We rely on advertising revenue to support the creative content on our site. Please consider whitelisting our site in your settings, or pausing your adblocker while stopping by.

Get the Magazine

Green Design Comes Full Circle
A whole host of designers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs are making meaningful shifts toward circularity, from sourcing sustainable materials and minimizing waste in manufacturing to designing with a product’s end-of-life in mind. Thinking holistically, they are also challenging entrenched systems and long-held notions of what possesses real value: foregrounding the health and livelihoods of artisans, stakeholders and end users throughout the process of creating greener products and more resilient communities.
How Patricia Urquiola Pushes Brands to Be More Green
Obakki’s Not-For-Profit Approach to Supporting Artisans
On the 10th Anniversary of the Fogo Island Inn, Zita Cobb Is Still Building Community
Copenhagen’s Bonnie Hvillum Invents New Materials from Waste Streams
Indigenous Approaches to Place
Green Design Comes Full Circle

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...

It might be based in Vancouver, but Obakki has been sending its founder, Treana Peake, on adventures around the world, physically and virtually, for more than 15 years now. In Uganda, she’s met with a group of women who make paper with elephant dung; in Mexico, there are potters creating one-of-a-kind bowls; in Italy, the glass-blowers of Milan brand R+D Lab have Zoomed her in to discuss the gorgeous borosilicate vessels they’re crafting for the brand.

Murano glassware by R&D Studio for Obakki
R&D Lab’s elegant glassware for Obakki.

What makes Obakki’s business model work is a two-pronged approach. Half of the business is focused on design wholesale. For instance, the brand recently partnered with Mexican designer Andrés Gutiérrez to bring his new white oak...

Back in 2005, well before she would bring the Fogo Island Inn to her hometown in Newfoundland, Zita Cobb was staying in nearby Stag Harbour. There was no Internet, but her New York Times subscription went a long way, as it was passed along to neighbour after neighbour. Soon, the Sunday edition reached Amos, who was captivated by the inside front page advertisement for designer purses. “Can you explain to me why I can’t get 49 cents for a pound of wild codfish and people are paying $5,000 for a handbag? Do we have to turn fish into a positional good?” Cobb recalls Amos asking. “That’s exactly what we have to do,” Cobb answered.

What Amos the fisherman was essentially asking was, Why is a fish just something you eat while a purse is a status symbol worth so much more? And while it’s a reaction to a condition that shouldn’t exist — an upside-down global economy where the price of goods is disconnected from the people and places whence they come — Amos’s question was translated into the ethos of the Shorefast foundation and every endeavour under its umbrella, from the establishment of the Fogo Island Inn and the revival of the local fishery to the rebirth of its quilting heritage.

Redefining value as intrinsic to relationships — among people in a community and between the community and the place that sustains it — is the basis of yet another Shorefast invention: the Economic Nutrition Label. It serves as both a practical device (letting people who stay at the inn or purchase any of its goods know what they’re paying for) and as a microcosm of how the foundation operates. When she and Cobb came up with the idea, Shorefast’s CFO, Diane Hodgins, began with a similarly incisive question: “How do we make it obvious at the moment of purchase where the money goes?”

Zita Cobb and Shorefast's Economic Nutrition Label
A breakdown of the costs of a nightly stay at the Fogo Island Inn is represented in this Economic Nutrition Label.

“Most people are seduced by the idea that economic development is something that the government or big business does,” says Cobb. “But how do we build an economy that’s ours? A functioning community economy makes life in a place possible.” The inn, she says, has done that. “The fishery is the most important thing. Together, the fishing co-op and the inn are the island’s two main employers. The co-op drives our understanding of our relationship with the sea; the inn drives our understanding of how we belong to the world.”

