It’s a 50-cent word, but “dematerialization” just might save us millions, to say nothing of our planet. The basic idea is getting down to only what is essential, or, as Charles Eames said in the 1940s, “the best for the most for the least.”
Doing more with less certainly predates Mr. Eames, but dematerialization has had a resurgence lately, largely as a response to conspicuous consumption (McMansion anyone?), a throwaway culture (it’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix the old one), and planned obsolescence (as Annie Leonard says in The Story of Stuff, only 1% of things are still in use 6 months after purchase).
It’s no wonder those concerned about sustainability see promise in dematerialization, an idea whose logic train goes from using less material to eliminating material altogether while still delivering the same level of functionality. An example of this promise they often point to is music delivery. From LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads, the progression eliminated lots of plastic waste and the resources and energy needed to make it. (The sustainability costs of using the Internet to download the music will be left to another discussion.)
We find examples of dematerialization closer to home. One is the Setu chair designed by Studio 7.5 of Berlin, Germany. The chair’s two spines provide tilt-like kinematics in one continuous seat and back, eliminating the need for a tilt mechanism.
Reducing material and actually improving a product’s performance is the theme of another chair, SAYL designed by Yves Béhar. In SAYL’s case, seat base, arm structure, and tilt mechanism undercarriage are fused into one, strong part that reduces material content. The chair’s The Y-Tower structure is sculpted and hollowed out, achieving strength with less material.
Eliminating an object altogether is the logical conclusion of dematerialization. Short of developing a way for people to levitate, we think making every molecule in a chair work harder is an acceptable alternative.