ROOTS OF SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
Text: Tapio Anttila • Photography: Toivo Heinimäki
I studied at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (TaiK) in the late 1980s. There, I was introduced to legendary Finnish designer Ilmari Tapiovaara, who taught us our first class in the National Museum of Finland. In the museum, our class sat inside an old log house and discussed modern design. I remember thinking, what in the world is going on?
We were taught to see the good in our design traditions. Tapiovaara helped us students realise that there was no need to look elsewhere for inspiration. Instead, our own history and roots could help us find great ideas that could be turned into world-class products – our ancestors’ designs had always been world-class.
These ancestors embraced the idea of sustainable design. They had an understanding of what was both aesthetically pleasing and practical. Even if they perhaps did not know they were doing things according to sustainable principles, sustainability was deeply engrained in their designs. Material use was efficient, nothing was wasted, and everything was locally manufactured. If things broke, they got fixed. Due to limited resources and limited space, everything had to be both functional and beautiful. And beauty and function still matter to this today.
I am greatly inspired by the items in our National Museum. These historical objects have timeless beauty. All of the items, made out of wood, have improved the more they have been used over time. Everything in their design has a purpose, nothing is superfluous.
Wood is a great sustainable choice in design. It is renewable and it stores carbon, both in the forest and in the final product. The longer a wood product is in use, whether a piece of furniture or an everyday tool, the longer the carbon remains stored within the product. Timeless design and wood are a great combination, and a great designer can apply both function and beauty in wood design. The consumer also can make a difference by purchasing sustainable products instead of things that will not stand the test of time.
I do not, though, think that everything was better back in the times of our ancestors. People struggled to work with nature, and many were more concerned with striving to best it. Our ancestors would, for example, burn forests down for richer soil, which was very far from sustainable practice.
As times change, we learn to adapt and thrive changes. Things improve and get better. That is why I design my work for today’s needs. I want to design products that have their own history, and that will last a lifetime.
Finnish designer Tapio Anttila has worked in the Lahti region for more than two decades. In 2005 he started his own business and in 2016 launched his timeless Tapio Anttila collection. He has won both national and international awards, including the Green Good Design Award for years 2010 and 2015.