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You could be forgiven, in this era of collective time dilation, for missing the fact that Studio Urquiola turned 20 years old in 2021. Or that Cassina, where Patricia Urquiola has been the creative director since 2015, is approaching its centenary in 2027. The stalwart Spanish industrial designer knows better than anyone that change is inevitable: “The time of resiliency is here, of adaptation, of more capacity for listening and dialoguing.” We spoke during Urquiola’s recent visit to San Francisco about sustainability and her approach to adaptive re-use:

On the Sengu Bold floor sofa (2022) for Cassina, which features replaceable upholstery and cushioning padded by blown recycled PET fibre:

“The interior is made from a regenerative material, much of it diverted from the oceans. Normally, inside of these pieces, we believe the quality must come from polyurethane foam or feathers. This fresh attitude and the research into these materials is asserting a new beauty. We’re enlarging the possibilities for many things to be done in a new way, with a new sensibility.”

On the Hilo collection (2022) for Japanese eyewear brand Jins, with frames made from a castor oil–based biomaterial:

“Jins is doing very interesting work with very interesting designers. But they were not on the page of using any new material. I told them, ‘If I’m going to do something like this, I’m going to push things.’ I have to show them a passion. I said, ‘I have time, perhaps you have time too, but you’re going to have to find this material you can produce in Japan.’ And they found their own way to the right material.”

Patricia Urquiola's eyewear for Jins

On the Soriana armchair, originally designed by Afra and Tobia Scarpa in 1969 and relaunched by Cassina in 2021:

“When we put this back in production, I decided we needed to replace the mould inside with little bags of biofoam microspheres and padding made of regenerative PET filling. We kept the form the same, but the way it’s produced has changed. And it’s more comfortable now. It doesn’t mean we can’t be very proud to use a piece of marble, properly signed and documented, in a table that’s going to be a jewel in your house. That’s the time to use that kind of material.”

Patricia Urquiola's update of the Soriana seating by Cassina

On the Lounge BIO (2021) for Andreu World, an expansion of Urquiola’s Nuez collection that employs a biodegradable thermopolymer produced by micro-organisms:

“We started the collection moving to recycled plastic, and when they wanted to add a lounge chair in the same family, I said, Let’s go to a bioplastic. To transition to bioplastic in those dimensions was complex. But they called me back and said they found a way. It requires a kind of passion and persistence. We have to…‘fight’ is a strong word, but they knew I really wanted it. And now it’s working. Now it’s good.”

Patricia Urquiola's Bio chair for Andreu World

Intro portrait of Patricia Urquiola by Valentina Sommariva

More Industry Benchmarks in Sustainability

Ripples across the designer furniture industry suggest a sea change. A number of furniture manufacturers, including Andreu World, Fritz Hansen and Vestre, have introduced repair and re-use programs, while such designer–makers as Part & Whole of Victoria, BC, are creating collections with refurbishment in mind from the start. Human health is also part of the circularity equation: To eliminate harmful chemicals in its textiles, Maharam announced that, as of January 2023, all of its products are PFAS-free.

Dutch architecture firm MVRDV designed a series of fixtures for Delta Light that re-uses the brand’s discarded metal profiles to striking effect.

Across the board, however, carbon-neutral status has been the ultimate goal, and brands including Interface and Keilhauer have made major strides in this realm. The global platforms for international design are also rethinking their scope: New at the Stockholm fair, The Nude Edition is a section with stands made of recycled materials; more significantly, the Salone del Mobile has embarked on the process toward ISO 20121 certification, seeking to reduce its footprint and counsel its exhibitors on how to do the same

Keilhauer has made major strides in carbon-neutral manufacturing. Its new Spinni bar stool, designed by Thom Fougere for Division Twelve, serves as a prime example.
How Patricia Urquiola Pushes Brands to Be More Green

For major design manufacturers including Cassina, where she is creative director, the Spanish dynamo is always looking for the most sustainable mode of production.

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