WDE Spotlight: RikMakes

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to various designers of the Embassies. This time we speak with Rik Maarsen of RikMakes, part of the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building. What is his background? What inspires him? What does he hope to achieve with his work? Read it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 28 September 2021
Part of Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building
WDE Spotlight: RikMakes
Part of Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background, and your design practice?

Hi! I’m Rik Maarsen (RikMakes), a beginning designer focused on compostable, renewable, and nutritious materials. Material is something that fascinates and inspires me. I want to show the beauty of nature. The essence of these materials is that they are nourishing when they return to nature, but are also functional for the interior spaces of the consumer.

Your Compostboard project is part of the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building during Dutch Design Week. What can you tell us about this project?

I have researched which residual streams come from Dutch lands. Besides sustaining us, providing space for nature, and using organic waste to nourish itself, the landscape is also used to make materials for housing and general well-being. In the end, everything comes from the earth and everything returns to the earth. We currently give our ‘waste’ back to nature in the form of polluted air and burned coal.

My answer to that problem is the Compostboard project. Compostboard is a beautiful material that functions like particleboard. It is made from organically processable waste, such as residual streams from hemp, rapeseed straw, or bulrush. The various sources of waste create a wonderful diversity of high-quality materials.

Firstly, the material is circular. I chose not only to make biodegradable material but also to make nutritious material. Once Compostboard is returned to nature, it decomposes into nutritious substances for flora and fauna. I also searched for the right application for this material. Given the enormous quantities of residual streams, I opted for an industrially feasible process in which toxic panels such as plywood and MDF can be replaced. By replacing toxic glues with nutritious binders, for example, human waste can now give new life to nature.


Can you explain how your project relates to the story of this Embassy?

Last year, I was approached by Pascal Leboucq after Martijn Straatman of StudioTinus shared what my work was about. That’s how I met Pascal, who told me about The Exploded View, a pavilion they are building to inspire existing companies to use different materials when building new houses or renovating existing ones. The construction industry is known for its conservative character, which is perfectly understandable. When it comes to safety, you want to take as few risks as possible. Because what if a material becomes mouldy, or if a building turns out to be less sturdy due to the use of these innovative materials? No one wants to bear that responsibility. At the same time, the construction industry wants to become more sustainable, innovative and reduce CO2 and nitrogen emissions. Biobased materials are part of the solution.

I think the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building showcases a spectacular collection of materials that are currently being developed or are already available. Of course, it is necessary to do research in order to evaluate the safety of these materials. But that’s what I think is so special about the project: that BioBased Creations helps research the data to create a path forward for each designer. This helps each designer to bring about the necessary revolution in their own fields.

Every natural and agricultural landscape has the capacity to yield its own unique materials. Think of the lavender bushes in the south of France or the tulip fields in the Netherlands. For the time being, I have mainly researched the capacities of Dutch soil. In addition to the unique aesthetic characteristics of the material and, therefore the product, this can also provide an alternative to the vast transportation resources required for the production of materials. 

The appearance of the materials makes users aware of the nutritional resources grown nearby. Thus, I hope to help raise awareness around these issues. In addition, I hope that the seasonal nature of the product will also help raise awareness about production and consumption. One season it will be hemp fibre, the next, bulrush. Compostboard thus has a seasonal appearance that increases that awareness. As with wine, there can be good vintages and excellent vintages. For example, in a bad year for the yield of hemp seeds, the plant may have put more energy into the hardness of its fibre. This is reflected in the hardness and colour of the fibres. Or in a good year for seeds, the fibre may be fluffier and differ in colour tone.

You do many projects focusing on circularity. Why did you decide to deal with this theme?

Firstly, I am fascinated to work with and in nature. In addition, it brings together my desire to work with my hands and to develop innovative approaches in Western society nicely. Today, society is under pressure on many fronts. The existing system is on its last legs, struggling to keep up with everything.

This creates space to reinvent the system. As I read in the book The Conservation Revolution: Radical Ideas for Saving Nature Beyond the Anthropocene, the coming era will also be referred to as post-capitalist. We are going to make adjustments as a society towards a healthy and hopefully balanced economy. This is something I recognize and feel in my gut; that we as a generation and as a society need a healthier system, on many levels.

