by Devanshi ShahOct 21, 2020
Restoring our ecosystem has been a pressing issue for decades. Part of the problem stems from a limited understanding of what constitutes an ecosystem. Considering the current state of the world, preventing, halting and reversing the ecosystem degradation to secure a sustainable future has become a prime concern, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), announcing on the occasion of World Environment Day, that the UN Decade will draw together political support and scientific research to revive terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Restoring these systems is a massive challenge, but an urgent requirement to protect and rebuild nature for the sake of future generations.
There are numerous grassroot movements that have been invested in reducing the burden of our consumption places on nature. Design is no different. Full Grown, a furniture design studio conceptualized by Alice and Gavin Munro, stands at the cutting edge of symbiotic co-creation between design and nature. Openly challenging the norms of furniture design, Full Grown collaborates with nature to create design objects. On the occasion of World Environment Day on June 5, Munros take STIR through an exclusive digital tour of what they refer to as their ‘Chair Orchard’.
A true labour of love, the process of growing these chairs started in 2006, when the couple acquired some land for growing the initial experimental prototypes. Though they eventually moved to a bigger area, the first visual of the first group of willow trees started to really look like a chair only in 2010. The duo defines their process as a collaboration because they realised the importance of working with the trees noting “a tortured branch just dies and other pops up elsewhere”. A scaled production began in 2011, and since then the team and the furniture have continued to grow in synchronicity. Alice and Gavin’s orchard challenges the accepted notions of agricultural and subverts the reckless commercial use of trees as a timber commodity. This is especially visible now that the orchard is ready for its first harvest. The ratio of object to nature is very interesting. The team notes that for “50-odd pieces per year but for every 100 trees you grow there are 1,000 branches you need to care for, and 10,000 shoots you have to prune at the right time”. The investment here is not only time and effort but also an emotional one.
As designers and consumers, we have to recognise the impact of creating wooden furniture. While we may grow orchards for years in order to cultivate trees that can then be harvested to create pieces of furniture, we have to acknowledge the waste it also creates and the complete degradation of the ecosystem of that region every few years. It is also imperative to acknowledge the fact that our consumption of these products outweighs the growth of the forests they are culled from. A statement made by the World Bank of South Asia in 2020 created a stir when it suggested an economically activation of Bhutan's forests. This was summarised in a tweet that stated “71% of Bhutan's territory is covered in forest, but with a contribution of only about 2% to GDP per year, the forest sector remains underutilized. How can the country sustainably invest in its forests?” This is why having an understanding of what constitutes an ecological system is important. There is a difference between an orchard and a thriving forest. Before we capitalise on existing forests, we need to revive the ecosystem we have destroyed to restore the web of life on Earth.
The Full Grown team, through their orchard, however, indicates an understanding of the difference between cultivation and a forest. Through their tour they have shown us one of the methods in which design and nature can coexist. Rightly so, the chair orchard acts as a blueprint for what a design-led ecological restoration project could look like.