The aim of this workshop was to introduce the kids to basic carpentry skills and show them possible applications. We had some very simple hand tools available: a few hammers, handsaws and pliers. To start off, we foraged the school grounds for materials to use. We found a lot of spare wooden boards, sheet metal and old furniture. Some of the broken benches were deemed salvable, others were broken down for their parts.
Conveying good working etiquette was a key element at this point. A lot of the wood had sharp edges or rusty metal pieces in it and some kids had never used these tools before. It was definitively challenging to coordinate so many kids and ensure that they were all working safely. Using the found pieces, we practised how to remove nails effectively, how to achieve the most force and accuracy when using the hammer and how to best hold a piece of wood when cutting it. Old nails were pulled out of the boards and faulty areas sawed off to create usable material.
The next challenge was using these new components to re-enforce and repair the run-down benches and desks around the school. The original construction of the furniture could be used as a guideline, making it a good exercise for understanding how to build something stable. The kids showed much ingenuity and intuition in fixing and improving the existing structures.
Based on these first experiences, we started to construct designs from scratch and taking on bigger projects. One example were two stepladders to be used in a theatre project. Furthermore, we patched together a sun shelter for the Love School yard using thick timber poles and scraps of corrugated iron. Especially these larger-scale endeavours required the kids to communicate and work together.
For me, one of the most striking aspects of our exchange was the perseverance and adaptability shown by the people living in Kangemi and Kawangware. They face poor living conditions and frequent displacement. However, what seem like harsh limitations also bear a huge potential for innovation. It was immensely impressive to see the Love School kids and local craftsmen working wonders with what they had. After gaining insight into their lives, I found it essential to reflect on the way we value our resources and to integrate this in my project. We are constantly producing new designs, while perfectly good objects and quality parts are discarded. How can people be made more aware of the possibilities that these items still hold?
In this context, furniture is a relevant topic. While very little changes in its functionality, there is a seemingly endless stream of chairs and desks being churned out each year. Considering that our natural resources are ultimately restricted, this practise seems questionable. It raised the idea of learning from the inhabitants of the slums and working with materials, objects, parts that were already existing and freely available.
These initial thoughts sparked an in-depth exploration of transitional structures, built using only found material. I sourced the scrap bins at university for remnants of old mock-ups and the streets of Neukölln for unwanted furniture. Furthermore, I tried to restrict myself to minimal tools during the experimentation process. The idea was to develop an accessible design along the lines of Do-It-Yourself movements like Jugaad and Gambiarra.
The result is Benchmark, a chair (prototype) inspired by the furniture in Nairobi slum schools. Commonly, their school benches consist of wooden slats, joined using nails. Technically, these desks can be produced using the most basic of hand tools, without the need of electric machines or fancy equipment. This makes them a perfect example for democratic design.
In the case Benchmark, colourful acrylic dowels take the place of the nails. Their bright orange faces highlight the simple, almost primitive construction. It turns the rough, naïve aesthetic of DIY culture into a coveted design feature. Every piece is unique, as it is made entirely from reclaimed wood and furniture parts. Besides raising money for the Love School, it hopes to inspire people to give broken, worn-out or undesired furniture a second chance.
The inspiration for the chair were the school benches at the Love School. They are very simple constructs made of wooden planks and nails. After studying the way they were constructed, I based my design on it.
I collected alot of discarded wood around the university and the streets. I wanted the product to consist of recycled material.
Instead of nails, I used bright orange acrylic dowels to highlight the joining method.
Task 3 – Collect some fabric, rope or other textile material. Try to use it as a comfortable seat in the chair frame
Results – Nairobi
Applying the method onto an old plastic garden chair
Task 2 – Source your surroundings for different building materials and tools. Try to construct a chair.
Results – Nairobi
Results – Berlin
Task 1 – Find an object that is broken. Source different materials from your surroundings that you can use for construction. Try to fix the broken object.
Results – Nairobi
Results – Berlin
What simple solutions do we use to improve our surroundings?
How can we adapt the things around us to fit our needs?