Knusningens æstetik. Nina Husted Ericksen
The Aesthetic of Crushing

The Aesthetic of Crushing

‘Imagine that you could dismantle an old tiled roof, crush the roof tiles to make new tiles and then tile the roof anew. That would so beautiful,’ says Jacob S. Bang, clearly excited about the prospects, when Formkraft meets him and Nina Erichsen on a Zoom connection from the island of Bornholm one afternoon in May.

Jacob and Nina are both tutors at the Royal Danish Academy’s Institute of Architecture and Design, where they carry out artistic research: Jacob, with a focus on architecture at the Holmen campus in Copenhagen; Nina, with a focus on glass and ceramics in the academy’s campus on Bornholm.

Recently, they worked together on a project they call ‘The Aesthetic of Crushing’, which was presented in the exhibition Planetary Boundaries at the Royal Danish Academy and, most recently, at Form/Design Center in Malmö.

In all simplicity, the project is about exploring the potential for recycling fired clay. There is a special reason for this choice of focus.

Det Kongelige Akademi. Knusningens æstetik
From the exhibition 'Planetary Boundaries' at The Royal Danish Academy.

The crusher

‘Clay is a virgin material that we should use wisely. As an educational institution, we approach this subject, both in student projects and in the courses we offer, and that is why we have bought equipment for recycling fired clay,’ Nina Erichsen explains.


The equipment Nina refers to is a crusher with the capacity to handle up to 250 kg per day. It crushes ceramics, porcelain and other materials in fired clay, its output ranging from coarse chunks all the way down to a fine grade of 120 mesh, if that is what a project calls for.

The challenge with clay is that once it has been fired, it cannot be restored to its original state, unlike metal, for example, which can be melted down. However, when fired clay it is crushed, it can be mixed with fresh clay and recycled.

It was this discovery and technology that originally inspired the two researchers to initiate the project.

Knusningens æstetik
By adding a portion of fresh clay, the crushed material can be reused.
Photo: Private
When you tell people that when you pull clay out of the ground, it doesn’t come back, they’re actually shocked. They have no idea where clay comes from.

We have to do something

‘When you tell people that when you pull clay out of the ground, it doesn’t come back, they’re actually shocked. They have no idea where clay comes from,’ says Nina.

‘That’s how alienated many people are today, in the year 2024. No one has any idea where anything comes from. Four hundred years from now, there won’t be any more sand left for making glass. By then, we’ll be long gone, but that can’t be the end to that thought.’

Hence, she and Jacob joined forces to explore the potential for recycling materials. According to Nina, we need to take action.

‘In Denmark, we’re really good at asking a lot of questions, and that’s great, but we need to move beyond that. We have to do something.’

Knusningens æstetik
The Aesthetic of Crushing
Photo: Private

An alchemist’s approach

In the project ‘The Aesthetic of Crushing’, the two colleagues and researchers are taking an alchemist’s approach.

Jacob: ‘We are two colleagues with a shared interest in design and materials, and if you mix these two perspectives, you end up with something brand new. That matches the alchemist’s approach that we apply in the project.’

Nina: ‘Yes, you have no idea what is happening in Jacob’s mind, but you can get a glimpse, and then you find a place where the two of you can meet. That is where the development happens. We have an overlap, but otherwise, we occupy separate corners in the world of materials.’

A new look at sustainability

‘This alchemist’s approach is exactly what is needed. The Royal Danish Academy, Bornholm, used to have no concerns about buying clay and glazes. Today, the purchases have been scaled down’, says Nina.

‘We cannot justify simply continuing to use clay. We have to change the way we look at it and make this revised understanding part of the students’ perspective at a very early stage.’

Jacob adds, ‘Moreover, it’s a pretty good artistic limitation to impose, both in our project and for the students more generally: the idea that there are limits, and that we need to rethink what is left on earth.’

We both get bored with ugly materials very quickly. It has to have some juice. There has to be an aesthetic aspect before we think it’s okay.

Beauty in the material

To Jacob and Nina, ‘The Aesthetic of Crushing’ reflects another key issue: challenging the notion that as long as something is made from recycled materials, everything is great.

