Meeting Juliet Arnott of Rekindle

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I recently went down to Christchurch for a research trip with Elam. During my time there I got the chance to meet with Juliet Arnott of Rekindle. All I knew about Rekindle, prior to the visit, was that it was an organisation that made furniture out of materials from demolished houses in Christchurch. Not far into my conversation with Juliet, I quickly realised how much wider the scope of the project was. With her background as an occupational therapist, her understanding of wage-labour systems and working environments encouraged her to create a company which functions as a community, rather than a corporation. I found myself wanting to drop everything and get behind Rekindle.


Chris and I grew up in Christchurch. We both moved away for University, returning for holidays or to visit family and friends. After the series of devastating earthquakes, I found that the city I grew up in was no longer there. In its place were absences of buildings, landmarks and people. Over the years it has been a huge encouragement to see the city find its feet and grow with a fresh can-do attitude. The very fabric of the city itself feels transitional and movemental. Things happen as quickly as they disappear. Rekindle embodies many of the things I find encouraging about the potential of Christchurch to become an extraordinary city.


The idea for Rekindle was originally intended for Auckland. Juliet came up with the idea during her time at Elam (we were in first year together). However, after speaking at a transitional architecture conference in Christchurch, she realised that Christchurch was a place that needed such a project. She quickly gathered a team of enthusiastic people at the conference who shared her ideas and started something great in a devastated city.


With the huge number of residential houses and commercial buildings needing to be demolished, the amount of waste that is produced is astonishing. Juliet told me that rights to the detritus from demolition belong entirely to the demolition companies, and most of these materials go to the Burwood Resource park, where so far 450,000 tonnes of crushed demolition waste have been taken. She explained how difficult it was to convince the construction companies to let them intercept the materials one way or another. Rekindle hires a salvage team to go in and collect the materials they need before the houses are demolished.


Nothing goes to waste: Rekindle makes everything from furniture to jewellery. The offcuts are used, and then the offcuts of the offcuts are used. Rekindle is a platform for the use of materials more than a design brand or company; allowing a diverse and ever-changing range of products to be produced. They invite designers to propose potential designs that will make use of the inventory of materials available. The objects are sold as Rekindle pieces, but are attributed back to the designers. Juliet made it clear that she did not want the work involved to be tedious or repetitive. The working environment of the organisation relies on the interests of the individual; where the therapeutic potential of labour can flourish and work is not dead-end. Designers can state how many of each item they wish to make, and whether they wish to make things themselves or with the Rekindle workshop.


The therapeutic aspects of the work and manufacture relate on a larger scale to the wider community of the city. As Rekindle has gained more recognition, it has had a warm reception from the citizens of Christchurch. Rekindle has had families asking for their soon-to-be-demolished houses to be a part of the rekindle project for the comfort of knowing that their loved homes are not just going to end up scattered in landfill.


Juliet and I had a long discussion about the memory of materials and what it can offer to the maker and also to the user. Using recycled materials creates a lot of obstacles in the design and manufacture processes; the materials come in set dimensions and they are rarely uniform. They come with flaws and imperfections which need to be factored into their making. Extra labour goes into processing the demolition wood into workable material, not to mention that a lot of machinery does not take well to demolition wood. Rekindle encourages a revision of the notion that these things are neither inconveniences or time wasted, but rather the voice of a material. Having to design around the requirements of the materials means that they themselves have a memory apparent to the designer, manufacturer, and user. The nature of the materials as waste is clear in both the design process and the finished product. This truth to materials destroys the notions of the designer as a creator/god-figure, but encourages a conversation between material and maker.


This is an organisation that is unique in its structure and highly admirable for its intentions. Rekindle’s awareness of the environmental and social implications of commodity production make so much sense, but it is rare to see an organisation which takes these factors into consideration. I believe that Juliet’s consideration for the labour of individuals and how a company can be a community is truly noble. Both she and the Rekindle organisation are a gem in a landfill of rampant consumerism. All Rekindle products are beautifully crafted and beautifully designed: not only do they make use of waste materials, but they make these materials appealing. I have a huge amount of respect for both Juliet and those involved with Rekindle.


– Steven



Author: Steven Park

I live in Auckland and am currently doing my Honours in Fine Arts at Elam. I run a design label called "6x4", where I make clothing, furniture, home-ware and other exciting things. Say hello if you see me walking around! Read More

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