Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel focuses on lifestyle products that produce their own solar energy too.
Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel is as much an artist as she is an inventor although some of her clean-energy creations suggest it could just as easily be the other way around. Van Aubel focuses on the beauty of lifestyle products – windows, tables, interior lighting – that are hard at work producing their own solar energy too.
“From working with expandable materials, to domestically integrating solar cells that mimic the process of photosynthesis in plants, she adds a double function to objects and puts them to work,” her website bio explains. “A table is not just a table, but also a producer of electricity.”
That’s true of Current Table, one of the products offered through Caventou, a business the designer launched to help bring some of her work to the consumer market after its success on exhibit at the Design Museum in London or the Stedelijk Museum at home in Amsterdam.
The color isn’t just for aesthetics. The table creates an energy source within itself by integrating solar cells that rely on color to create an electrical current. “The dye-sensitized solar cells also work efficiently under diffuse light, effectively making it the first piece of furniture to harvest energy indoors,” explains van Aubel.
There are no cables, so the Current Table maintains an elegant presence while staying self-sufficient to charge user devices. It also is a “smart” table with an app that tells users how much energy is stored. The same process is at work in the Current Window, which looks like modern-era stained glass when installed. The windows work as units or can be mounted at scale to harvest energy.
It’s the process at work in “Power Plant,” a self-sufficient greenhouse concept that has won van Aubel a few accolades, including a winning Climate Action Challenge spot from the global What Design Can Do network. The solar cells embedded in the greenhouse glass create enough energy to support rooftop greenhouse-grown food, which the designer envisions as part of a future climate-friendly urban system.
“What if we can harvest both electricity and food within one system using the power of the sun?” she asks. As with her other projects, the greenhouse was created in collaboration with The New Institute museum in Rotterdam, architect Emma Elston, researcher Yasmine Ostendorf, glass manufacturer Physee and the University of Amsterdam. She’s also worked with the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN) to promote “extreme energy efficiency” through intelligent design.
The ECN and designer Nadja Swarovski have developed solar crystals that van Aubel uses in the “Cyanometer” piece, a pendant that integrates the angle cuts in the crystals to make the solar energy cells more efficient. The mobile unit can spend the day in the sun, but then return to a Cyanometer docking station that emits the light indoors – a process and product that netted yet another award.
That’s not what van Aubel’s really after though. “Why do solar panels always have to be so ugly?” she asked during a December 2018 Tedx Talk in Amsterdam, one of many questions she raised about ways to make solar use more attractive, affordable and accessible for everyone. She wants to make products that rely on abundant clean energy, but she doesn’t want them kept in museums when they belong in our homes and our lives.