Before I started making material, I went around pondering the question: ‘What would it take to create an economy that can last 1,000 years?’ This will only be possible if we connect with what is on this earth. As a society, we are currently working on the 2030 and 2050 SDGs that were drawn up during the Paris Climate Agreement. This in itself is good news, but it still feels too much like short-term thinking to me. It is essential to take steps, but if you want to improve, clean, and green what we have in terms of materials, footprint, economic stability, agriculture, and reuse of materials, then I think it is a good starting point to look at a longer time frame of, say, 1,000 years and to design from there. From that perspective, I think it makes sense to develop a material and design that can return to nature. A material that is thus used by humans, and when it is no longer needed, it will provide nutrition for the soil and the organisms that live in it.

What kind of design/project would you like to realise in the future and why? 

Right now, as a designer, I am becoming fascinated by the divide we have created between nature and culture. When you look at the materials we surround ourselves with, it makes sense that we don’t understand what non-human nature needs. The city resembles a clay desert, the interior resembles a cave. Places where little or no life is to be found. If weeds do grow between the tiles, we either kill them with steam or pull them out, because otherwise, it doesn’t look neat.

I don’t know exactly what I want to work on yet, but I’m doing research on the subject of nature inclusivity. It is an ongoing study that is reflected in my design choices. For example, I designed a facade panel for NPSP that moss can easily adhere to so that houses can capture water, harbour life, and insulate heat. It can sometimes be difficult to identify the effect of a nature-inclusive design or intervention because the naked eye can only see part of it. For example, if you think of certain types of flowers such as an orchid, it may be that the species is fertilised at night by a moth. So people will never observe this, but does this make it less relevant? When it comes to design and living, I was trained to convince people of a good design, so I should be able to understand the added value of a design for a human being.

Can you name another interesting designer who deals with the same subject, and why is his/her work so strong in your eyes?

Zelf volg ik een aantal ontwerpers die interessant werk maken, een brede mix van disciplines. Elk van de projecten heeft een ander aspect dat ik interessant vind. Denk aan Klarenbeek & Dros, die met een volledig ontwerp komen als het gaat om materiaalwinning, productie, en afbreuk van materiaal. Een materiaal dat van begin tot eind hand in hand gaat met niet-menselijke natuur én bruikbaar is op een functionele en hedendaagse esthetiek voor mensen. Ook vind ik het werk van Tjeerd Veenhoven sterk door zijn nuchtere visie waarin hij een veelomvattend onderzoek weet te vertalen naar bruikbare materialen op gepaste schaal en kwaliteit. Ook Thom Bindels van AmperDesign is een ontwerper die ik waardeer door zijn kennis van planten, natuurlijke systemen in de bodem en doeltreffende ontwerpen.

How do you think you can make an impact with your work?

Because I research before I make a design, I try to set up my design framework as complete and balanced as possible. I’ve opted for sheet material because my research showed massive amounts of agricultural waste in the Netherlands. Designing this way allows me to translate the knowledge I’ve gathered into a product. Then, as an entrepreneur, I put this product on the market with the other entrepreneurs. By collaborating with others, we produce, sell and innovate. By actually realising the design, a larger circle of innovation is created. Buyers, processors, consumers and possibly investors are involved in working on a nature-inclusive product for tomorrow.

Who would you choose and why if you could choose any person to work with (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, anyone?

Quite frankly, I would work with any other organisms. In my culture, upbringing and existence, people are always central. But we are not the only Earthlings. I want to bridge the gap between human and non-human nature. I am curious about the wisdom of trees. Trees communicate with each other underground through mycelial networks. Trees may not have a demonstrable brain from which they move, but they know a lot about a local place. 

What does a tree think of a squirrel eating its fruit? Or what does it think when a roe deer tramples its little seedlings? When I see a row of trees in the city that are evenly spaced, I wonder if a tree thinks of its ‘loneliness’.

Which company would you like to work for or with on a project? And what kind of project would that be?

I want to be in charge of a bit of landscape one day. A bit of landscape on which I can work as a human being, helping the landscape to flourish further. I would rather do this by being physically and actively involved. That’s how I learn the best. I can read books about the forest, clay soils, and dune valleys, but this creates a different depth than doing the work myself in the landscape.

For example, I would love to make a garden with discarded furniture, where transience and blooms come together. I think it would be nice to design a semi-public space with this furniture. Where planting, recreation and the transience of the material come together.

Recently I was watching a documentary about Piet Oudolf and how he designed gardens. If I could choose a company to work with, I would choose Piet Oudolf. Partly because he also has a background in physically building his designs.

Typha Picture - credits: Floor Skrabanja

The RikMakes Compostboards can be seen during DDW21 in the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building.

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