Founded in 2014, Atelier LUMA is an Arles-based design research facility, combining think tank, producer, learning network and library for knowledge. It functions as an interdisciplinary center producing exhibitions, educational initiatives, and design archives with the goal of integrating artistic, ecological, social, and economic activity – using design to develop new ways of caring for a bioregion.

As one of the featured exhibitors at The Future of Work – the exhibition staged by A/D/O with IdeasCity at Urban Matters in Shanghai – Atelier LUMA applied one of its ongoing projects to the specificity of the exhibition site. In Arles, the Atelier’s Algae Lab harvests and farms local micro-algae and then converts them into biopolymers with the potential to replace non-biodegradable, fossil fuel-derived plastics. The objects are designed to reflect the historicity and specificity of vessels from the Camargue region; bringing together the biological firmament of its environment with the social and historical features of its urban environment.

Installed alongside the SUPERLOCAL project by Andrea de Chirico, Atelier LUMA’s installation similarly attended to the particularities of pursuing a similar project in a new urban setting. de Chirico’s project involved the custom construction of particular domestic goods (such as a blow-dryer) using a panoply of different raw materials available based within a one-mile radius of his location. At The Future of Work, Atelier LUMA’s chemical flasks grew live algae cultures derived from the local environment in Shanghai. Using a 3D printer, the polymers derived from their harvesting were formed into bowls and dishes, mirrored after traditional local serving vessels.

The Algae Lab is part of Producing (in) the City – one of Atelier LUMA's six core strategies, predicated on learning from local biomaterials. The other five are Waste Matters – which looks at the potential of reusing discarded materials; Healthy Mobility, studying regional transportation flows; Next Hospitality, fostering more sensitive tourism; Food Circle, tracing the cycles of food systems; and Circular Education, which unites all fields in evolving pedagogy through collaboration.

Atelier artistic director Jan Boelen frames the work as part of a larger investigative strategy. “We’re now dealing more with what is happening in a changing world,” Boelen told Emanuele Quintz in 2015. “Through these developments – in society, in the market, and in the relationship between labor, capital, and production – design and designers will play new roles. I hope that greater importance will be attached to the human aspect in relation to the object as such; I hope to see more processes than products, more living than consuming, and more context than concept. Design, under the guise of neutrality, has the capacity to transmit highly political critiques of these relationships.”

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