A month after the most important event in the world of product and interior design – Salone del Mobile Milano, and all the dozens of accompanying exhibitions, installations, lectures, and discussions that took place during the week, we draw attention to the high honor bestowed upon Konstantin Achkov for participating for the second consecutive time in the Ro Plastic Prize competition. Founded by the leading and prominent figure in the development of the discipline – curator Rosanna Orlandi in 2020, the competition serves as an opportunity to rethink the relationship with plastic as a material and its impact on the planet. Cheap, versatile, and durable, plastic became an instant star in manufacturing in the late 1960s, readily serving even the boldest design and consumer dreams. However, its reputation is far from favorable. Currently, rivers, seas, and soil are inundated with discarded plastic objects, and microplastic particles are found everywhere, from the highest mountain peaks to the placentas of unborn babies.
Ro Plastic Prize invites designers to demonstrate different and unexpected approaches to the use of materials, from the creation of an object to its disposal. The award is given annually to projects that involve recycling or reusing materials. In the latest edition, the winners were announced during the Milan Design Week in April 2023. The results provide a positive outlook on design as a discipline ready to tackle global and serious problems. Among the winners is a prototype for a 3D-printed personalized prosthetic leg made from recycled plastic, inspired by the war in Ukraine. Another winner is a table made from an innovative material obtained from old and unusable parts of wind turbines.
Sustainability is more than just a slogan. Being responsible means being aware of what you design, how you create it, the choice of materials, and how it is used. I expect responsibility, unconventional thinking, and material innovation from designers,
says Rosanna Orlandi, a doyenne in the discipline.
We congratulate Konstantin Achkov for his inclusion in this selection of innovative approaches to the use of plastic and discuss his original idea on the current theme.
What prompted you to participate in the Ro Plastic Prize?
My participation this year, as well as last year, was based on a personal invitation from the Rossana Orlandi Gallery. Being part of one of the most prestigious galleries in Italy and Europe in the field of high-end collector design, such as the Rossana Orlandi Gallery, is important for any designer who wants to build a European image and career.
What’s the concept behind your chair? What are its most distinctive elements?
I decided to participate again with a chair, my strongest field of work. At the time when the invitation came, I was just developing an idea for a chair that was closely related to the world of fashion and in response to the increasing presence of fashion brands in the furniture business. My idea was to create a chair with a stylized silhouette of flared pants, also known as “Flare,” in a step. This is how the concept for this chair was conceived, going through several phases.
One of them was to sew something like a garment/pants, which, I admit, didn’t turn out well because it almost concealed the entire chair as a structure and killed the clear expression of the form. The gallery was not thrilled with this move either, and I quickly corrected the mistake. Another challenge was to come up with a clear and accentuating idea for using recycled plastic, which is also a requirement of the competition. After many experiments to find my own expression in this material, I came to the conclusion that one of the greatest advantages of plastic is that if it’s transparent and colorful remnants are implanted, it can create an effect similar to stained glass.
So I made several side panels from transparent PET-G and placed randomly different colored circles made of PVC fabrics between two thin sheets. These circles are leftover scraps from the production of tents and awnings at the place where they need to be cut to attach metal caps. These panels can be replaced by attaching them with bolts to the supporting structure. The chair turned out very clear in terms of shape, as the structure is made up of only three elements, and the backrest and seat are also part of the structure. Additionally, I used my puzzle elements for assembly, which allows for easy assembly and disassembly of the chair without the need for standard screws or adhesives.
What are your impressions of this participation?
If I have to summarize my impressions of the exhibition, I can say that the fusion of pure art in design, mixed with the latest technologies in the search for eco-friendly materials or approaches, is increasingly evident. This is the essence of this competition.
What else will you remember from this edition of Milan Design Week (products, exhibitions, lectures, installations…)?
One of the pleasant surprises for me was the latest works by Philippe Starck for one of the leading Spanish furniture manufacturers, ANDREU WORLD. He offers tables, stools, chairs, armchairs, and sofas made of plywood with assembly logic and form close to mine. This solution is dictated precisely by the contemporary trends of sustainability and their packaging in flat surfaces.
Another exhibition with many installations was by the design department of the automobile brand BMW, which showcased futuristic visions for future cars.
Tom Dixon created an extremely intelligent installation for one of the leading tile manufacturers, featuring several minimalist fountains like altars that were activated one after another against a musical background.
In Rossana Orlandi’s gallery itself, magic was once again created by different authors, materials, and forms arranged in the most artistic way.
Besides the overexposure of the slogan “sustainability,” how do you understand and apply sustainability in your work?
With what I demonstrated with my chair at the exhibition for recycled plastic. My chair has side panels made of recycled plastic that can easily be replaced, giving the structure a new look without the need to buy a new chair over time. The trend for furniture that can be refreshed or renewed in some way by the owners, in my opinion, will increasingly permeate design. Another thing I showed was the possibility of a high-end furniture piece, designed with premium materials, to be a puzzle-like structure in a flat package that can be easily assembled, disassembled, or repaired. This is something Philippe Starck also demonstrated. Chairs and disposable tables that cannot be repaired will be launched less and less frequently.
What do you think is missing from current material experiments and practices? How do you try to enrich these processes?
High-end furniture with rational and well-constructed designs. They should have easy and logical connections that are even emphasized as an artistic element. The ability to move away from the clichés that have been driving major manufacturers so far, such as standard joints or upholstery, and concealed structures beneath them.
What excites you the most in the field of design at the moment?
As someone who has a background in sculpture, I can’t help but be delighted by the powerful trend in recent years for furniture to transform into functional sculptures. The homes we inhabit are becoming a kind of exhibition space-installation, where furniture takes on a prominent artistic role.
Would you share what you are currently working on that we will be able to see soon?
On one hand, I want to further develop the chair with which I presented myself in Milan, creating a series of three more chairs by simply replacing its panels, as well as making a whole family of furniture around it. On the other hand, I have started to search for my own answer to furniture combined with resins.