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Old Boats Become New Furniture In Senegal

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Every country has its fair share of waste and the remnants of past economic activity. Old cars nobody wants, discarded tins of food, old plastic bags, spare copper wire, cast-off clothing – all can have a new life in the right hands.

An intriguing twist on recycling is happening in the West African nation of Senegal. The country has a strong fishing tradition, and plenty of boats are used to haul in the catch every day. These boats are elaborately decorated and dazzle the eye when lined up on the beach awaiting the next journey to sea. But what to do with the boats when they have completed their service?

One ingenious social enterprise is turning the weatherbeaten but colorful boats into highly prized pieces of furniture that sell in the boutiques of Europe. The enterprise Artlantique (slogan “Made in Africa”) (http://artlantique.com) gathered together local craft folk, both masters and young apprentices, to tackle the challenge of re-shaping old fishing boats into furniture.

Artlantique’s founder, Spanish designer Ramon Llonch, then sends the furniture back to his shop in Barcelona, Spain where it is in turn distributed to shops around the world. Llonch ploughs Artlantique’s profits back in to expanding the business and hopes to hire more skilled craft folk in Senegal.

The idea is to create a “contemporary, modern design, which is above all 100 per cent African, as much in the material as in the making.”

Each unique piece of furniture is a riot of color, with planks of wood harvested from the boats creating an original and eye-pleasing pattern. The furniture has the weathered look expected of wood battered by years of exposure to salty sea water, and is streaked and branded with colorful patterns from its previous life as a fishing boat. The furniture items include cabinets, tables, benches, work tables, chairs, picture frames, coffee tables and even a fusball game table for lovers of soccer (football).

The catalogue that accompanies the website shows the families of the fisher folk, their boats, the workshop where the furniture is made, and the finished product. As the catalogue says, the boats “are stylish and elegant, their sides covered by many layers of paint, faded, and affected by rust from the salt and sea air, giving the wood a rich texture of different tones. Attracted by their beauty, and their history, we wondered whether after all the sea faring they had undergone, the wood would still be in good enough condition to begin a new life, to be ‘reincarnated’ into furniture.”

Negotiations are made with the fisher folk to acquire boats when they look like they have reached the end of their work life. The purchased boat is taken to a beach-side workshop and the craft folk discuss what to do with it. Young apprentices work alongside skilled craft folk, gaining the skills to make a high-quality wooden product capable of being exported.

The craft folk draw on their years of experience to add value to the final product. “Their contribution is essential as they suggest which type of furniture would be the most suitable to make,” Artlantique’s website explains. “They discuss their past and that of their forefathers: their cultural heritage, how to take full advantage of the wood, according to the size of the boat, and its color combinations.”

The furniture made from the boat wood has a high value because each piece is unique and can not be replicated. The raw “Samba” wood comes from an African tropical tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triplochiton_scleroxylon) and remains untreated by chemicals. It is seasoned naturally by the sea from its years of service as a fishing boat.

“This wood … has certain limitations, not only because it has a shape but also because it’s very damaged by the salt, the sea, the sun and the lime. But these artisans are very talented,” Llonch told CNN.

“Their creativity is not academic, they are like this by nature because [for them] recycling and reusing is not a fashion, it’s not a trend.”

Artlantique-branded furniture is now on sale in boutiques in Barcelona, Spain, Paris, France and Rome, Italy.

In Brazil, artist Sérgio Dido (http://www.artinsurf.com/art-dido.php), who lives in the dynamic beach resort town of Buzios (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brazil/the-southeast/buzios), also salvages wood from fishing boats to create art with a surfing theme. The work is featured in the Art in Surf shop (http://www.artinsurf.com/index.php).

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: July 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Indonesian Wooden Radio Succeeds with Good Design

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

One Indonesian industrial designer has pioneered an innovative business that has rejuvenated the economy of a farming village and improved the sustainability of local forests – and he’s doing it all with wood.

A range of wooden radios (wooden-radio.com) hold pride of place for the Magno brand (http://www.magno-design.com/?id=wr01a), which has carved out a niche as a maker of high-quality, crafted products that marry traditional skills with modern design. Magno is creating jobs and skills while also creating a unique, exportable product that commands a good price.

Indonesian designer Singgih Susilo Kartono developed the radio design concepts while at the Faculty of Fine Art and Design in Bandung, Java, Indonesia in the 1990s.

He takes an organic approach to designing, enjoying the journey and not necessarily being sure where he is going.

“I never start my design according to the market research or demand. I design by absorbing events, global or local events and even mundane daily life things that happen around me. Consequently, I start to think what will be good and better for these people,” he explains in his brochure.

The workshop in which the radios are made is a handsome wooden-roofed building and craftspeople sit at long wooden tables to assemble the models.

Each radio is made from a single piece of wood and takes a craftsperson 16 hours to construct, drawing on traditional woodworking skills. The radios are made from Indian rosewood, which is often used to manufacture many musical instruments because of its excellent sound resonance.

The radios are made in stages, with more than 20 steps involved in assembling each one. The individual parts are precision cut by machines before being assembled using a tongue and groove (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_and_groove) construction technique.

Some radio models have a chunky, retro appearance and mix dark and light wood to give an eye-pleasing contrast. Others are more modern designs with a sleek profile. There is a large version, a ‘Mini’, a sleek modern Cube’ version and a rectangular version. There is also a round clock and a wooden desktop office set with various essentials like a wooden stapler.

