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“Revaluation” by Studio Drift (Milan)

Studio Drift’s genius experimentation with a never-before-used material sets them apart in Milan as true pioneers.  Few designers manage to fuse experimentation with such a refined aesthetic as Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 11-04-2014

Studio Drift presented their fascinating new work “Revaluation” at the Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition in Milan.

“Revaluation” is a mirror made from synthetic obsidian, a manmade glass derived from heating chemical waste.

The point of this project is twofold: to both highlight the problem of chemical waste and to put forward one potential solution.

In 1972 a Dutch chemical engineer invented a way to treat and recycle chemical waste by creating the conditions of a volcano in an industrial oven.  As the temperature in the oven increases, he extracts various metals like gold, silver and mercury in liquid form.  What’s left is ash, which he reheats, subjecting it to a process of vitrification, restructuring the molecules to create black glass – or, synthetic obsidian.  

The engineer then hit a wall – what to do with this material, or how to find the added value?  That is where Studio Drift stepped in.

What the designers needed to first discover was how to work with this material.  “We knew nothing,” says Gordijn.  “What temperatures to use or how to mould it.”

Initially Studio Drift assumed they would turn up in Milan with a whole series of objects.  “But that was just not possible,” Gordijn says.  “You can not plan an experiment.  In the end we got the temperatures wrong so most of the prototypes cracked.   When you are moulding glass it has to be cooled down very slowly to remove all the tension but even after six days the objects were still at 50 degrees.”

Gordijn and Nauta are thrilled that the one mirror they are exhibiting in Milan worked out.   A black, beautiful curved reflective object.

Synthetic obsidian is strong and sharp.  It looks like granite and holds heat well.  In ancient times natural obsidian was used to make the points of arrows and knives.   “We have already had a few cuts,” admits Gordijn.

Given these properties, the materials potential is enormous.  “Our research has just begun, but I’d like to try wall panels next,” says Gordijn.

But first their clever chemical engineer has to finish the refurbishment of his factory to comply with the strict regulations imposed by the Dutch government.