Natural Material Studio’s Minimalist Installation Tells a Sustainable, Tactile Story of Danish Nature

A Material Transition
Peter Vinther

Copenhagen-based design and research studio Natural Material Studio explores the limitations and opportunities of overlooked natural materials to create sustainable designs in new, interesting contexts. The latest in a string of ambitious explorations is the project ‘A Material Transition,’ an interactive installation unleashing the potential of radically innovative natural materials found in the rural Danish landscape. IGNANT caught up with studio founder and material designer Bonnie Hvillum to learn more about the intention behind the project.

Natural Material Studio believes in the power of sustainably focused innovation and local sourcing as a tool to achieve circularity in the design world. The Danish practice has been making waves in the industry since its inception, by working with residues and new, often unthought-of, natural materials—each with their own peculiarities and sustainable attributes. “Larger movements within biotechnology are returning us to nature. We can only speculate on how our relation to the material world will be, but we can design and build for a more paternalistic connection between human and nature,” says the founder. To challenge our understanding of materiality and take action towards change, Hvillum places confidence in the acknowledgement of the importance of our material perception—in the way we perceive, interact with, and relate to materials which are available to us but aren’t as predictable, mass produced, or coming out of industrial production.


“Our work is material-led, meaning the design journey is centered around the properties and qualities of the explored matter. I always let the material and its narrative drive the design process,” explains Hvillum. Her long-running research into alternative resources has culminated in a series of studies and impressive displays of sustainable artifacts. Photographed in the stunning space of The Lab Cph, and exhibited at Architect @ Work in Copenhagen, the studio’s latest undertaking is a speculative material installation that addresses the need for a radical material transition. Though presenting itself as a simple and minimalistic composition, the work is a complex combination of five layers created with biodegradable materials designed by the studio and made from algae, fungi, grass and seaweed extracts. Encapsulating particles based on five local resources from the rural landscape of Denmark—the coast, the field, the meadow, the sea, and the forest—the different layers depict the unique structures and characteristics of each material, while collectively serving as a tactile record of Danish nature. “At Natural Material Studio we aim at expanding the human perception of materials. With this work, we wanted to facilitate a renewed conversation and reflection around what materials are and can be,” Hvillum explains.

"We wanted to facilitate a renewed conversation around what materials are and can be"

“The work is a product of speculation upon the concept of a material transition as an interactive and transformative installation,” Hvillum continues. Walking through it, visitors experience the five layers in an immersive and one-of-a-kind tactile experience, which elicits not only contemplation but also deep reflection on unfamiliar natural resources as potential design materials. “I love when people get amazed or surprised because they’re not quite sure what material they’re touching or looking at,” she explains. “However, we also have to respect that the visitor may not have a long history or any associations cognitively constructed in the brain yet with the material. I always seem to find myself in this balancing act of letting the material run wild, while, at the same time, making sure the visitor is alright.”


Because of its powerful sustainability message, the highly sensory installation invites viewers to also reconsider art as a communicative tool and sphere capable of making ecological interventions. With the work, Hvillum hopes to accelerate the world’s transition to natural materials, revolutionizing existing industries and opening up ideas of circularity left dormant for decades. Though still at a very early stage of research and far from commercial standardization and everyday use, the new-age materials proposed by Natural Material Studio are an important, albeit tiny, piece of a much larger movement towards change—one that is needed now more than ever.


Images © Peter Vinther


SCENT by AOIRO x Ignant

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