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Bennie Meek

Bennie Meek has come up with some fascinating ideas with his research-based design projects.  A DAE graduate, both his “Living Pavement” and “Death is Natural” projects focus on rethinking man’s relationship with his immediate natural environment.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 15-08-2013

“Death Is Natural” was one of the most intriguing projects presented last year during the Design Academy Eindhoven’s graduation show.  Creepy yet lyrical it pressured observers into accepting death as natural, and to embrace dead bodies as a useful part of the ecosystem.

“My idea is to show that bodies should be donated to nature,” designer Bennie Meek says.  “Currently dead animals are removed from nature because the carcasses scare people.  I think this stems from ignorance. In actual fact dead material is part of any ecosystem.”

The other issue is human remains.  “Recently I spoke with Wim de Haas of Alterra,” says Meek.  “He explained that a lot of people think burying people is bad for nature for dubious reasons like the medication they took might seep into the soil.  But really none of the research conducted by Alterra supports this idea.

“I believe that by hiding death we 'harm' ourselves because we make it impossible to genuinely connect with nature.  I also think is disrupts nature itself.”

“Death is Natural” is a project Meek would like to see developed further.  “I am entering it into competitions,” he says.  “Finding funding and support will take years, but it is certainly my goal.”

More recently Meek has been working on the “Living Pavement” project together with designer Vincent Wittenberg.  This project strives for a more natural, spontaneous and diverse urban nature.

The point is to devise ways to divert rainwater away from sewage pipes by creating open pavements.  These would allow plants to grow and water to sink down naturally into the soil.

“Rainwater drainage needs to be disconnected from the sewage system,” says Meek.  “Today 60% of Dutch municipalities are trying to cope with an overloaded sewerage system.”  There are also all the subsequent problems such as flooding and the discharge of polluted water.

“For this to happen we need to preserve urban vegetation, which creates micro-life in the soil.  This, in turn, allows water to infiltrate the ground more easily.”

Meek says the Netherlands - with its abundance of rain - is the best place to test out his ideas and is currently in discussions with both Dutch social housing companies and local municipalities to get the project realized.

The “Living Pavement” project mostly concerns urban nature, which is more broadly speaking Meek’s principal interest.  “In the Netherlands there is no natural nature and funnily enough there is more diversity in the cities than in the countryside, which is now just consistent farmed land.  I am interested to see how this city nature can be changed, how something new can be introduced.”

This ambition is actually more complicated than it sounds and touches on the psychology of nature.  “Nature in urban areas can be quite contradictory,” Meek says.  “It both relaxes people and offers stress relief, but can also make them scared.  Introducing something new needs to be considered -- how far can you go to increase people’s relaxation without making them feel uncomfortable. 

“It is all about introducing the right design strategies,” Meek continues.  “And I think for this there needs to be a more coordinated effort between, for example, municipalities, social housing organizations, water boards and environmental groups.  Only then can such design strategies be really effective.”

Images: Main and three small from bottom from "The Living Pavement" project.  Three small from top from the "Death is Natural" project.

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