earth requires the right ratio of sandy loam and gravelly clay. For functional ceramics, mainly clay is preferred.
Plus, it is hard to find “clean” earth in Hong Kong, because many sites have been previously developed or are on reclaimed land.
"I very much see the future economic and cultural significance earth could bring" Niko Leung Hong-ken
Putting a grid over a map of Hong Kong, the partners plotted potential sites within a 5km (3.1 mile) radius, dug below the surfaces of the areas, then analysed the samples.
Apart from physical composition, there are distinct variances in colour and texture in soil from the New Territories, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Subsoil from construction sites was used to create these ceramic candle holders, sold through BeCandle.
While the market seems ready for locally sourced and produced ceramic homewares, Leung would like to see the wider adoption of rammed earth in Hong Kong for building small structures such as village houses.
“In the past, farmers would routinely build their own houses with rammed earth,” she says. “Today, a lot of designers and architects would love to use rammed earth because of its low embodied energy, ability to regulate humidity, and high thermal mass.
“And in the modern context, when we are so reliant on imports, the proximity of the material sourced in construction is important.
“It’s also a reminder to source mindfully and treat our land with care and respect: I very much see the future economic and cultural significance earth could bring.”
At the University of Hong Kong, adjunct assistant professor Dennis Cheung Hoi-kwan, architect and founding partner of Studio Ryte, whose focus is material innovation and novel construction techniques, challenges his Design+ programme students to test ways in which waste can sustainably be used to create new materials for furniture or construction.
Hong Kong Soil made a rammed earth bench for the 2022 Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture.
“The students pick any type of waste or leftover material they think might have potential, imagine an end product, and then do a lot of experiments, formula testing and mock-ups to gauge its viability,” Cheung explains.
The aim, he says, is “more about investigation” than product commercialisation. “I’ve been trying to push the boundaries with them,” he adds of the course, Alternative Material, launched in 2021 and continuing in 2023.
It is up to the students to pursue the work privately, should they choose to.
Read more here: https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/3207851/upcycled-waste-sustainable-furniture-and-homewares-made-eggshells-earth-paper-fruit-peel-even-blood?utm_source=rss_feed