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Upcycling

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Reuse is a valid practice if it’s interpreted in this way. It’s a temporary downstream solution, simultanous to a design paradigm shift leading toward a complete systemic re-design of the whole production system.This is a brief definition of Upcycling, according to Gunther Pauli in his book Upsizing1:

Upcycling, the practice of converting waste materials into products of greater value, is a philosophy that transforms the way we conceive of waste. Upcycling is not just a solution to a problem, but a new method of thinking about and working with an asset (formerly known as garbage) which is already present in abundance in our communities.”

Another important aspect of upcycled products is their aesthetical value: as it often happens, who makes these new products does not regenerate the “waste” material, leaving it’s “second hand” nature too much evident.

This is why we refer to “waste materiale” as raw materiale: re-design here means to disassemble the pre-existing object, obtaining a semifinished material that allows more freedom during the design process. It’s an attempt to give back a proper dignity to the upcycled product, setting it apart from the simple “bricolage/creative reuse” object and the standard product: inevitably, the upcycled product will talk about it’s previous life, and this is a good thing, thus we have to find a way to let it talk while looking pretty.

In fact, an upcycled product is a lucky match between creativity, temporary waste material availability and possible processes. It’s a U-turn approach if compared to the traditional product design process, where the designer decides the material and the shape without even thinking about what’s around it. Not “from design to material” but “from material to design”. Nature works like that: living organisms come into the worlds, they grow themselves and they grow as a specie, according to the context and to the available nutrients. 

Can we imagine a production system that co-evolves with the context, by means of the local characteristics of the territory, both material and cultural? We think it’s possible. Moreover, a production system working this way naturally tends to reduce its own environmental footprint, as “to co-evolve” means to grow together, and not to hurt each other.

Summarizing: waste material is the starting point for creative ideas that led to flexible designs, open to modifications and adjustments. The design process is open, as it doesn’t end just before production – as industrial design does – but continues beyond, recording feedbacks to optimize itself.

The upcycling process generates unique pieces, each one with its own peculiar characteristics, according to the manufacturing processes and the materials it comes from. Differencies and uniqueness adds value to the product, especially in a standardized global market.


1 The book has been translated in the German version under the more comprehensible title “Upcycling”