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The five principles that have helped us design the circular exhibition for the Gdynia Design Days 2022 

28.07.22|12 min
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Every exhibition is a spectacle that requires an appropriate set and backdrop. The arrangement of an exhibition is an individual project, tailored to the presented narrative and exhibits.  Is it, then, possible to design an exhibition in line with circular economy methodology despite the fact that it is a one-off event? We have accepted the challenge when we created The Story of One Kettle. The Future Lab by Ergodesign exhibition for the Gdynia Design Days 2022.

The Gdynia Design Days is a top Baltic design festival.  Each edition is an excuse for addressing issues related to design in its broadest sense, in the context of the changes taking place in our environment. In 2022, the leading theme of the festival was ‘empasea’, which steered the themes of exhibitions, lectures and workshops towards reflection on responsible design, waste of resources and the issue of littering the sea. The state of marine pollution was meant to become a mirror of human activity at different latitudes.

 

This year’s GDD edition was unique in one more way – it was the first live exhibition in the past two years. The pandemic has increased the popularity of digital exhibitions, but there is no substitute for direct participation in cultural and industry events. This year, design and business lovers met in Gdynia.   

The organisers were keen to ensure that the return to live meetings did not involve increasing production, logistics and marketing costs.  For us as the curators of one of the exhibitions, this aspect was also an absolute priority. 

When designing our exhibition The Story of One Kettle. Future Lab by Ergodesign  at the Gdynia Design Days 2022 (click here to find out more about our exhibition) we decided to implement a circular design methodology. Despite the fact that GDD is a one-off event, from the beginning we tried to plan the entire life cycle of the exhibition so that its impact on the environment – waste, carbon footprint from assembly to dismantling – was as low as possible. 

 What you can find out from this article:  

  • What is the circular nature of the exhibitions?   
  • What are the five principles of circular design “Waste  Hierarchy” and how did we implement them in the project?  

Circularity of the exhibition, meaning…? 

 Waste management regulations do not apply specifically to the exhibition industry. In addition, they can vary from region to region,  country and even the city in which the event is held, so it is difficult to adhere to one guideline.  

The principles of circular economy are slowly being implemented in many industries, and also in the exhibition industry this approach is still in its infancy. This is regrettable, as it is a large-scale problem.   

Fortunately, institutions are emerging that are not only starting to raise awareness of how big the problem of waste in this sector is, but also are looking for specific guidelines that exhibition designers can use.  One example is the international non-profit organisation KiCulture. 

We based our exhibition design precisely on its guidelines. In recognition of its influence on combining culture and sustainability, we had chosen one of the  ‘Waste Hierarchy’ tools.  This structured our design work and helped us out of many dilemmas.  This model identifies the levels of action for the circular economy from most to least desirable.  The main idea comes down to limiting the production of exhibition elements to the necessary minimum that will ensure proper reception. 

 Refuse – choosing to not purchase something and/or choosing to purchase from socially and environmentally responsible companies. 

Reduce – questioning consumption, buying in bulk, and investing in durable materials.  

Reuse – making materials last longer by using them again and again.  

Repurpose – giving something old a new life. Being innovative with materials helps make them last their full lifespan.   

Recycle – researching your local guidelines and disposing of things properly so they have the potential to be renewed.   

 

According to KiCulture, one of the most desirable principles of design is avoiding buying something or choosing to purchase from socially and environmentally responsible companies  

For the initial, concept phase of the preparation of the exhibition we chose to work on MIRO. Over the course of several months of work, around a dozen boards on which we developed our ideas were created.  

We had the support of manual work on the mock-up, of course, however, we used only the raw materials available in our Lab, production leftovers from commercial projects. We didn’t buy any accessories to create it. The mock-up, combined with the boards on MIRO, was the basis for developing the concept and preparing the materials for production. 

The refuse principle was paramount for the exhibition designers from the beginning. When thinking about the individual zones of the exhibition, in the installations we tried to include as many objects as possible that were already available and could be used at the Gdynia Design Days.   

A good example is the arrangement of zone one ‘carefree plastic’, which was arranged thanks to exhibits borrowed from SPICE For SPACE (Home  – Spice 4 Space). This created a photo gallery on a metal mini wall with a distinctive ‘back to 90s’ neon sign, which we returned after the end of the exhibition. It was one of the most frequently photographed elements of the exhibition. The Crystal kettle on the capital was a perfect fit for the exhibit, which introduced the visitors to the exhibition into the atmosphere of plastic in the 90s.

   SPICE For SPACE was founded precisely to supply events with high-quality furniture and sets. Events often involve buying accessories that will only be used once. By using their services, clients can not only minimise the cost, but also use the furniture circulating in a closed circuit in an ecological way. With this solution, they also do not have to worry about storage and maintenance. This is taken care of by SPICE for SPACE in such a way that the furniture and set accessories can be used many times, leaving a minimal carbon footprint.   

Several zones of our exhibition also feature installations made of elements sourced from partners.   In zone one ‘carefree plastic’, zone two ‘Anthropocene deposits’ and zone three ‘matter from atoms’, we wanted to build a gabion installation. We needed a thousand litres of rubbish to fill them.  

We live in the age of plastic, surrounding ourselves with plastic products, most of which later end up in landfills, or worse, in the seas and oceans. In Europe alone, 58 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year.  Installations made of waste were to symbolize the scale of the problem of overproduction of plastic.  

