Would you ever expect a chair to be made from recycled ocean nets? The S-1500 chair, developed by the architecture and design firm Snøhetta for the furniture producer Nordic Comfort Products (NCP). Its development can be traced back two full years ago as Snøhetta opened a small lab in Norway to experiment with recycled plastic as a building material. The lab wasn’t much more than a plastic grinder and injection molding machine, but Snøhetta architect Stian Ekkernes Rossi wanted to reconsider discarded plastic as something more precious rather than disposable–to understand its strengths and weaknesses.
NCP got wind of the work after reading one of Rossi’s articles on his research, and hired Snøhetta to redesign one of its most successful chairs. The R-48 and its line of chairs for schools and offices, originally designed in the 1960s, had sold over 5 million units in Norway alone. But it required virgin plastic.
“They wanted to know, ‘How can we not just talk about the circular economy, but really do it?” says Rossi. Working with labs across the country, the two partners learned a lot about the vastly different compounds that constitute plastic. But they also discovered that, only a little outside the factory where R-48 chairs were produced, the local farmed salmon industry would frequently wear out plastic components like its fishing nets, and it would actually need to pay a service to collect and dispose of them.
As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Rather than import plastic from China, which is what the company did previously, NCP found it could harvest viable used plastic from businesses inside just a 12-mile radius. “One of our goals was to do a project to inspire and show the industry that you can actually make businesses out of what they today consider as trash,” says Rossi. “Through design and architecture, plastic becomes a resource.”