Built to Deconstruct: Creating an Up-Cyclable Playground

Sep 21, 2021 1:10 PM ET
Blog

In nature, nothing is wasted. That concept inspires us. To celebrate the reintroduction of our beloved ReEmber slip-on camp shoe—now made with adventure-ready 100% recycled ripstop—we took a page from our product designers and strived to debut this fan-favorite with a lighter footprint.

Remember being a kid and building your own universe out of whatever blankets, boxes, and couch cushions you could scrape together? In that spirit of ingenuity, Teva invited a few collaborators to reimagine a playground of movable structures that left no trace and could be recycled and upcycled as much as possible.

“Sharing ideas and collaborating with other creatives is one of my favorite parts of this job,” shared creative director Lyndsey Lee Faulkner. “The way I see something can be approached completely differently by someone else. The more we can challenge ourselves to see from multiple perspectives, the better the ideas and solutions will be. When ideas start to bounce around freely, the excitement is palpable.”

The trio of friends behind i/thee design studio—Martin Hitch, Neal Lucas Hitch, and Kristina Fisher— jumped in with the enthusiasm of kids in a candy store. They’ve crafted buildings and architectural installations that range from a human-powered Ferris wheel in the Hungarian countryside, a master plan for a sculpture garden at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum in Ocotillo, CA, and a prototypal eco-dwelling in partnership with the Burning Man organization in Washoe County, Nevada.

We caught up with Martin, Neal, and Kristina to hear more about how they approached the structure design to minimize waste.

What was the inspiration behind these set pieces?

MARTIN FRANCIS HITCH: We were really inspired by the idea that ReEmber shoes have the silhouette of a sneaker in a super soft, flexible material. We thought it was interesting to take that approach and apply it to other traditionally rigid forms. What would it look like to build a staircase out of foam? The rest of the installation grew around that central concept.

KRISTINA FISHER: We were also inspired by the movement of the ReEmber shoe and aimed to design an installation that instigated whimsical choreography amidst the harsh desert landscape. My favorite feature of the design is the variety of shapes the pieces form. This allowed the models to interact with the set installation in more ways than we could imagine.

Tell us about the desert salt flats environment where you staged these set pieces. How was the surrounding landscape considered in the design?

NEAL LUCAS HITCH: In terms of the surroundings, we try not to make too big a distinction between “landscape” and “design/architecture.” We see it as one thing. The wood we used to make the fort used to be trees. The fabrics were spun from plants. With that in mind, we placed a big emphasis on building responsibly and respecting the materials we were working with. It would be a shame to harm the earth with the very gifts it’s given us to make this art. That’s one reason why it was so important to us to use recycled materials and to find a home for the pieces that were not recycled.

MARTIN FRANCIS HITCH: Color—and how this structure would photograph against the landscape— played a huge role in the development of the structure. We ultimately landed on a color palette that drew inspiration from the natural landscape while also using pops of pale pastel colors to really make the structure stand out against the salt flats.

We love that the entire set was created to be deconstructed and upcycled—leaving as little waste as possible. How did you approach the design, materials, and construction differently with this goal in mind and why?

KRISTINA FISHER: Recycled materials played a huge part in the development of the ReEmber shoe and it was super important to everyone involved with the project that we carry that same challenge into the set design. We designed each structure using recycled materials or materials that could be upcycled. All our decisions were geared toward making the recycling and upcycling process as easy as possible. A lot of the detachable pieces were clad with recycled foams. By using low-stick adhesives and non-permanent fasteners, we were able to easily disassemble the installation without damaging the elements. We were also intentional about designing the set pieces using conventional dimensions in order to minimize off-cuts and waste.

NEAL LUCAS HITCH: We really see fighting climate change as the defining challenge of our era—for us as designers especially, but also for everyone. Even the simplest acts of construction are ultimately destructive to the planet. For this reason, we always try to be conscious of how our designs affect our home, planet earth. We really see it as essential and it permeates all the decisions we make from the beginning to the end of the process.

Where are the set pieces living now for their second life?

MARTIN FRANCIS HITCH: The majority of the pieces were given to a new retail shop in Berkeley, which will be using them to display products throughout the store. The last couple of the pieces found new homes as furniture in my apartment and the apartment of one of our friends who worked on the build crew. The acoustical foam was stripped from the stairs and donated to a couple in the process of building out a new music studio. The two-story colonnade structure was deconstructed and the lumber was given away to people across the bay for re-use in their own construction projects. One person intended to use the lumber to build a chicken coop and another was building a treehouse with their daughter to begin to teach her construction and woodworking skills. The remaining wood scraps were taken to a lumber recycling facility.