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From more sustainable living materials to joyful housewares, this year’s DesignTO festival captures how architecture and interiors are responding to new ways of living. Odessa Paloma Parker compiles a guide to its notable personalities and product launches

Architect Noora Khezri of the Norwegian firm Mad Arkitekter.Mad Arkitekter

Waste not

Architect Noora Khezri’s reused and recycled KA13 building in Oslo will be the centrepiece of a discussion around how design can respond to the climate crisis

Noora Khezri’s reused and recycled KA13 building in Oslo.Kyrre Sundal / www.kyrresundal.no / @kyrresu/Mad Arkitekter

As part of the 2023 edition of DesignTO in Toronto, the festival’s eighth annual symposium on Jan. 25 and 26 will go deep on its theme: the climate emergency. The two-day Trash Talk event, which will take place online, includes voices such as Montreal-based sculptural furniture maker Lauren Goodman; director of Western University’s Centre for Sustainable Curating, Kirsty Robertson; and architect Noora Khezri of the Norwegian firm Mad Arkitekter.

Here, Khezri – who studied sustainable architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – talks about her studio’s ambitious KA13 project and how design ingenuity can spark significant change.

When did you first start thinking about waste as it relates to architecture?

I’ve always thought it’s very sad when a building is demolished and you see all the materials that will go to waste. I thought, wasn’t it possible to preserve something?

That’s a good segue into talking about KA13.

KA13 is a pilot project. It’s an eight-storey extension on an office building from the 1950s that was set to be demolished as part of development plans. We did a lot of studies on how we could utilize the site in the best possible way and saw the potential in it; it has a lot of nice qualities that you don’t see in new builds. We decided to preserve it and add an extension. It’s the first large-scale building in Norway made with reused materials ­– items from concrete slabs, steel, windows, doors and ventilation systems to furniture, which were sourced from different rehabilitation and demolition projects across the country. Some of the materials were upcycled and some just reused. We included a QR code on items to share their history; you can scan them and see where the material came from. Like, oh, this railing came from a swimming pool.

How did people react to the idea?

For years, we tried to pitch the concept of reuse in different projects, but the industry was very skeptical toward change and slow about adopting new ideas. But Entra, the developer of the KA13 project, is one of the biggest private real estate companies in Norway and they have a focus on sustainability. It was good timing and a good site to start with, and it’s created a domino effect in the industry. The EU has very strict regulations in terms of certification for materials, and it wasn’t easy to find reused materials because there was no marketplace – digital or physical – for them. So there were a lot of challenges but we met them, and we shared our story and got a lot of attention. Now there are developers that want to try it, and new marketplaces came out of it. The Norwegian government has revised the certification process to make it easier to reuse materials. We were part of a revolution.

It sounds like you’ll have lots to say at the symposium.

It’s our first year participating in DesignTO, and I’m very excited about it. Everyone has a lot to share when it comes to creativity, innovation and sustainability. I hope I can inspire attendees to see the quality and possibilities of reuse architecture.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Let there be levity

In the exhibition Purpose and Play, practicality meets the desire for a sense of fun in living spaces

Christopher Li's submission, dubbed Orbit, is a table lamp featuring a magnetic marble that traverses the contours of its retro-ish shape with the push of a button.Handout

When William Morris said, “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”, he wasn’t forseeing how important playfulness would become to our interiors. Granted, Morris wasn’t living through the age of incessant social media coupled with a global pandemic, a period when we’ve come to crave merriment more than ever. For this reason, DesignTO’s prototype-centric Purpose & Play – a juried exhibition crafted as part of a years-long partnership with Canadian design brand Umbra – highlights eight practical concepts meant for living lightheartedly.

Eric Beauchemin, designer and founder of the Montreal-based firm Ricostudio, says that for their contribution to the exhibition, he and industrial designer Gilbert Fortin were looking at the idea of “shrinking living space” as a problem to approach with a mirthful mind. “We wanted to create a piece that would be useful in different ways and that you can play around with it, like a building block,” he says of the resulting modular object, pictured here, made from roto-moulded recycled plastic that has a novel silhouette and trendy terrazzo-like appearance.

Edmonton-based industrial designer Christopher Li, who showcased the concept of a wall-mounted light in 2022’s Purpose & Play exhibition, once again looks to illuminate with his prototype. “Play happens a lot in the early stages of my process when I’m brainstorming,” says Li, adding that interactivity is another avenue he’s keen to pursue in his work. “The best thing about being part of this exhibition is that the design process changes so much,” he notes. “The idea that I had initially completely transformed into something that’s so different from what I had in mind.” His new submission, dubbed Orbit, is a table lamp featuring a magnetic marble that traverses the contours of its retro-ish shape with the push of a button. Functional and fun – and a perfect fit for our fraught times.

Product knowledge

Part of the appeal of DesignTO is the array of home objects launched during the festival. These three collections, which will be presented in store window displays, feature pieces you can call your own

Bright idea

Esa Vesmanen, interior architect and designer of the lighting label Finom, has collaborated with textile designer and founder of the fashion brand Mina Perhonen, Akira Minagawa, on two birch lamp shades.Handout

Esa Vesmanen, interior architect and designer of the lighting label Finom, has collaborated with textile designer and founder of the fashion brand Mina Perhonen, Akira Minagawa, on three birch lamp shades. The charming styles depict scenes of forest tree lines and a sky full of stars. Catch them at Gaspard (gaspardshop.com) until Jan. 29.

FINOM x Minä Perhonen lamp, $770 through finomlights.com.

Green scene

Ceramic artist Laura Warren-Causton has crafted a display of dishware and other decor accents like placemats all made out of clay.Handout

Tapping into our collective affection for houseplants, ceramic artist Laura Warren-Causton has crafted a display of dishware and other decor accents like placemats all made out of clay. The wares are meant to become vessels for one’s preferred flora, making it easier to go green. Find this offering at Plant Society (plantsocietyshop.com) until Jan. 29.

B.Side Projects vases and bowls, $50 to $100 through bsideprojects.ca.

Cut above

Warren Steven Scott has a novel application for leftover material from the production of his popular earrings: upcycling the sheets of acrylic into poppy artworks.Handout

Typically working in the mediums of fashion accessories and garments, Warren Steven Scott has a novel application for leftover material from the production of his popular earrings: upcycling the sheets of acrylic into poppy artworks. His largest “canvas” to-date, as well as other offerings from the Experimental Collage series, will be on view at Comrags (comrags.com) until Jan. 30.

August 5 Pink 3119 artwork, $2,500 through warrenstevenscott.com.