Inspirationist exclusive: Interview with designer Marjan van Aubel

Marjan van Aubel is a designer of materials and objects whose practice spans the fields of science and chemistry. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art Design Products (MA) and the Rietveld Academy (BA) DesignLAB. Her 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.

Van Aubel has collaborated with scientists, manufacturers including Solaronix, The American Hardwood Export Council. She has exhibited at world-class institutions such the Victoria and Albert Museum, Boijmans 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, The Montreal Museum of Art and MoMA New York.

© Thor Schuitemaker-Wichstrøm

I have to say I look more into science and the impact of new inventions and technologies. I don’t look so much at design, to be honest.

Her latest project, 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. 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.

Find out more about her and her work from our Q&A:

© Amy Gwatkin

INSPIRATIONIST: Where are you from and where do you live now?

Marjan van Aubel: I am Dutch, born in the South of the Netherlands (Bergen op Zoom) close to the Belgium borders. Now I live both in Amsterdam and London.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: What’s your background?

M.v.A.: I studied designLAB at the Gerrit Rietveld academy in Amsterdam. This was a course focussed on design process, research and dialogues. Then I moved to London to do my MA at the Royal College of Art, at the design products course. I am interested in the relationship with science and design. For example I followed a minor quantum physics.

© Amy Gwatkin

I.: How did you fall in love with design and why?

M.v.A.: I really enjoy design thinking.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: Where do you spend most of your time, and what does a typical day for you entail?

M.v.A.: What a difficult question! My day is so different everyday! I travel so much, especially now I live in two cities.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: What is your favourite part of your job?

M.v.A.: That it is so diverse. But that can also be the hardest sometimes as you don’t know what you will be doing next month.

© Amy Gwatkin

I.: If you had to choose one single designer/artist who has provided a source of inspiration for you personally – who would it be and why?

M.v.A.: For example Edison, when he introduced the lightbulb he held an event where citizens of New York could come to see this new invention in action. This must have been such an amazing experience to see all these beautiful static lights that went on and off instead of gaslights or candles. This invention wouldn’t have worked if he wouldn’t have thought about the whole system and build powerplants too. The effect that this little invention had on they way we live now is enormous.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: Which is your favourite design/work of art?

M.v.A.: I have to say I look more into science and the impact of new inventions and technologies. I don’t look so much at design, to be honest. I really enjoy some the work of Yves Klein. Once he had an exhibition and invited loads of people to the opening. At the opening itself, the whole space was empty and blue cocktails were served.People were offended as there was nothing to see. Once they arrived home and went to the toilet they found out that their urine turned blue, and discovered that that was the actual work.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: Which of your designs is your personal favourite and why?

M.v.A.: Foam Porcelain cabinet. As I am the most proud of this. It was doomed to fail and yet it work, just out of perseverance.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

M.v.A.: Drake.

© Wai Ming Ng

I.: What is your favourite colour?

M.v.A.: Blue.

© Sasa Stucin

Read also: Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw incorporate waste shavings into design chairs using bio resin

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