For the last ten years, the MullenLowe NOVA Awards have focused the attention of the creative community onto some of the most outstanding emerging talent from Central Saint Martins. This year, we partnered with MullenLowe Group to sponsor the inaugural Creative Boom Conscious Award.
The accolade recognises a project that reflects, responds to or champions lasting positive change in today's society. While there were many contenders from the shortlisted students, it was ultimately Francesca Dalosio's clever project Ulïètu that won this coveted prize.
Ulïètu tackles the problem of Xylella Fastidiosa, one of the world's most dangerous plant-pathogenic bacteria. Spread by the spittlebug, this bacteria dehydrates trees, causing leaf scorch, wilt, die-back and ultimately death in a total of 563 species.
In 2013, Xylella began spreading in southern Apulia, Italy, due to the importation of an infected Costa Rican coffee plant. Since then, half of the region's olive trees have died from it, precisely 21 million trees. Subsequently, olive trees in southern France, Corsica, Portugal and southern Spain have become infected too.
To prevent Xylella's spread, the infected trees must be immediately eradicated by being passed through a wood chipper and then burnt. Francesca's project presents an alternative to the last part: transforming the wood chips into surface panels, which can be used in construction and interior design.
This preserves what remains of the Apulian olive trees, giving them a second chance at life. It's a simple yet impactful idea that could immediately make a difference while encouraging architects and designers to think carefully about the materials they specify for their projects.
We chatted with Francesca to find out how she came up with the idea and the challenges in putting it into practice.
How did the initial idea come about? How did you hear about this bacteria?
I come from Apulia, the same region that has been affected by Xylella bacteria. This catastrophic event is something I've witnessed in my car journeys around Apulia. The first time I saw that cemetery of olive trees was in 2018, in the southernmost city of the region. We had a long moment of silence looking at those trees.
The problem is urgent: 21 million olive trees have been eradicated, and the region of Apulia is surrounded by too many wood carcasses that will be burned. So, my purpose since the beginning of the research stage has been to recover as much material as I can and recontextualise it in a large-scale context like the construction sector.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The first barrier was recovering the olive wood chips, which were already devitalised and ready for biomass production. The phytosanitary treatment takes a long time to ensure that the wood chips are totally free from the bacteria. But I only had a short time to develop this project, so instead, I imported and processed some wood chips from a non-infected species.
How did you achieve the different colours for the surface material?
Ulïètu drywalls are a selection of two natural ingredients and two wood chip densities selected before the pressing process. The black version comes from the same wood chips' charcoal powder, which gives strength and an unconventional stone effect to the result. The green version, meanwhile, is provided by a unique and beneficial ingredient: olive leaf powder.
Where can this material be applied?
The main places for Ulïètu to be applied are on walls and surfaces such as tables and panels. It's a versatile material.
Was there anything that surprised you about the project?
Even though there is a general sadness from people around this issue, I was simply astonished by the genuineness of everyone who helped me with this project. The experts I spoke to were motivated to tell me everything they knew and provided me with all the documentation I needed to certify my theories. Plus, the olive growers planned more than one video call to show me their trees, despite the current Pandemic.
What are your plans now?
I'm continuing to talk with a group of people, trying to build a community of Apulian engineers, researchers, agronomists and designers. My aim is to find answers to exigencies like the Xylella one, helping my region to recover from traumas like this with a stronger regional 'circular economy'.