Abstract

Up-cycling is a “responsible” design approach in which designers seek to put discarded consumer products, such as bottles, to new and valuable uses, such as making lampshades. Since that approach involves finding new functions for extant manufactured forms, upcycled products appear to be typical of other products created as a result of both designers and users adapting extant forms to serve entirely different functions. This form-adaptive approach appears to reverse the causal direction implied by Louis Sullivan's famous dictum "form ever follows function". This paper then reviews antecedents of the up-cycling approach historically, in order to critically examine the form-function relationship in selected examples of engineering, weapon and consumer product design. The example of the Venturi tube shows that it can form a component of products with functions as different as wind instruments, carburettors and jet pumps. Although the Venturi effect can only be created by a tube of very specific form, the functions it performs can be very different. Furthermore it is shown that the Venturi effect can be created without use of a Venturi tube, by means of adapting the extant parts of a gas turbine to create a novel secondary compressor. The same form-adaptive approach can be found in primitive tools which evolved into weapons such as the mace and the billhook. Ceremonial versions of the mace show that the communication of ideas is a crucial function of many designs. Since beliefs and values change over time, communicative functions are not temporally fixed. It is argued that the primary function of many up-cycled products is to comment positively on sustainability issues by demonstrating how consumer waste can be transformed into something far more valuable by creative virtuosity. Consequently, up-cycled designs appear to function less successfully in helping to physically manage post-consumer wastes.

Keywords

design and society, representation, sustainable design, product planning & development

COinS
 
Jul 1st, 12:00 AM

Upcycling: Where function follows form

Up-cycling is a “responsible” design approach in which designers seek to put discarded consumer products, such as bottles, to new and valuable uses, such as making lampshades. Since that approach involves finding new functions for extant manufactured forms, upcycled products appear to be typical of other products created as a result of both designers and users adapting extant forms to serve entirely different functions. This form-adaptive approach appears to reverse the causal direction implied by Louis Sullivan's famous dictum "form ever follows function". This paper then reviews antecedents of the up-cycling approach historically, in order to critically examine the form-function relationship in selected examples of engineering, weapon and consumer product design. The example of the Venturi tube shows that it can form a component of products with functions as different as wind instruments, carburettors and jet pumps. Although the Venturi effect can only be created by a tube of very specific form, the functions it performs can be very different. Furthermore it is shown that the Venturi effect can be created without use of a Venturi tube, by means of adapting the extant parts of a gas turbine to create a novel secondary compressor. The same form-adaptive approach can be found in primitive tools which evolved into weapons such as the mace and the billhook. Ceremonial versions of the mace show that the communication of ideas is a crucial function of many designs. Since beliefs and values change over time, communicative functions are not temporally fixed. It is argued that the primary function of many up-cycled products is to comment positively on sustainability issues by demonstrating how consumer waste can be transformed into something far more valuable by creative virtuosity. Consequently, up-cycled designs appear to function less successfully in helping to physically manage post-consumer wastes.

 

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