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June 28, 2016

From swimming pools for snakes, to seatbelt handbags: Design students apply lessons in sustainability

SEI Tallinn helped to develop a special course at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA) that introduced environmental and social concerns in the creative process.

Consumers increasingly want to buy products that are socially and environmentally sustainable. Now, thanks to a pilot course developed in partnership with SEI, three teams of students at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA) are better prepared to meet this demand.

The year-long course, which was open to EAA students from all disciplines, was financed by the EU Erasmus+ project Innolabs, which also supported activities in Latvian and Cypriot universities. The EEA course culminated with the creation of the EAA Sustainable Design Lab, which will continue to teach the sustainable design course in the next academic year.

“The aim of the course is to give students the possibility to experience how to bring environmental and social aspects into their product development process, in addition to the aesthetic component, as well as analysing the life cycle of a product,” said Harri Moora, programme director at SEI Tallinn and one of the course lecturers.

The students took inspiration from the philosophy of the ethical fashion designer and guest lecturer Reet Aus and her trash to trend and upcycling design concepts, which involves creating high-quality and innovative products from waste materials. Then, working in teams, they developed three eco-design projects.

The first team conceived the idea of transforming the EAA clothes brand HULA into an overarching EAA brand, aiming to promote a sustainable approach and collaboration between all departments of the school. The products created on the principle of upcycling include handicraft notebooks created from students’ old sketches and paintings, dice-shaped penholders made of clay and porcelain leftovers, cutting boards with the HULA logo made of oak wood residue, and handbags created from scraps of leather, lamp shades, rolled steel and used seatbelts.

Another team developed smart and innovative products for small animals at the Tallinn Zoo. The product development process in this project included surveys of zoo employees and visitors as well as research about the animals’ habitats and needs. The origin of the basic material was also mapped adding to the sustainability of the project. One of the products developed was a module nest for rodents made of edible and chewable wood, meant to ensure that the animals will not be bored in their cages. The fact that the chewed wood details are easily replaceable makes the product even more sustainable

Another design from the team was a swimming pool for snakes made of clay and porcelain scraps – meant to meet a dire need at the zoo. For this given product, the students have already reached an agreement to continue producing the pools for the zoo.

The project of the third student team involved the first-ever environmental analysis of Tallinn City Theatre building. The process included the mapping of problems, the setting of goals and the marking of the “10 environmental commandments” for the theatre. In addition, the students also helped to plan the set design of the play Master and Margarita.

Learn more about the INNOLABS project and the sustainable design course (on the EEA webpage) »

Written by Helen Saarniit

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