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Marjan van Aubel

Design of the Year 2015 Finalist with her project, Current Table

Marjan van Aubel (MA Design Products, 2012) is a designer of materials and objects whose practice spans the fields of science and chemistry.

Marjan's research process blends scientific precision with sensory responsiveness to develop aesthetic solutions for the future. Van Aubel’s objects make tangible the potential of technology and energy-harvesting for the benefit of the living environment. At the heart of her collection is a series of innovative materials, from foam porcelain to integrated solar cells based on the properties of colour. Intuitive and inquisitive, she believes interdisciplinary practice is the way forward for design.

Marjan has collaborated with scientists, designers and manufacturers including Solaronix, The American Hardwood Export Council and Joris Laarman. She has exhibited at world-class institutions such the Victoria and Albert MuseumBoijmans van Beuningen Museum and the Design Museum in London, where she has been nominated for the Design of the Year Awards twice; in 2013 and 2015. Her work is part of the permanent collection of the Vitra Design Museum and MoMA New York.

Marjan won the First Prize Dutch DOEN/Materiaalprijs 2012, the ARC13 Chair Award and the Kortrijk Interieur Award 2014. She was shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Material Innovation Award in 2014 and has most recently been announced a Finalist for Design of the Year 2015.

How did you come up with the design concept for Current Table?

Current Table is a continuation of The Energy Collection, which I made for my graduation at the RCA. This came about from in-depth research into the properties of colour, which led me to collaborate with Michael Graetzel and Solaronix to develop applications for their Dye Sensitised Solar Cells (DSSC) that are based on photosynthesis and uses the properties of colour to create an electrical current. I applied the DSSC technique in The Energy Collection, a cabinet with solar cell tableware. The cabinet collects and stores the energy created by the use of the tableware, and the energy can be used instantly through integrated USB ports. Applied to functional objects, this innovative technology has the potential to change the way we relate to everyday objects and embed energy harvesting into our daily habits

Current Table is a more efficient version of this cabinet and can be applied now. It has a bigger surface area which makes it more efficient. I do like the fact that the area you work from is the area that collects energy for your devices you will be working on.  

What are the key themes or motivations which shape your work?

Objects are able to tell stories and have the ability to change someone’s behaviour. Designers can bridge the gap between technology and the user. 

In the development of new technologies aesthetics are often subordinated to efficiency, I would argue that this leads to poor integration with our living environment. That is why we should aim for solutions that are not purely technologically driven, but it is also desirable. The example of Current Table is the fact that colour, which is mostly used for its aesthetic reasons is generating energy and gets a double function. Therefore I strongly believe in combining forces; and the role of a designer within this process is to conduct behavioural change and create awareness 

Describe your RCA experience in three words:

Fun, fantastic, intense.

What other projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I am preparing for the Salone in Milan. I am having an exhibition called ENERGIES UNSEEN together with Jolan van der Wiel at the gallery Rossana Orlandi. During this exhibition we disclose hidden potential energies through their objects. Playing with different natural forces and processes such as gravity and photosynthesis, their objects will react to and visualise these laws of nature.  

Here I will show new moonlights. Moon Lights are made out of a self-developed foam porcelain - a lightweight expanding porcelain, that in the kiln rises like bread, expanding up to 300% in size. The lamp explores the material’s aesthetic properties, making use of its translucency to diffuse light, which glows gently through a foam porcelain disk, whose cratered surface is reminiscent of the lunar landscape. 

I am also working on a continuation of Current Table, named Current Window. Current Window is a modern version of stained glass - using current technologies. The coloured pieces of glass are generating electricity from daylight, and can even harness diffused sunlight (like in this very room!). This electricity can be used to power a whole range of electrical appliances. The glass pieces are made of ‘Dye Sensitised Solar Cells’, which use the properties of colour to create an electrical current - just like photosynthesis in plants. Similarly to the various shades of green chlorophyll absorbing light, the coloured window panes harness energy.

Plug in your devices through integrated USB ports in the window ledge. The greater the surface exposed, the more energy will be collected. Imagine these windows in churches, schools, and workplaces! Current Window offers us an example of energy-harvesting in a natural and aesthetic way, for our future. 

What would be your ultimate career achievement?

Having an impact on how objects will be used in the future by designing a mentality change. Designing for awareness.

How do you think your practice might develop in the future?

I hope to continue doing what I am doing and expand my studio.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to current Design students what would it be?

Work hard and have fun.

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Find out more about MA Design Products at the RCA and how to apply

"The role of a designer is to conduct behavioural change and create awareness." Marjan van Aubel

MA Design Products 2012

Marjan van Aubel
Marjan van Aubel