For the purposes of the exhibition, we took the initiative of internal collection of plastic waste. The Ergodesign team launched their private and professional contacts to get the waste for the exhibition. At the same time, many people who donated waste to us were simply helped in the management of used, non-functioning equipment.   

We received some of the waste from FIXIT SA (FIXIT | Customer Experience Company | Usługi serwisowe), which became a partner of our exhibition.  Fixit is a specialised partner for manufacturers in the field of after-sales support service, technical advice and market returns service, enabling the recovery and reuse of products or their components.  The company offers a variety of services that build a unique Customer Experience and proves that the circular economy is becoming the present and the future, which only reinforces our belief in the importance of our activities in this area. With its actions, Fixit strives to give a second life to components and materials that arise as a result of the process of repairing and replacing equipment, recognises their potential and prevents them from being thoughtlessly discarded. 

 

 The second principle of KiCulture is to reduce the amount of used parts. This is another guideline that helped us to run the project with care for the environment.   

From the very beginning of the conceptual work, we dispensed with the printing of marketing materials, leaflets or brochures that are sometimes inherent in this type of project.  Visitors to the exhibitions were encouraged to find out more by means of QR codes on websites and source material.   

 We also applied the principle of limiting printed elements to the displays. Where possible, we wrote by hand to avoid printing disposable media. For example, the information on the frosted plexiglass in the section of the display showing the weight of the Crystal kettle’s material footprint was mounted and labelled by hand.  Ultimately, the installation will serve as an educational element in our Material LAB at the Ergodesign headquarters. 

 

  Another principle proposed by KiCulture is reuse, i.e. extending the durability of materials by using them multiple times.  

Following this idea, we made the largest wayfinding elements from STADUR boards – it is an excellent material for modelling, rigid and very light and can easily be worked. The STADUR boards and walls made for the exhibition will be used in our LAB after it is over. They will be used to make ‘canvasses’ – our own system of boards for visualisation and group work, which are mounted on the walls of our design laboratories. 

During the exhibition, we presented concepts for the kettles of tomorrow on the STADUR boards, which are part of the idea of circularity designed by Ergodesign designers.   

The exhibition installation, on the other hand, was assembled using tubes and connectors which will later be used in customer projects. Aluminium tubes connected with connectors used for machine building are versatile elements from which any structure can be built. In the Prototyping Lab, we often create models to test various features of the product under development, such as functionality, scale, ergonomics, and we test these models on groups of customers.    

 

The fourth principle according to KiCulture’s ‘Waste Hierarchy’ is repurpose, i.e. giving old objects a new life.   

In line with this idea, the exhibition presented the protagonist of the exhibition, the Crystal 332 kettle, on a pedestal. It was the central element of the installation in zone one called ‘carefree plastic’. Apart from the few July days in Gdynia, the kettle normally lives in our kitchen, where we use it to boil water. After the festival, the kettle returned to its place at the Przemysłowa Street.  

 For the exhibition, we also wanted to use the seats in zone six ‘auto_reflection’. These were produced for the exhibition, but their design was originally created for the showroom space at Ergodesign. That’s where they will go after the event.  The rest of the equipment are support trolleys that are part of Ergodesign’s mobile Lab. We use them in our daily work to work on projects. 

 The last principle according to the ‘Waste Hierarchy’ is to dispose of things in the right way so that they have the potential to be reused.  Recycling is the least desirable principle in exhibition design, it is more important to manage the production in such a way that there are as few recyclable items as possible.   

In the case of our exhibition, we managed most of the exhibition elements according to the previous principles – refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose. The only actual waste from our exhibition were two bags of rubbish from the assembly process, which we sorted and disposed of in the appropriate bins in Gdynia.  

Only the plastic waste from which we built the gabion installations will be recycled.  

We made sure that the objects and elements of the installation will have a specific purpose after the exhibition. We will donate some of the elements of the exhibition to an internal auction that we organise from time to time within our team. In this way, we buy back unneeded materials, prototypes of the products we design, the profit from which is donated to selected charities. 

Most of the spatial elements presented on the boards, such as material samples and product elements, are items found in our material library or acquired second-hand, which we have returned to the original spaces and owners.  

With this approach, most of the elements will be 100% reused.   

 Exhibitions without a carbon footprint?

As in many other industries, zero CO2 emissions are unlikely to be achieved when organising design, art exhibitions and events. This is due to concerns for aesthetic value, but also to practices such as disposing of primary materials from temporary exhibitions in a landfill after the exhibition closes, transporting exhibits, etc. However, it is worth reducing costs and environmental impact by following the less is more principle, so that the carbon footprint from such an undertaking is as small as possible.   

In the case of our exhibition at the Gdynia Design Days, in addition to the implementation of the individual principles of ‘Waste Hierachy’, we wanted to ensure its repetitiveness and the possibility of showing it again in a different place, to different audiences. In this way, we tried to disenchant the approach to the exhibition as if it were a one-off event. We are already planning to show the exhibition again in Kraków, and we will certainly use all of the content in other means of communication. In this way, we can risk saying that our exhibition meets the criteria of circular economy.   

 

Sources:  

https://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/kultura-turystyka-sport/kultura/dzialalnosc-muzeow-w-2020-roku,12,4.html

https://www.teo-exhibitions.com/waste-age-case-study/ 

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