Water hyacinth

Water hyacinth I started a new job three weeks ago and that, along with six credits of grad school, leaves me with little time to blog. Yesterday, however, I received the March 2007 issue of Fast Company, a magazine that rarely fails to inspire. I opened to page 28 and read a short piece about CA Boom, a design trade show in Santa Monica, California that runs from March 30 to April 1. Along with the usual cast of design-show characters, CA Boom makes a special effort to introduce “envelope-pushing independent designers”.

Pictured in the article was the Sushi Daybed, designed by Project Import Export‘s (PIE) Bannavis Andrew Sribyatta using the water hyacinth plant. The daybed is available directly from PIE or from Vivavi, InMod, and other vendors and was named one of Architectural Record‘s Product Reports 2006 winners. The daybed is gorgeous – sensuous, tactile, and soothing. That it is made from water hyacinth makes it especially intriguing.
Sushi daybed

Though it’s a pretty little plant, water hyacinth is billed as “one of the worst weeds in the world.” (See the US Department of Agriculture’s site for additional information and numerous links.) Here’s what the Western Aquatic Plant Management Society has to say about it:

Water hyacinth is listed as one of the most productive plants on earth and is considered one of the world’s worst aquatic plants. It forms dense mats that interfere with navigation, recreation, irrigation, and power generation. These mats competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants. Low oxygen conditions develop beneath water hyacinth mats and the dense floating mats impede water flow and create good breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

This weed has a dreadful reputation, so clearly any commercial use of the plant is an environmental plus. A quick Google search revealed several other manufacturers of water hyacinth furniture – some quite nice and others run-of-the-mill. What distinguishes PIE’s product, however, is its unabashed modernity. Besides furniture, the plant can be converted into the enzyme cellulase and is used in coffee processing, textile manufacturing, laundry detergents, the paper industry, for pharmaceutical and medical applications, and biofuels.

Kudos to PIE for making something beautiful from this noxious plant. As designers, we need to make a special effort to support sustainable efforts like these.

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