"You can tell a lot about a society by whom it chooses to celebrate." —Woody Allen
When we heard that Belgian gallery Z33 was holding a "sustainability summer school" during this year's Salone del Mobile in Milan, we were interested in finding out more about these New Heroes. Thomas Lommée's OpenStructures project is one of five-presentations from the New Times New Heroes show. A global dialogue four years in the making, the Project has steadily grown to encompass a variety of parts and objects all scaled according to an open-source grid system. We sat down with Lommée to learn more about the origins of the OpenStructures project, chat about learnings from the beta model and hear more about new models for adaptivity.
New Times New Heroes
Privata Oslavia 8, Ventura Lambrate
Core77: So, what sparked the start of the OpenStructures project in 2007?
Thomas Lommée: The OpenStructures project was a personal project that started with a sketch at the Institute Without Boundaries, in Toronto. I was looking for a more sustainable way of building, constructing and designing. On one hand, modularity is one of the core principles of sustainable design because it allows for flexibility in your design. It allows for objects to shrink and to grow and to adapt. And then on the other hand, there's this development of open source thinking and open source development within software, which allows for people to build further on other people's designs.
And then there was a third development which was laser [cutting] and 3D printing. It allowed for people to design and build at home. And then Sketch Up was coming out, which is a very accessible 3D software. These four trends merged into the OpenStructures project. How can we make objects that are easy to adapt, grow and shrink, and that also the consumer can build further on, repair and fill in. It was basically about generating a new relationship between the consumer or the end-user and the computer.
So, it's really about looking differently at objects. It's really about not looking at them for what they are but for what they could become. It's about looking at the potential within the existing and it's about pre-designing a second life in an object. And it's also about trying to change the notion of waste. When does an object become waste? That's when it loses its context, when it's no longer valuable within its context. But if you make a part or an object part of a bigger system, then it will float within the system.
What process did you go through to determine the dimensions of the grid?
What I did was I took a ruler with me, and I started measuring everything, from logistical objects like crates and pallets to kitchen structures. I looked at the dimensions of plugs, the dimensions of other standards, and I tried to look for the biggest denominator.
What are some of the opportunities and limitations you've discovered as people have really started interacting with the project and actually putting it into use?
First it was all about the dimension, it was a lot of measurements, but actually what I discovered was it was way more about the assembly points pattern, because that is actually the interface between two different parts. That's really where different parts meet and where they can interconnect.
The second thing I added to the grid, based on what notes people came back with, was to integrate common diameters of parts so that different parts can be screwed together. And this was something I didn't foresee, but something that different people suggested. I also tested the models on different scales—on product scale, on interior architecture scale and on architecture scale, and actually we were kind of proceeding on all three of the scales.
I think it's very important to mention that it's not a perfect system at all. There's a lot of flaws and there's a lot of things that don't make sense yet, but it's really about trying to think about the outcome: what's now the next step, which direction are we taking? Which kind of object do we think is interesting to build further on? Or which kind of parts? Or which kind of principles? So, it's all about evolution—about the emergence of different objects or object families, and about trying to monitor this evolution.
Do you find that there's particular regions within the world that are more interested in building this modular kind of open source system?
I think, for example, a lot of what is suggested here, and a lot of what people come up with has already been done, and it's actually been done in regions where there's scarcity, where people are forced to reuse. You see that people start making accommodations, improvise or they have to try to come up with a quick solution. And that's where we see a lot of things between this project and the existing situation.
What I think would be great is if imagine within 20 years if I walk on the street and I see some kind of dumped object, and I look at it, and I see that certain parts of this object are according to this grid. Then I could imagine what I would do if I unscrew these parts off, and either bring them to an open structure shop, or use them myself for another object.
About Thomas Lommée
After his studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Les Ateliers Paris and the Institute without Boundaries Toronto, Thomas Lommée (*1979) has participated in a series of varied think-tanks in Europe and overseas. In 2007 he established "Intrastructures," a pragmatic, utopian design-studio, that emphasizes on the physical, digital and social context of product-design.
In 2009 he initiated the OpenStructures project, a hands-on design research project that explores the possibility of a modular construction model where everyone designs for everyone on the basis of one shared geometrical grid. This resulted in a kind of collaborative Meccano to which everybody can contribute parts, components and structures.
He and lives and works in Brussels.
REcentre is organising the Sustainable Summer School in August and did a sneak preview of it on the Salone del Mobile. Z33 and REcentre are currently presenting OpenStructures from Thomas Lommée on the New Times, New Heroes booth in Ventura Lambrate.