Joanne Brookfield March 17, 2012
A clever designer took timber offcuts and transformed them into prizewinning furniture.
What's in the carpenter's garbage bin? It's a question Ori Ben-Zvi has not only pondered but also sought to answer. ''I just look in their bins,'' he says.
''I'm always scavenging their bins, day in, day out. Basically, I'm a skip jumper.''
This skip jumper is also an award winner. Last Friday, Ben-Zvi won the grand prize award in the designers category of the 2012 Furniture Design Award, held as part of the International Furniture Fair Singapore/ASEAN Furniture Show.
Ben-Zvi's winning Wake chair was one of 463 entries, divided between the designers category (open to designers globally) and students (open to full-time design students internationally). All entrants were responding to the theme ''Love, Think, Design Green''.
The Wake chair, which is part of a series, is made of relatively small pieces of scrap timber cut to exact sizes, then glued together in a matrix to a block, which is then carved into tree-like shapes.
For Ben-Zvi, the design is a highly structured poetic gesture, acknowledging his aspiration to bring trees back to life. ''It's a fairly conceptual piece. Of the pieces I've made, it's the most emotional one,'' he says.
It's also one of the most labour intensive to create. ''I would argue production is almost as stupid as the context is intelligent,'' he says.
Ben-Zvi studied for a master's in industrial design at RMIT, living for a time in Carlton and Collingwood. He has fond memories of the Yarra and ''white wine on the grass with the possums''.
These days, he works exclusively with recycled and reclaimed materials, usually found in skips in
the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv, where he lives.
''My studio is located in a small industrial area,'' he says of Ubico Studio, which is a combination of a design space and small production outfit, crafting sustainable furniture and accessories. ''Waste is coming out in abundance,'' he says of the standard building process.
However, he has found that local carpenters and builders are happy to collect scrap timber for him and hand it over. ''Given that my studio is sort of a laboratory for recycling, I saw big potential in that and I was looking for a design that would enable me to utilise that specific waste,'' he says.
''One of the jurors said an interesting thing about the work,'' he says, referring to the selection panel, which comprised Singaporean members and design experts from Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and France.
''Basically 'what you're doing is locking up the carbon so it's not re-released into the atmosphere; something like that is not going to be burnt, people will cherish it … for as long as it lasts'. I was really impressed with that.''
Ben-Zvi says reducing Israel's carbon footprint is doubly important because all materials there are imported. ''It hasn't been a walk in the park doing recycling in a place like Israel,'' he says. ''I'm a bit of a nutter, to be honest. You've got to be dedicated to it and a lot of the time there is the question, 'Well, why bother?'.''
Winning the grand award has been especially meaningful for him. ''It's a form of affirmation that I wish I didn't need but I guess, like everybody, I need my affirmations.''
Three honourable mention awards are given in the designers category. Jerry Low, a Singaporean who won the grand award last year, collected an honourable mention for his desk, Jotter, also in timber.
Thai designer Doonyapol Srichan was awarded for his Nude chair, a recyclable aluminium chair that doesn't require welding in its construction. Danish designer Jonas Lyndby Jensen was awarded for Megingjoro, a couch with a laminated belt forming its back, named after the power belt belonging to Thor, god of thunder in Norse mythology.