When it opened in 2013, its stilt-supported form by Todd Saunders elevating the salt-box vernacular of the tiny Newfoundland community, the story that emerged around the Fogo Island Inn felt primarily like one about heroic architecture: a Bilbao-effect narrative about a community putting its face on the map of culture-based tourism. But as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, its overarching meaning is about circular design: the intentional consideration of a whole ecosystem when it comes to the regeneration of a place. As is now legend, Cobb returned to the island after making a tidy fortune in fibre optics. She wanted to invest in the place her family was forced to leave after industrialized fishing had virtually depleted the oceans, leaving community-based fishers like her father unable to feed their families or make a living.

Then there was the moratorium on fishing altogether. “How would you feel if you woke up one morning and everything that you know is no longer relevant? Suddenly all that knowledge that’s lived and felt and embodied is no good for anything.”

That embodied knowledge is where Cobb began, and it’s where, a decade later, the inn is a resounding success for locals. “People from around the world come to us. They stay at the inn, but they are hosted by the island. It’s cast us into a bunch of relationships. For Fogo Islanders, our understanding of ourselves has shifted. Our belief in the future…I don’t want to say it was restored — that would imply it was lost, which it wasn’t — but it was certainly injured.”

The rebuilding of a prosperous future happens on many levels. Take the area’s quilting heritage. Along with local-made furniture, the inn employed islanders to produce hundreds of quilts for its 29 rooms. While these heirloom pieces were still being passed from generation to generation, Mickey Mouse patterns and polyester blends had made their way into the fabric swatches. “They had fallen out of relationship with the quilts from the past. That relationship was broken by the arrival of consumer culture. So we said, ‘Let’s talk to the older women.’ ” Vintage quilts were hauled out of cupboards, their patterns vivid and random. “And we thought, ‘Holy Jesus, what have we lost?’ ” says Cobb.

So began this renewed relationship with the quilters of the past: The inn revived six to eight heritage patterns and created a new market for them in the wider world. Cobb says that there are now at least a dozen quiltmakers with access to retail outlets on the island, and dozens more producing them.

Zita Cobb and Shorefast's philanthropy model
Modelled after a quilt, the Shorefast way of doing things shows how surplus from businesses provides for its charitable programs.

If quilting and fishing are assets specific to Fogo Island (Fogo Island Fish now ships, to select cities across Canada, 10-pound orders of wild snow crab and 14-pound “punt boxes” of cod, shrimp and crab for $450 and $300, respectively — real-value prices that Amos might approve of), Shorefast’s ongoing community economies project helps other places recognize their own assets and resources.

The foundation has partnered with four places to strengthen their economies: South Vancouver Island in BC and the Ontario locales of Hamilton, London and Prince Edward County. It’s an initiative that Cobb envisions growing into a broader program for the country. “We’re creating a network that contains good and best practices around building strong community economies. Because until we address the hollowing out of the community pillar, nothing can be achieved.” If Fogo Island’s circular approach becomes the benchmark, other small communities around the world will learn big lessons about the small details that make them unique, continuing a legacy a decade in the making.

When most people think of interaction design, they might conjure in their mind’s eye an augmented reality app, a retail touchscreen, even an entire metaverse. When Bonnie Hvillum studied interaction design at Aarhus University, she was instead drawn to the most analog of experiences: the way in which we respond to tactile materials and how their textures and smells evoke powerful feelings and memories within us. This is especially true of biomaterials, new varieties of which she has been inventing in her Natural Material Studio since she founded it in 2019.

If Hvillum sees her work as part of a larger paradigm shift — “a move towards co-living and co-creating within systems and systemic wholes” — it’s because, alongside her keen...

“Our job as architects is really about placekeeping,” Wanda Dalla Costa explains. “You really need to sit in and align yourself with that place to do this work.” Two projects, one by her firm and the other by Brook McIlroy, are bright beacons.

PHOTO: Riley Snelling

In a gleaming office tower high above the streets of downtown Toronto, there is a space whose memory spans thousands of years. Opening out to the city with a carved ceiling and a spirit of welcome, CIBC Square’s Legacy Room channels Indigenous heritage into Canada’s economic core.

Led by the Indigenous Design Studio — a speciality practice within Brook McIlroy — the design was developed in partnership with CIBC and the Gord...