Research areas

Circular design

In our fast-changing world, sustainable design and production practices and rethinking the capitalist world order are becoming ever more important. In light of global heating and the EU’s climate goals, we need circular design practices that will forge the needed bridge between research innovation and enterprise. The biggest need in this field is for recycling practices that work and knowledge and skills to harness them. DiMa’s circular design research areas explore possibilities for recycling through design at the local and global level.

DiMa’s main circular design research areas are:

  • Circular economy (the organization level)

  • Circular design (the product life cycle level)

  • Upcycling

  • Recycling

The goal of the circular economy is to decouple economic growth from the exploitation of primary raw materials and to create a manufacturing and consumer system with the minimum amount of waste and loss.

Circular design means the possibility of developing products whose later recycling is built into the design phase. The lab has years of international experience in this field through a method for industrial upcycling of production waste. The first partnership with a major manufacturer – in Bangladesh – began in 2012 and is still ongoing. Based on the example of a Beximco factory, the comparative environmental impact of a product made from primary material and one produced using upcycling was calculated. Similar ventures have taken place in India, Poland, Japan and Estonia. Waste analysis has been conducted at a factory and replicated in plants in India and Estonia. As a result, the Upmade certificate was developed in collaboration with the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI).

Another research area with a practical outlet is recycling of post-consumer textile waste through local upcycling. This will allow small-scale recycling of materials and products within organizations. An example is the partnership between the lab and the Estonian Police and Border Guard, which developed souvenirs using written-off uniforms, and collaboration with Kumu Art Museum, in which the museum was given environmental conservation recommendations and new products were produced from waste materials from Kumu exhibitions. In other countries, DiMa has started expanding research area of recycling of post-consumer textile waste in Kenya, in cooperation with Moi University.

In recent years, the lab has also started enhancing the value of textile fibre through mechanical processing. As part of the project, which received support from the Estonian Environmental Investment Centre, collaboration is planned with the TalTech Laboratory of Polymers and Textile Technology and the Viljandi Culture Academy’s Wool Lab to develop novel raw materials made from processed textile waste. The innovative prototypes developed should lay a foundation for further development of the recycling system throughout Estonia.

DiMa’s circular design research area is chaired by EKA senior researcher Reet Aus, PhD.

Bio-based materials

As its second research area, the lab focuses on creating sustainable materials. Materials are the basis for all specialities, as they give form its functional, meaningful, tactile and technical qualities and define the production method and the related environmental impacts. Just as important as developing materials and using them optimally in design and manufacture of products is the ability to critically analyse the role of materials in the manufacturing and consumer models of the future. By using design methods, various future visions can be visualized and realized through creative work, experimental approaches and research – even if the primary goal of the visions is not to attain real applications and production on a larger scale. The scenarios that are developed are used to draw attention to questions concerning materials in a broader sense. Such a speculative approach is given a more realistic dimension by collaboration with materials researchers from different Estonian universities.

The Estonian Academy of Arts Sustainable Design and Material Lab does not compete with the country’s more established materials science institutes but creates an opportunity to broaden material research and discussion in a local context. At DiMa, materials are developed and tested and applied or speculative outputs are found. Bio-based materials will make up a significant share of the economy of the future due to the growth in consumption of sustainable products. Taking these global changes into consideration, DiMa has put the stud and development of sustainable materials into the focus, including enhancement of the value of bio-based materials and residual materials for local conditions.

DiMa has been engaged in development and design of bio-based materials at EKA since 2015. It has turned out materials and prototypes with characteristics that can be measured and analysed. As a result of the activities to this point, bio-composite materials based on local raw materials have been produced, by using microorganisms, materials have been grown (microbacterial cellulose and composites derived from mycelium) and materials have been developed to enhance the value of waste generated by the oil shale industry. The objective is for the process to yield new, locally relevant and globally salient materials with real use.

An overview exhibition called Material I was held, focusing on the novel materials and research works being done at universities and companies. DiMa (specifically, Annika Kaldoja and Kärt Ojavee) have also held three exhibitions at TalTech’s Mektory Gallery and an exhibition called The Seaweed Ceremony in May 2022 at Põhjala Tehas, Tallinn.

The bio-based materials research area is chaired by EKA senior researcher Kärt Ojavee, Phd.