Diana Simpson is in residence at 19 Greek Street, a multi-space gallery in London’s Soho dedicated to sustainability and experimentation in design. Diana’s Glass Lab, turning ‘waste’ glass into tiles and surface materials, is the very embodiment of that ethos. As a designer, Diana, is interested in the often overlooked value of waste as a resource, and its potential as a catalyst for localised systems of processing and transforming waste.
Waste Lab was a design response to the Mayor’s Business Waste Strategy as part of Diana’s MA Design Products at the RCA. The report noted that only 52% of waste from the commercial and industrial sectors in London is reused, recycled or composted. Glass Lab, the first Waste Lab initiative, provides an alternative waste disposal for small businesses. Local waste, local collection, and local processing for local use. To this end, Diana has collected glass bottles from within a one mile radius of the gallery and Soho offers a rich supply!
Revealing the hidden treasure glass waste is less alchemy and more elbow grease. The glass is sorted into different colours, blue, browns, clear, and shades of green to provide Diana with a richer colour palette. The bottles are then steamed to clean and de-label them, before Diana gets to work with a hammer on the hard floor of the loft space at 19 Greek Street. After breaking the glass into chunks, these are then ground into smaller granules in a pestle and mortar.
The fragments are sieved through a variety of household appliances, into different grades offering different finishes. The granules and fragments are mixed with a bio-resin, Super Sap, combining different colours and textures to create varied surface finishes. Bigger pieces offer more transparency, and the sandy granules a more abrasive finish on the tiles.. Super Sap replaces petroleum-based with renewable materials from waste streams of other industrial processes, such as wood pulp and bio-fuels production. Super Sap uses less power and water in its manufacture and produces less harmful by-products than conventional epoxy resins. Diana knows that using a bio-resin may limit the potential to recycle the tiles at the end of their life. She opted for a binder to keep the process accessible to a local infrastructure, and conventional glass recycling is very energy intensive, as the glass has to be heated to around 1500 degrees celsius.
As well as tiles, Diana also produces hexagonal lights for use outdoors (pictured below) and is working on a number of bespoke pieces for commercial projects, including a bar counter top for a new private members club, The Library, and for bathrooms in a boutique hotel. Glass Lab is making the transition from a conceptual design intervention in a gallery to commercial applications as a surface material. The project has attracted a lot of attention as part of the Sustain RCA Show and Awards 2013, and more recently at resource, as part of the SustainRCA exhibit showcasing their Awards and consultancy work for clients demonstrating the circular economy. Let’s hope the interest turns into tangible efforts to replicate Glass Lab in other locations, with other materials and communities. For the moment in Soho at least there are designers, a rich supply of and healthy demand for glass products!
Diana hopes to apply the Waste Lab concept to other materials, recognising that waste has different identities, and poses different challenges, in different geographies. She is already working with Sudha Kheterpal, an internationally renowned percussionist, to take musical instruments that produce clean energy when played into areas with little or no electricity. Playing the shaker (pictured right) will generate enough electricity to power an LED light or charge up a mobile phone, vital for people living in remote villages. A prototype shaker, ‘SPARK’, has just been tested in Kenya, and a Kickstarter campaign follows later this spring. Keep your eyes peeled for more news about ShakeYourPower.
In the meantime,I only hope that the imminent arrival of a glass crusher brings the price point for the tiles below £200 per sq metre, as I would leap at the chance for a set of Glass Lab tiles for my bathroom.
Photocredits: Diana Simpson, my own.