At Rhizome, we’ve been working at making the idea of sustainability sustainable through design since 2009. We go beyond sustainable design, to designing the possibility of sustainability and a better world.
We believe that sustainability needs to be looked at holistically and across disciplines to actually begin to be mainstreamed. This is why we work at the intersection of craft, design and sustainability, and go beyond eco-design to looking at sustainability holistically. We look at social, economic and cultural sustainability alongside the ecological factor because we believe that everything is interconnected and that everything counts.
In 2009, Rebecca Reubens founded Rhizome, India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability design studio. Rebecca had just returned to Ahmedabad in India after working in the international development sector for 7 years. Her work across Asia, Africa and Europe had convinced her that the efforts to address the sustainability crises in the global north did not fit the ground realities of the global south. The ecological focus of sustainability efforts in the global north were not realistically transferable to the global south, which had a socio-economic priority as it was still struggling to provide basic human needs. Rebecca therefore decided to found Rhizome, as a holistic sustainability design studio which would explore how sustainability could be realized in the global south.
Taking on holistic sustainability was often daunting and we often wondered if we were biting off more than we could chew. Sustainability was not the buzz-word in 2009 that it is today, but Rebecca believed that climate change and unsustainability were here to stay and that Rhizome was relevant. She also believed that design was ideally positioned to be a powerful game-changer in the world’s sustainability story. To deepen her knowledge on the nuts and bolts of sustainable design, Rebecca decided to supplement her NID education in design with a PhD in sustainability from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. One of the outputs of her PhD was the Rhizome Approach—which is the holistic sustainability design framework we follow at the studio.
Years later, we are glad that we persevered with design which integrated each of the beautifully complex, wicked and non-negotiable piece that made up the compound unsustainability problem. We continue to look beyond single silo factors—such as the user, the market and production lines—to an integrated design brief. Sustainability is not just an add-on to our design brief—it central to our design brief.
Our designs are developed in collaboratively with a cross section of actors, including communities. This helps us look at all the pieces of the sustainability jig-saw—including the economic, social, cultural, and ecological—to design sustainable products with underpinning production to consumption systems.
NAMING OUR STUDIO 'RHIZOME'
The name ‘Rhizome’ comes both from Rebecca’s extensive work in bamboo and also from one of her favourite books, A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari.
Bamboo’s underground plant stems are called ‘rhizomes’ in botanical terms. Each bamboo rhizome sends down roots or sends up shoots, and links itself to other rhizomes. This metaphor resonates with what we believe design needs to be—a decentralized network, without a definitive beginning or end, with tremendous flexibility to inform and be informed by inputs from every adjacency.
Deleuze and Guattari describe the principles of a rhizome best in their inspirational book, A Thousand Plateaus:
Principles of connection and heterogeneity: Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be
Principles of multiplicity: It is only when the multiple is effectively treated as substantive 'multiplicity' that it ceases to have any relation to the One
Principles of asignifying rupture: A rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its own lines, or on a new line
Principles of cartography and decalcomania: A rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model it is a 'map and not a tracing'
We strive to imbibe the properties of a rhizome and collaboratively design products and systems that are socially, culturally, ecologically and economically interdependent and yet function independently.
Our team comprises a tight ecosystem of people who truly want to be the change we want to see. Our core team comprises a small but dedicated design and prototyping resource people led by Rebecca at our atelier in Ahmedabad.
We are a collaborative design studio, and in true rhizomatic mode, have resource people spread all over the world that connect with our core team on projects.
If you want to know more about why we do what we do, we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're in Ahmedabad, pop into the studio and we can chat about how we are passionate about sustainability. We hope we soon live in a world where the good guys don't need to prove they are sustainable, and the bad guys are labelled unsustainable instead...