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Innovative design approach for wood

THE Designing Futures Forum, held in Perth this week, brought together innovators from around the globe to discuss the future of the timber industry in Australia.

This unique platform bought to the table artists, designers and industry players to explore the idea of a sustainable timber industry.

The forum highlighted the powerful potential of collaborations between industry and creative practitioners.

Anna Lombardi runs the Fantoni Research Centre in Milan, Italy.

The research centre is a part of a group of companies that has grown from a one-person furniture operation established in 1882.

The Fantoni group is unique in that it controls the whole ‘circle of life of timber’.

“They produce office furniture, panels, chip board, MDF and then they also produce energy, sell energy and they have a plant that can produce panels out of recycled wood,” Ms Lombardi said.

“In 1999 Paolo Fantoni, head of marketing and advertising, asked me to make [the research company] function.

“I thought it was a good idea to orient it towards design because it added value to the products.

“And [I thought] collaboration and multidisciplinarity could be a good route to follow.”

At the heart of the research centre is the idea of bringing together people from different sectors to explore collaborative opportunities.

However, any collaboration with industry has to be grounded in sound economics, Ms Lombardi said.

“Design is an economic choice, it’s not an artistic or charitable choice,” she said.

“Industry has to perceive that they are earning something – you have to offer something.

“Industry doesn’t like sponsorship and I understand that, they are used to profit so what’s the use of sponsorship?”

Ms Lombardi said her efforts in the Fantoni Research Centre were all directed towards combining commercial and cultural issues.

“In the future I can see the universities will become an important point of connection.”

She said she greatly appreciated the work Craftwest Centre for Con-temporary Craft and Design executive director Lynda Dorrington had done in this regard.

“She did a fantastic job in putting around the same table very different actors – artists, designers, industrialists and universities,” Ms Lombardi said

Ms Dorrington has developed the Designing Futures Forum as a long-term project to develop networks and contribute to a broader understanding of design and its applications.

The challenge for both the Designing Futures Forum and the Fantoni Research Centre is to get a diverse range of players to exchange ideas and explore possibilities.

Ms Lombardi said it was important not to mythicise design.

“It represents only 7 per cent of the turnover in Italy, for the timber industry and furniture industry it’s only a very tiny slice,” she said.

“How to get industrialists to understand the value of design is not an easy thing and it must start from university.

“But not from university in an academic way, but as a collaboration between industrialists and university.

“The world of production and the world of thinking must be linked.

“It’s important to find places where these people can meet and talk.”

Finding spaces where people can meet and talk is not specific to WA or Australia.

Ms Lombardi said there was very little true collaboration taking place anywhere in the world.

Sustainability was something all sectors of industry were focused on, she said.

One way of achieving sustainability is developing collaborative projects.

“Sustainability is something different from being ecologically oriented, sustainability means that your full circle of production looks after saving resources and finding new ways of doing things,” Ms Lombardi said

“It doesn’t mean only making a recycled panel, that is a very tiny bit.

“It’s a much bigger process of integration between the different industrial production chains.

“If you follow this school of thinking you’ll find collaboration between industry and academia has something to do with sustainability.”

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