Human Nature, designing the equilibrium
a collaboration between Creative Holland and Connecting the Dots
Text by Jane Szita
Portrait by Boudewijn Bollmann
Shades of the Future
Brecht Duijf & Lenneke Langenhuijsen
Relaxing in the sun on an all-too-rare hot summer day in Amsterdam, Brecht Duijf and Lenneke Langenhuijsen – who together comprise Buro BELéN – had an one of those direction-changing experiences. “We were irritated by our sun cream, and it got us thinking,” says Brecht. “We wondered, what other ways can we find to protect our skin?”
That was the origin of the Sun+ project which the duo is unveiling in Milan, and which is based on the extensive research with which they tried to answer their original question. “Recently, the sun has been seen as an enemy,” says Lenneke. “We wanted our project to be a more positive take on sunbathing. After all, although UVA in particular is dangerous as it can cause melanoma, UVB – even while it can contribute to other forms of skin cancer – allows us to produce vitamin D, which is essential for good health and helps prevent everything from depression to cancer.”
Sunscreens have their own health issues, adds Brecht: “If you use above factor 8, your body can’t access the vitamin D.” Plus, they cause environmental damage by forming a film on top of the sea, which prevents the sea life beneath from receiving nourishing UV rays.
Sun+ is therefore an attempt at a more nuanced approach to sun protection from the two designers, who are known for their textiles and who like to call themselves “materializers”. “We like to collaborate with materials,” says Brecht. “We try to get the best out of them – in functional as well as aesthetic terms. In particular, we try to use non-harmful materials.”
In this project, for example, they use biopolymer instead of the usual polyester (which breaks down in sunlight) to make the parasol, capitalizing on its ability to block the bad rays and to let through the good rays. “After 20 minutes under this parasol, you have your daily dose of vitamin D but none of the harmful UVA radiation,” says Lenneke.
A sisal shade is another solution, a kind of versatile screen which is 20cm thick and gives a beautiful play of light and shade, while protecting its users from the most harmful rays, but not the therapeutic effects of sunlight. In a similar vein, a tent made from open-weave wool again offers protection while allowing for vitamin D absorption. “Silk and wool offer skin more UV protection than plant fibers,” says Brecht. “That’s why we used silk to make our airy wearable – a sun-hat that covers the body in a light and floaty way. Perhaps it could offer a lighter alternative for women who want to remain covered, but still enjoy sunlight’s benefits. We are curious to see how different cultures will react to our designs.”
The project represents two years of research, although the duo are first to admit that their approach is essentially to tweak existing designs. “Our products are a combination of things that are already there and new materials,” says Brecht. “We want them to blend in with everything that already exists.” She points out that this makes them easy to implement, “especially the parasol, which is suitable for a business to use during employee lunch breaks. It’s quite close to the existing reality, but we have replaced a harmful material with a non-harmful one, while allowing those who sit under it to enjoy the benefits of vitamin D.”
Seen in an outdoor setting at Milan, the designs evoke a summery feeling – the result, Brecht adds, of “seeing the sun as an inspiration. We all love it after all. It’s the origin of life, a really basic thing. When you rethink it in all its aspects, a new world opens up.”
This interview belongs to the project Human Nature, designing the equilibrium. Part of this project are live interviews and an exhibition during the Milan Design Week 2018.