Research project, ECAL 2019


Aesthetics of Sustainability: Material Experiments in Product Design 

Sustainability is one of the most important topics of the 21st century. Design, as a discipline of innovation, must play a leading role in optimising the environmental impact of all by-products and processes in the production of designed goods.
 All too often, most people take a stereotypical view of “sustainable products”. They are often associated with dirty colours and unpleasant aesthetics, owing to the use of second-grade, recycled, “primitive”, natural or non-processed materials. Furthermore, they are usually associated with higher prices or inferior quality.

Aesthetics of Sustainability aims to explore and define the aesthetics of a new generation of sustainable materials. The goals of the project are to push boundaries, explore aesthetics and define a contemporary language of sustainable materials and products through a systematic process of investigation, experimentation, creation and development within the context of product design.
The low impact of products is not only necessary, but it is also about to become a unique selling point for manufacturers. The tipping point when eco-friendly materials become more easily available and financially competitive on a larger scale will soon be reached.
The outcome of the project is a series of 14 dossiers on the explored materials as well as mock-ups and prototypes of the resulting products.
The project offers a future generation of designers an array of operational tools and knowledge which explain how to discover, analyse and process seminal materials, how to work best with their qualities and how to turn them into functional yet aesthetically intriguing objects.

Thilo Alex Brunner, Aesthetics of sustainability. Material experiments in product design, Zurich: Triest verlag, 2020 (contributions by Christophe Guberan, Chris Lefteri, Ala Tannir)

Main applicant

ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne

Thilo Alex Brunner (project leader)

Research team
Christophe Guberan (senior researcher)
Camille Blin (professor)
Augustin Scott de Martinville (professor)
Margherita Banchi (research assistant)
Carolien Niebling (research assistant)
Maxime Guyon (photographer)
Nicolas Polli (photographer)

Visiting lecturers

Yves Corminboeuf, Alexandre Echasseriau, Adam Fairweather, Beat Karrer, Chris Lefteri, Yves Leterrier, Mieke Meijer, Axel Norlander, Martin Postler


Johannes Valentin Breuer, Pablo Dorigo, Nikola Gaytandjiev, Céverine Girard, Matias Görlitz, Fritz Jakob Gräber, Xinyi Jiang, Luisa Kahlfeldt, Pavle Konakovic Vanja, Napat Pongpanatnukul, Vittorio Solleciti, Lei Tuo, William Verity, Ilseop Yoon


September 2017 – July 2019

Supported by 
ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne
Strategic fund of the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO RCDAV)

Spreads from Aesthetics of sustainability. Material experiments in product design, edited by Thilo Alex Brunner, designed by Federico Barbon. © ECAL / Jimmy Rachez

Paper Paper Bin. ECAL / Fritz Gräber

© ECAL / Nicolas Polli

Granulated rubber, shredded recycled outsoles and footwear manufacturing scraps. ECAL / Lei Tuo 

© ECAL / Nicolas Polli

Sleeping bag. ECAL / Luisa Kahlfeldt
©ECAL / Nicolas Polli

FlaxTape™, natural fibres harvested from the linen plant by Eco-Technilin. ECAL / Nikola Gaytandjiev

© ECAL / Nicolas Polli

Ricehusk pencils. ECAL / Xinyi Jiang

© ECAL / Nicolas Polli