We were proud to be a sponsor of WantedDesign’s 2018 Launch Pad, which was chock full of awesome designs from around the globe. The 2018 Launch Pad jury included Karen Hong, Buyer for Design Within Reach; Giulio Cappellini, Art Director of Italian furniture brand Cappellini, Katie Stamaris, Director of Product Development for Design Within Reach; Giuseppe Butti, CEO, Luceplan and Marva Griffin Wilshire, Curator and International Press Director of Salone Satellite.
This year, Brooklyn-based designer Maryam Z. Turkey was the furniture/decor winner. A recent graduate of Pratt Institute, she told me all about working with terra-cotta, how her design relates to her Iraqi roots, and what she has planned for the future:
How did you get started working with terra-cotta? What do you like about the material?
I started working with terra-cotta when I thought of Mzamla as a product idea. What drew my attention to the material was the functional aspect as well as the beauty of its color and texture.
How did you come up with the idea of creating a drinking fountain/water cooler and also a planter?
The idea originated from traditional water storage/coolers that are turned on the wheel with terra-cotta. I used them myself where I grew up in Iraq. Terra-cotta is porous and it absorbs the water, the properties of the material allow for evaporative cooling, therefore the water inside is kept cool. Since the material is somewhat porous, the water that drips from the bottom is used to maintain the plants.
My goal was to bring back this traditional technique and re-design it to fit our contemporary world. I want to accept the nature of the material and its properties as they are, which is why I used the leakage to my advantage by adding a planter underneath. This concept serves as a beautiful reminder that humans are inevitably intertwined with nature; water, earth, plants… No matter how much we improve our synthetic technologies, I believe it’s highly valuable to interact with other living things, especially in typically mundane environments such as offices.
What influences the forms you’re using in your work?
I was mainly influenced by a question that I couldn’t get out of my head: How can I bring the traditional way of storing water into a contemporary setting? Growing up in Baghdad and later moving to New York, I experienced different ends of the spectrum when it came to design/designed objects and how it played out in real life. In this sense, I wanted to further challenge the visual characteristics that terra-cotta/ceramics is usually associated with, which are revolved, circular, organic forms.
The rigid form also allows for increased functionality, allowing the user to determine the function.
What were some of the challenges in creating your products and how did you overcome them?
—The main challenge was to get the clean geometric form done with clay. I worked closely with a ceramics professional and we did a few tries by creating slabs of clay and after waiting for it to dry, we then manipulated it. We created the middle part (cooler) separate than the side parts (shelves) then attached them together but the piece cracked after firing it. Then we figured out a different method where we made the whole piece as one part attaching each side together at once, that finally worked after a few tries. I learned a lot about clay and its nature, I have yet to learn more about it as I am putting this piece in production. Although it is very nerve racking to go through these challenges, it is really exciting for me to learn about new materials and techniques as I’m working closely with craftsmen when developing new products.
Now that you’ve won WantedDesign Launch Pad, what do you plan on doing next?
My short-term goal is to make a collection of innovative coolers that reaches a wide range of customers, offering various shapes, sizes and levels of practicality. I have started working on some pieces, taking the visual characteristics and functionality of Mzamla, so hopefully I will have a line of home goods in the near future. I will try to exhibit this collection at Ambiente in Messe Frankfurt at the Young and Trendy section, Salon de Mobile in Milan, and of course in WantedDesign Manhattan next year.
My long-term goal is to establish my studio further here in New York, creating and selling my own innovative products. At the same time, I want to work on long term projects where I am designing solely based on need to build back and improve Iraq. My dreams and passion for design and are very well connected to my identity as an Iraqi-American.
See more of her work at maryamturkey.com.