If you’re lucky enough to be visiting next week’s New Designers show in London, which functions like a giant coming-out party for each year’s batch of graduating UK design students, you’re apt to see plenty of examples of projects meant to highlight how things are made. But only for one of them, presumably, will those things be mass-produced bread and highways. For his thesis at Brighton University of Architecture & Design, erstwhile Max Lamb intern Josh Bitelli got to know his local bakers and roadworkers, collaborating with each of them to produce a series of trophies, vases, and furnishings made from the raw materials used by two overlooked, workaday industries. Much like Carly Mayer’s documentation of roof-tile and fireworks factories previously published on Sight Unseen, Bitelli’s investigation into these “integral yet inaccessible” domains, as he puts it, explores the idea that “we have little idea of the inner workings of industrial production, and little or no relation to the people behind the scenes.”
Check out the two resulting series in more depth below, including making-of videos and photographs shot by the designer, who had this to say about the origins of the project: “A little while ago I made a project that refined the production of shot glasses to just one road. Foundry Street Glasses used a local pub as a design studio and a lone glassblower that worked a few doors down as the factory. I took little blobs of modeling wax, the kind that’s moldable in the heat of your hands, and asked random drinkers to make a shot glass. We made plaster casts of these in pre-prepared boxes and left them by an open fire to dry. John King, the glassblower, struggles with his business and finds relationships with clients tricky, so with his involvement I hoped to knit a community together and re-map production in terms of hubs of activity and facilities. I attempted to design aesthetics out of the process by creating a system rather than a polished object. This exercise in co-design was appreciated when presented in an exhibition space, but at the time, was quite the anticlimax: The participants were unhappy with their bubble-ridden glasses and considered them inferior to their industrially produced counterparts.
“The experiment felt more like an after-work activity than a serious discussion into global production and local, untapped skill. To try and get people interested in how things are made, I decided I should twist very standard and relatable industries, such as tarmac-laying, rather than an alchemic one like glassblowing. I realized the need to take more control over the process hacks that I’m interested in, too, so I started work on a set of trophies to celebrate established production methods, and the craftsmen that work behind-the-scenes to keep our lives seamless.”
Forfars Bakery Trophies
Bitelli’s rough-hewn, slip-cast Trophies not only pay homage to the 75th anniversary of the Forfars Bakery in Brighton, they also highlight the industrial machinery and mass-production processes that have allowed the bakery to remain competitive despite the changing nature of the bread business. Taking a more hands-on approach, the designer borrowed some of Forfars’s product to create large bread molds into which he poured semi-porcelain slip, performing thousands of tests with different types of loaves. “The slip had to be left for around six weeks to dry, and in this time, the surrounding bread grew some really amazing mold, I think because of the oxides and stains in the slip body,” he told Sight Unseen. “I tried to copy this color palette in the finished vases.” Bitelli was particularly proud of proving it was possible “to hack even the most standardized and safety-checked industries for the production of artisanal and crafted objects,” he writes in his project description.
View from outside the bakeryRon, one of the bakery workersThe bakery’s main raw ingredient: French and Canadian flourPouring the semi-porcelain slip into one of the bread mold testsMulticolored mold growing on the outside of the bread moldsFinished trophies in the kiln, hand-painted to resemble the mold growth
Palmeira Furniture and Repaired Vessels
In partnering with a team of Brighton roadworkers to create his Palmeira and Repaired Vessels pieces, Bitelli was working in the time-honored tradition of using design to bring new value to an underappreciated corner of everyday life. “If laid well, roads have a lifespan of fifteen years,” he writes in his project description, “and like true craftsmen, the line painters can decipher which of them has painted a line by its minute detailing.” Despite how integral their work is to society, though, their efforts are most often viewed as “little more than an inconvenience.” In an attempt to acknowledge those efforts, Bitelli harnessed the materials and expertise of the roadworkers to collaborate with them on a series of asphalt works that evoke Maarten Baas moreso than manual labor. “The Repaired Vessels in asphalt and line paint proved that I could manipulate a material that’s only ever found on flat surfaces into upright forms,” he told us. “The molten asphalt was pushed into a three-part plaster mold and quenched in water. Strategic cuts were made into the components to test how the thermoplastic line paint could support the structures.” Once he developed a technique for hand-building the forms around steel frames, squeezing the asphalt on like wet clay, the Palmeira furniture collection was born.
A planer unloading the day’s supply of asphaltTwo of the roadworkers goofing aroundBitelli’s purpose-built burner for melting his asphalt supplyThe steel frame for the Palmeira benchThe Palmeira frame hand-packed with asphalt and left to dry