“It was an experimental sort of teaching that no longer exists,” says Meijer. “Classes took place in the middle of the workshop. Students who chose this direction were ‘makers’. Experimenting with materials was the basis for each assignment.” 

It was during one of the assignments of this class dedicated to wood that Meijer came up with the idea of NewspaperWood. “I considered that wood is, in its smallest form, the basis of paper. Once turned into paper, it does not come out of the paper recycling cycle anymore: it stays paper. I thought it would be nice to turn the process around and transform paper into wood again.”

Meijer began by layering sheets of paper, one on top of the other, and pressing them, like an old-fashioned phone book, which, as we know, is as hard as wood. Unbreakable. The theory was, the single sheets of paper, no matter how thin, would turn into an extremely solid block if put together in the proper way.

From there she developed her concept by defining a machine that would mechanically roll together the pages while also covering them with a wafer-thin layer of glue. The result was tabloid-sized logs that could be milled into planks, drilled and sanded, just like real wood.

When the log is cut, the layers of black ink writing and coloured photographs from the old newspapers are visible, like wood grain or the rings of a tree, hence adding to the natural effect.

The aim was never for it to be a large-scale alternative to wood or a solution for transforming all paper waste into a new material. Rather, the concept is about taking a surplus material and turning it into something more valuable, by using the material in another context. This process is called ‘upcycling’.

NewspaperWood is, thus, ecological in three ways: it makes use of discarded paper by upcycling it; it’s produced without having to cut down new trees, yet it has a very similar effect to real wood in terms of looks, feel and functionality; and it is bound by an ecological glue, free of solvents and plasticisers, that naturally dissolves during the recycling process, should the product need to be discarded.

After teaming up with the independent designer label Vij5, Meijer was able to see her material used for the first time on real products. Arjan van Raadshooven and Anieke Branderhorst, Vij5’s founders, enlisted a number of designers to create an array of prototype objects and furniture using NewspaperWood, including table lamps, cupboards, small tables and cabinets.

The final results were presented in April at the AutoOfficina in Ventura Lambrate during the Milan Design Week, attracting much attention from the press and the public.

“The material has great aesthetic qualities. It doesn’t really have a recycled feel and, because of this, it can compete and combine with other materials,” explains Meijer – which is a good thing, as using NewspaperWood as a structural material can be tricky.

“We did use it partly in the construction of the ‘Display Cabinet’ by rENs,” says Branderhorst, “and as a massive construction in the stool ‘United’ by Tessa Kuyvenhoven. It is still a bit difficult though. That is why we also combined it with different materials.”

By asking a team of designers to come up with various designs using NewspaperWood, Meijer was also assured about the fact that the material was looked at from various angles.

“We thus discovered that it could be applied as veneer,” says Meijer. “This is an interesting opportunity because producing the material is still an expensive process. Applying it as a veneer is efficient and makes it easier to work with.” 
 

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