Nina: ‘Ten years ago, there was generally a strong focus on the story that if an object was made of something that would otherwise have been scrapped, it had value.’

Jacob: ‘Instead, our claim is that it should also possess beauty in itself, rather than simply pointing out that this is made of fishing nets pulled up from the deep somewhere. There is a lot of that. It is not necessarily wrong, but ours is a different story.’

Nina: ‘We both get bored with ugly materials very quickly. It has to have some juice. There has to be an aesthetic aspect before we think it’s okay.’

Knusningens æstetik
The Aesthetic of Crushing
Photo: Private

The zero-error culture is an obstacle

That is not the only key issue in the project. With many years’ experience as tutors, Jacob and Nina have also seen the zero-error culture gain ground in education: a development they believe we need to break, for the transition to be successful.

‘It helps that we conduct experiments and development work in the workshop, so the students see that we also make mistakes. “Oh, this one broke, we need to try something else.” “This one got too thin, what do we now?”,’ says Jacob, adding,

‘The zero-error culture is very widespread, and we aim to challenge it. Both on Bornholm and on Holmen.’

That is why their approach in ‘The Aesthetic of Crushing’ involved being physically present alongside the students, being visible and showing their results – good as well as bad, the two tutors explain.

Nina and Jacob experiment and develop in the workshop so that the students realise that they can also make mistakes.
Photo: Private

Next step: anything

Asked about the next step in the project, Jacob and Nina see many possibilities and have many ambitions. Their goal is to be able to scale the method up and use the recycled materials in construction. Perhaps as the foundation for a shed or as part of a building.

Jacob: ‘The next thing we would like to do is something very big. Something on a large scale. We would like to be able to decide exactly how big the components should be and work with different surfaces: sanding, glazing and so forth.’

In technical terms, there is a limit to what the crusher can handle. Nina explains that it is not possible to crush anything harder than granite, but anything below that threshold will work fine. For example, the students on Bornholm are crushing minerals and stones for glaze.

‘In principles, you can put anything into the crusher. You can put in a toilet bowl,’ Jacob explains.

Do you have any new collaborative projects in the pipeline?

Nina: ‘The City of Copenhagen has a pilot project involving the local citizens’ ceramic and porcelain waste. It would be brilliant if they had a crusher, and you could put all sorts of thing in and produce an aesthetic version of the classic Copenhagen bench based on crushed materials.’

So far, the dialogue with the City of Copenhagen remains on a conceptual basis, but the enthusiasm is unmistakable:

‘I think that would make a brilliant project. If I was 35, I would run with that,’ Nina says enthusiastically.

Knusningens æstetik
There is interest from industry, but Nina and Jacob have not yet established collaborations. For them, research is the main focus at the moment.

Inspiration for industry

‘The Aesthetic of Crushing’ has also offered opportunities for working with industry. A flowerpot manufacturer has reached out to us, but with two full-time jobs, we have not yet had the time to engage in a dialogue.’

‘I also believe that industry might address this directly. Some people will lead the way and provide inspiration, and others will pick up the ideas. It’s really a very simple process. If you invest in some equipment, you can get started,’ says Nina.

The two tutors’ approach is transparent, and they share their results as widely as possible.

‘We enjoy the research process and enjoy creating something that serves as inspiration. Then it’s up to others to move it forward,’ says Jacob.

They are also planning to publish a paper on the project in order to reach a wider audience than the exhibition has already done. Everything they do will produce additional ripples in the water, they explain.
‘We were contacted by a Swedish researcher, who was very interested in minerals and crushed materials, so we are also building a network with a more technical outlook. In time, it may also include industry,’ says Jacob.

Knusningens æstetik
For both Nina and Jacob, form and aesthetics are the most important focal points when it comes to giving recycled building materials a new and long life.
Photo: Private

A zero-energy project

For the next stage of the project, Nina and Jacob are considering alternative materials and methods.

Jacob: ‘We still want to see what other materials we can mix with the crushed substance. For now, we are mixing in a little fresh clay, but we could also experiment with other materials and achieve different surfaces.’

