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Delvendahl Martin Architects designs low-waste exhibition for Eco-Visionaries show at the Royal Academy of Arts

RA Eco-Visionaries ©Agnese Sanvito

Delvendahl Martin were appointed to design the exhibition for Eco-Visionaries (open until 23 February 2020) at the Royal Academy of Arts, which has been jointly curated by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado, Architecture Programme Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, Pedro Gadanho, architect, curator and author, and Mariana Pestana, architect, curator and co-founder, The Decorators.

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: Rimini Protokoll, Win > < Win, 2017
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

Eco-Visionaries examines humankind’s ecological impact on the planet and brings together artists, designers and architects from across the globe who are confronting these environmental issues through their practice.

At this critical moment in the history of the planet, the exhibition will present innovative works that reconsider the relationship between humans and nature and offer alternative visions for the future.

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: Carolina Caycedo, Nerea Calvillo, Ana Vaz
and Tristan Bera Tue Greenfort. Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

The exhibition features works by 21 international practitioners in a wide range of media, including film, sculpture, immersive installation, architectural models and full-scale prototypes, all interrogating how art and architecture can help us respond to a rapidly changing world. Highlights include works by Unknown Fields ( featured in Design Exchange #FutureForecast edition in print and also featured online here), the artist collective Rimini Protokoll. Their immersive installation, Win > < Win (2017), explores ecological empathy by confronting audiences with live jellyfish, a species actually benefitting from the effects of global warming. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s new project, The Substitute (2019), draws upon archival footage in conjunction with experimental data to enable visitors to come face-to-face with a life-size digital reproduction of a northern white rhinoceros. The last male of the subspecies died in 2018. These provocative responses are a wake-up call, urging us to acknowledge and become conscious of our impact on our environment.

Other Participants in the exhibition include: HeHe, Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera, Tue Greenfort, Carolina Caycedo, Nerea Calvillo / In the Air, Olafur Eliasson Hon RA, Virgil Abloh, Pinar Yoldas, Basim Magdy, Dunne & Raby, New-Territories (S/he), Ant Farm Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation Futurefarmers, Philippe Rahm Architectes, Studio Malka Architecture, WORKac, SKREI

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image :Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, The Substitute, 2019, SKREI
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

Eco-Visionaries has offered an opportunity to critically reflect on this culture and mind-set surrounding the delivery of exhibitions in terms of sustainability. The approach was therefore to build little from scratch, making use of existing resources and reclaimed materials as much as possible. Free-standing plinths and furniture have been borrowed and salvaged from recent and past exhibitions.

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: HeHe, Carolina Caycedo, Nerea Calvillo
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: SKREI, WORKac and Ant Farm Philippe
Rahm Arquitectes, Futurefarmers. Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: Graphic design by Daly & Lyon
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

“The caption ledges throughout have been designed to be fabricated with recycled wood and board material, using up offcuts to minimise waste and providing a resource that can be used for future exhibitions. In the design of the partition screens, which are made from promotional banners from previous exhibitions, we have explored the re-use of an available resource to produce something altogether new.”

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: SKREI, WORKac and Ant Farm Philippe
Rahm Arquitectes, Futurefarmers. Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

The technical and fabric solutions for the structure have been developed in collaboration with textile designer and upcycling expert, Barley Massey, to produce an intervention which is modular, efficient and cost effective – for which a life beyond this exhibition is envisaged. Elsewhere, single-use plastics are being avoided altogether, instead using sustainable materials that are chosen for their low environmental impact, such as plywood, paper and card, recycled wherever possible.

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: Virgil Abloh, Unknown Fields Division, SKREI
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

Delvendahl Martin worked in collaboration with Daly & Lyon, who developed the graphics strategy, to ensure that these aims extended throughout every aspect of the design. The use of vinyl is avoided completely, instead, introductory texts are printed direct to surface, using vegetable based inks, onto boards made from recycled cellulose fibres. Caption labels are made from recycled post-consumer waste and simply placed onto the graphics ledges in order to minimise the use of adhesives. Scale was determined by standard sizes so as to eliminate wastage, and information was reduced to the essential only, thereby minimising printing and ink usage. Fundamentally, the aim throughout is to reduce process, material demand, carbon footprint and waste, by proposing an efficient design which relies on a few carefully placed interventions to organise the space.

RA Eco-Visionaries, Photo ©Agnese Sanvito
RA Eco-Visionaries. Image: WORKac and Ant Farm
Photo ©Agnese Sanvito

Delvendahl Martin has established a solid track record designing exhibitions and gallery spaces. Projects in this field include the exhibition design for 2014 Gwangju Biennale, The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern, Andreas Gursky and Diane Arbus, both at the Hayward Gallery in London.

The practice has recently worked alongside curator Ralph Rugoff on the exhibition design for the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, which opened in May this year. Work in this field has illuminated for the practice the potential wastefulness of the exhibition industry and the way in which high-quality bespoke interventions, which are constructed from scratch, often have no life beyond the exhibition and are disposed of.

The practice, therefore, is increasingly working to implement an approach which brings sustainability to the forefront of the design process and delivery, for example through the use of locally sourced plywood at the Venice Biennale, a material that, unlike plasterboard, can be easily recycled and re-used following exhibition takedown.

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