'Design is a force for any kind of change'. Interview with Anja Lapatsch and Annika Unger

We interviewed the key figures of “Pure Gold”: Anja Lapatsch and Annika Unger, who also led the “Upcycable Workshop”, together with Axel Kufus. The two founders of Studio Lapatsch|Unger offer a unique perspective on design by combining research-based methodologies with a passion for cross-cultural exploration. Through their collective efforts, they showcase layers of knowledge and craftsmanship with contemporary narratives that resonate in historical, ecological and cultural contexts.

Studio Lapatsch|Unger is a research-based design studio exploring material cultures and cultural phenomena revealing layers of knowledge between the past, the present and the future. Founded in 2017 by Anja Lapatsch and Annika Unger in Berlin. With a common passion for cross-cultural investigations and unique research methodology their practice aims to create contemporary narratives to existing historical, ecological and cultural contexts.

How does the PURE GOLD exhibition and workshop fit within your vision of promoting sustainable design practices and engaging the local community?

We are surrounded by an anthropogenic man-made warehouse of more than 50 million tonnes of material, providing significant resources for future generations. The appeal of applying such a mindset to this bleak development, and the satisfaction of knowing that there may be a solution to all of this after all, gives a long-awaited sense of hope. The idea that there is a way - a process that will take us forward through the utilisation of waste - is what connects us to the designers of the Pure Gold exhibition as well as the many workshop participants we had the pleasure of meeting. 

Design alone cannot change or save the world alone - that is always a utopia and unrealistic - but it can be a fundamental part of a team effort, and all efforts at this point must be team efforts to change the status quo. When it comes to the climate emergency, design can take on many different roles. It's like an octopus that has different tentacles and can touch multiple pressure points in the ecosystems that make up our lives. One way designers can contribute to slowing climate change is by designing products that focus on upcycling, reusing and utilising waste instead of virgin materials, rather than using materials that contribute to polluting the planet.

Anja, how does your experience in intercultural research influence your perspective on the reuse and transformation of waste materials in design?

If you have a pulse and a brain, you can't be aware of the climate emergency without being concerned and tempted to do everything possible. Design is a force for any kind of change that needs to happen. It's a force for storytelling, for changing people's behaviour, for re-addressing issues, for changing products so that they can be better aligned with needs.

Floods, for example, have been around for centuries, and they may be more common now, but cities and regions around the world have been dealing with them for a very long time. As designers, we should look to how people have dealt with catastrophic natural events in the past to prepare for a future where such events will become more common. When you're dealing with a disaster, it's usually a disaster that happens nearby, so you can learn a lot from how things are handled nearby. So you may already have some structures that we either need to relearn or deepen.

Annika, can you talk about the importance of storytelling in conveying the narrative behind the creation of design objects from recycled materials?

Narrations make it possible to clarify the origin and the path of the materials. When designers tell the stories of recycled materials - such as where they came from, what purpose they once served and how they were transformed - they create a deeper connection between the object and the viewer. These stories can emphasise the value and importance of the materials used and create an awareness of sustainability.

Often the materials and techniques used in creating design objects from recycled materials are linked to specific cultural or social backgrounds. Stories can show these connections and highlight the cultural significance and social implications of the materials used. This promotes a deeper understanding and appreciation of the design object. Storytelling has the power to touch people emotionally. This emotional connection can help to see the object not just as a functional or aesthetic element, but also to convey its meaning, value and influence.



Ajuntament de Barcelona