However, the big issue is whether this can ever become a zero-energy project if the crusher continues to require electricity, and the elements are fired in a CO2-emitting kiln.

Nina: ‘These are the critical questions our colleagues have asked: what is the cost of crushing and firing? Even though this is a second round, you still need to include those costs in the calculation.’

That consideration inspired the idea of working with raw elements and unfired surfaces.

Jacob: ‘Historically, people have been able to build houses from unfired bricks, as long as the house had a good roof and proper eaves. That might also be an interesting possibility.’

Nina: ‘Yes, or a rammed-earth floor or wall.’

Form and aesthetic above all else

They both view form and aesthetic as the key priorities in giving recycled building materials a long new life.

‘If the industrial manufacturers are simply given free rein, you’ll lose the poetic qualities,’ says Nina, adding,

‘We are very focused on authenticity and surfaces, form and structure. This means that much will be lost if the focus is placed entirely on how much energy it takes to produce this brick or that tile in the most optimal way. As I see it, we need to strike the right balance.’

The coming generations of architects and makers hold the key to effecting change.

We need to be mindful, not dogmatic

Both Jacob and Nina believe that the coming generations of architects and makers hold the key to effecting change.

‘We need to raise awareness among the students. Many come here with a traditional mindset in relation to form, function and expression, with no thought for the consumption of energy or materials,’ says Nina.

However, there is also a balancing act involved in educating young people who need to experiment in order to learn. She adds,

‘There is a limit to how dogmatic an educational institution should be. We need to try some things and run tests to see if we can drink from it, pour from it or sit on it.’

‘But we are raising awareness among the students. Thus, at the very least, they have been informed about the need to bear this dimension in mind, and that imposes a certain obligation,’ Jacob concludes.

Theme: Green Production

Does it even make sense to create new products in a world where mountains of waste shape landscapes and the planet’s resources are exhausted by February? Humanity faces massive challenges to preserve the planet as more and more people have the opportunity to join the consumption party. Formkraft explores how crafts artists and designers are contributing to the green transition.

Read theme

More knowledge in the archive!

The Formkraft archive contains a goldmine of articles with digitized journals from 1948-2009 and new publications. Search the ARCHIVE or find inspiration here:

Craft and design – a velvet revolution?

Craft maker and designer Helle Graabæk discusses the competencies that are developed through a craft and design practice and reflects on the capacity of craft and design to drive transformation in a time with an abundance of products but a lack of quality and sensuous qualities and sensibilities. She takes her point of departure at Design School Kolding (DSKD), where she is a teaching associate professor and thus has first-hand insight into the mindset of the new craft makers and designers. At the school, the new generation of makers and designers generate new potentials for the textile field that we can all learn from.

Read article

Maria Viftrup
Maria Viftrup

Slow Luxury: Jewellery and Sustainability

Designer and goldsmith Katrine Ingrid Christensen graduated from the Design School Kolding with a collection of recycled jewellery. Now, she works in couture for one of the world’s largest luxury brands. Here, she talks about working with sustainability in a jewellery world that, at the same time, demands attachment to the products but is also influenced by the race of fashion trends.

Read interview

Traces. Katrine Ingrid Christensen. Smykker.
Katrine Ingrid Christensen

Masters of materials

Craft makers and designers have a unique advantage when it comes to decorative projects, installations and building-integrated art in the public space: an in-depth grasp and knowledge of materials.

Glass artist and Maria Sparre-Petersen, teaching associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy, sees new possibilities in an elastic field spanning from classic decorative projects to the virtual space that everyone now carries in their back pocket.

Read interview

Maria Sparre-Petersen udsmykning af kirke
Maria Sparre-Petersen

Vibrant, living materials: Can we develop heightened awareness of the life of materials?

How do we change our relationship with the materials around us to become more aware of their life and development? The EU’s new legislation on sustainable production is a step in the right direction, but it’s far from enough.

Read article

Med projektet 'Biopolymer 3D print og Radicant' undersøges hvordan affaldsprodukter fra fødevareindustrien og landbruget kan blive til et nyt arkitektonisk byggemateriale.