The radios sell for between Euros 99 (US $124) and Euros 220 (US $276), and are shipped to Europe via Singapore to Hamburg in Germany.

“To me, wood is somewhat a perfect material – especially if I compare it to synthetic ones,” Kartono said. “In wood we could find strength and weakness, advantages and disadvantages or roughness and also softness. Wood is hard and solid but yet it is 100 per cent eco-friendly as it is degradable and leaves no waste materials on the earth.”

Great care is taken in selecting the wood and ensuring it is from local, sustainable plantation sources. According to its website, Magno used 80 trees in 2010 for its radios but in turn planted 8,000 trees around the village. This regeneration has become part of the process of creating the radios.

Magno has won numerous awards, including the Brit Design Award (UK), Design Plus Award (Germany), Good Design Award/G-Mark (Japan) and the Indonesia Good Design Selection Awards.

“The wood I use for the manufacturing process may need as long as 50 years to reach maturity,” Kartono said. “I want people not only to think about exotic or precious woods but likewise about the fact that good things require time. All objects that surround us should be thought-provoking. Craftsmanship originally was the art of dealing with raw materials in a sensible and economical way.”

As Kartono tells it, he faced the typical university graduate’s dilemma about his career path. Should he work as an in-house designer in a city or return to his home village of Kandangan and start a business? His choice was unusual. Once somebody with a university education leaves a small village, it is rare they return. And at first, Kartono did not.

But he was drawn back by the dire situation in the village, and decided to apply his knowledge of product design to revive its economic fortunes. He started by visiting just twice a year because that was all he could afford. This had the advantage of giving him perspective on the situation in the village.

“At first glance, these changes (happening to the village) were seen as a ‘progress,’” he said. “But when I looked more closely I concluded that it was only the ‘surface’ which experienced change. The basic structure of the village did not undergo any changes; moreover, some was actually deteriorating.”

He concluded that the village was being damaged by various government attempts to modernize agricultural practices. The debt problems this caused meant many farmers lost their farms and were forced to seek work in the city or look for another way to make money.

Craft work seemed to be the answer to this problem. It has many advantages, as Kartono sees it. It is something that can grow and fits well with village lifestyles. It is labour intensive, doesn’t need sophisticated technology and can use already existing local resources.

Kartono was inspired by one of his teachers at university, an advocate of the ‘New Craft’ approach, which applies modern management techniques to traditional craftsmanship. The idea is simple but very effective. It begins with making sure every step of the manufacturing process is standardized to ensure consistent quality and materials. A new product or design is first broken down into steps and a product manual is put together. Only then is the manufacturing process carried out.

While the New Craft method sounds simple and obvious, many craft makers do not take this approach. By following this methodology, it is possible to quickly train new craft workers and start up manufacturing in a new village or community. Craft is increasingly being seen as a good way to re-employ people who formerly worked in farming. The New Craft approach can create high-quality products that would sell well in the export market. A common problem with crafts is either poor quality control or inconsistent manufacturing methods. This can feed stereotypes of craft products and make them look second-rate in comparison to machine-manufactured products in the marketplace.

“Design for us is more than just creating a well-designed product that is produced and consumed in colossal amount,” Kartono said. “Design must be a way to solve and minimize problems.”

Resources

1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. It is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Website: http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

2) Rio+20: At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Website: http://www.uncsd2012.org/

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator Magazine

Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins

Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006.

Issue 6’s theme has been decided on: it will focus on Science, Technology and Innovation. For this issue, Southern Innovator is seeking invitations from cutting-edge knowledge and science innovators in the global South to view their work. Time is tight, so don’t miss this opportunity to let the whole global South know about your work. In the past, Southern Innovator has visited green pioneers in Cuba, a smart city in South Korea and an eco-city in China.

Contact me if you wish to receive a copy/copies of the magazine for distribution. Follow @SouthSouth1.

Southern Innovator Issue 1

Southern Innovator Issue 2

Southern Innovator Issue 3

Southern Innovator Issue 4

Southern Innovator Issue 5

Southern Innovator Issue 6

Innovator Stories and Profiles

Citing Southern Innovator

Finding Southern Innovator

Press Release 1

Press Release 2

Press Release 3

Southern Innovator Impact Summaries | 2012 – 2014

“The e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions proved to be a timely and prescient resource on the fast-changing global South, tracking the rise of an innovator culture driven by the rapid adoption of mobile phones and information technology …

“In 2010, work began on the development of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the 21st-century innovator culture of the global South. My goal was to create a magazine that would reach across countries and cultures, meet the UN’s standards, and inspire action. Southern Innovator was the result. Mr. [David] South played a vital role in the magazine’s development from its early conception, through its various design prototypes, to its final global launch and distribution.

“Both the e-newsletter and magazine raised the profile of South-South cooperation and have been cited by readers for inspiring innovators, academics, policy makers and development practitioners in the United Nations and beyond.

“I highly recommend Mr. [David] South as a thoughtful, insightful, analytical, creative and very amicable person who has the unique ability to not only grasp complex problems but also to formulate a vision and strategy that gets things done. … ” Cosmas Gitta, Former Assistant Director, Policy and United Nations Affairs at United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in UNDP

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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