Ella Nartey Wins Hyundai Award for project ‘WASTE NOT’

RCA BLK had the pleasure of sitting with Ella Nartey, RCA MA Interior Design 2023 Graduate and winner of the Hyundai Awards for Sustainability and Creative Practice (2023). Her thesis project WASTE NOT is the culmination of Nartey’s ambitions and interests: welding sustainable material innovation, brand integrated design and circular design strategies specifically within the commercial design sector. 

RB: What does sustainability through design look/feel like to you?

EN: I think it involves designers and more often clients really exploring their options rather than maybe choosing the more obvious and financially driven design solutions. For example, If specifying a material it’s choosing to support designers and new product innovations that have a sustainability focus at their core. But this is often the more expensive or time consuming option so it’s choosing to stay on that path and not dilute sustainable ambitions through the design process. As designers I believe it’s our responsibility to push for this, as a client ultimately they get the final sign off, but it’s choosing the right briefs and projects which align with your design ethos as a designer and also for consumers to push for this and turn put pressure on brands to make it a non-negotiable in their briefs.

There’s so many new and innovative materials out there but the research and regulations surrounding materials with the built environment often just makes a project financially unsustainable. It really needs the big established names that can afford to support new innovation, working with new and upcoming designers and material researchers providing financial support or collaboration to facilitate their progression to a mainstream market.

More specifically within Interior design, as a discipline it is one that tends to work within the existing, this presents it’s own challenges trying to avoid following trends too much as a designer and choosing products, materials and concepts that offer longevity and allow for maintenance or flexibility in future design - avoiding design with any built in obsolescence and planning for the disposal and end of life especially when it’s comes down to temporary design, whether than be an installation or pop design store etc.

RB: How much of this is embodied in your work and/or infiltrates your identity as a designer?

EN: It’s something I’ve always wanted to strive for and integrate within my designs. Unfortunately, when working as a designer, especially when working on large scale projects there’s often less opportunity to do this as ultimately this has to be driven by the client and thus pushed for by consumers. Working for larger companies I find this is something that often gets (VE) valued engineered along the way. It is my ambition in the future to set up my own interior design studio which would focus on bringing a sustainable focus to large mainstream brands and supporting new and upcoming designers and innovators whose ethos’ align with mine. My project ‘WASTE NOT’ is a great portrayal of the direction I wish for my future practice to take.

RB: Your project ‘WASTE NOT’ is a full-circle solution to waste and consumption in the restaurant industry. Can you speak a bit more about the present issue within the UK?

EN: The UK throws away approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food waste per year whether that be from leftovers, expired products or waste created during manufacturing or production and arising from households, hospitality industry, food manufacture and retail/wholesale industry. This waste can be associated with producing 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. The hospitality sector generates around 3 million tonnes of food waste per year with currently less than 1% of this being recycled for human consumption. However, a staggering 70% of food waste is produced by households with each household throwing away an average of £470 worth of food per annum.

The ‘Waste Not’ ethos and programme aimed to explore a restaurant/ hospitality model that could help to address the waste culture within the hospitality industry but also educate diners about their attitudes to waste within their own domestic environments

My project WASTE NOT aims to re-evaluate our view on waste and our reliance on traditional raw materials within the design industry. Designing a zero-waste restaurant, sustainable brand and developing a number of biomaterials using food waste and by-products, I aim to promote sustainable material innovation and circular design within the built environment, specifically the hospitality sector, and to celebrate waste as a resource.  

RB: What inspired you to create ‘WASTE NOT’?

EN: Firstly, I was inspired by a desire to look into the hospitality sector and their often wasteful culture and create a possible restaurant model that could help educate and mitigate the amount of food waste by having a restricted menu and designing the complete circular design process to avoid waste from the food production processes. 

London’s first zero restaurant Silo which champions natural farming and closed loop cooking, was a large inspiration for the project. It’s a very different restaurant model and design but with a similar agenda and ethos demonstrating the consumer demand is there. I was very much inspired by their ethos of 'WASTE IS A FAILURE OF THE IMAGINATION'.

Other inspirations included books such as ‘Radical Matter’ by Kate Franklin and Caroline Till and ‘Why Materials Matter’ by Seetal Solanki.

Like many people I love food and going out to restaurants and believe often the best restaurants have a limited menu and do it well which helps to support sustainable restaurant practices. But I also wanted to create a full educational dining experience bringing further awareness to our food and overall waste culture and get people involved in an immersive experience to help reconsider how they themselves view waste within their own lives and homes and whether it can instead be used as a resource. 

RB: How was the experience being part of the Hyundai Awards, and then winning it? (Congratulations!!)

EN: It was a real honour to be awarded the Inspiration Prize for sustainability and creative practice at the inaugural Hyundai awards. It was a great experience to be awarded by the Executive Design Advisor and Brand Ambassador (Peter Schreyer) and the Head of Design at Hyundai (Simon Loasby) and to hear their amazing feedback (and on the same day as my RCA graduation no less). It was an amazing way to round up my RCA MA experience and gives me reassurance and motivation for my next steps in my design career.

RB: Where, in your opinion, do power dynamics lie in the framework of sustainability as it relates to spaces and architecture? 

EN: There are so many new and innovative materials out there but the research and regulations surrounding materials with the built environment often just makes a project financially unsustainable and are often a barrier to products reaching the market. It really needs the big established names that can afford to support new innovation, working with new and upcoming designers and material researchers providing financial support or collaboration to facilitate their progression to a mainstream market, they’re the ones who have the power to make real change and not just to hit legal sustainability targets but because it’s the correct thing to do. 

I also think it has a lot to do with the power dynamics between clients and consumers and clients and designers. Often sustainability is something designers strive for but due to financial and time implications it can be something clients choose to abandon during the design and development process. I believe it’s our duty and challenge as designers to push for environmentally sustainable design and where possible choosing briefs and clients that support this agenda. 

RB: What do you hope to continue on or bring into your practice moving forward? 

EN: I’m really interested in working with brands to bring their identities and brand ethos to life whether that be in hospitality, retail or temporary installation/pop up design for example. I most enjoy designing for a variety of briefs rather than a specific house style, I love narrative driven design so this is something I hope I am able to continue to pursue in the future. I would love to be involved in future collaborations with other designers within the RCA community and beyond and am very much excited for any future opportunities that come my way. 

To read more about Waste Not and follow Ella’s journey, visit her RCA2023 online portfolio.