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Design As Catalyst

Rowan Vyvyan

Rowan's work is primarily concerned with reconsidering precise methodologies of design and production whilst exploring ideas of serendipity through process. His outcomes are led by materials and manufacturing methods developing a vernacular aesthetic that can be both socially and environmentally positive. Through projects that blend digital design processes with imprecise and unruly production techniques, Rowan's work looks past the hyper-real of mass manufacture, attempting to tap into the intangible personality of the imperfect object.

Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art, Rowan's work has touched on areas ranging from printing artificial reefs to waste from the kaolin mines of North Cornwall. Returning to university in his late 20's, his studies have often pursued a dogma of exploration. His projects do not seek to resolve problems but rather are used to test hypotheses and to challenge assumptions.

With a background in carpentry and working as a ceramicist, Rowan is frequently aiming to marry design's idealism with the difficulties currently facing small manufacturers in the UK. The current paradigm of innovation prioritises progress and invention. Rowan’s work approaches social, environmental and economic issues by shifting an undue preoccupation on ‘product’ and ‘user’ toward local economies, skills and communities.


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Best Practice

Degree Details

School of Design

Design As Catalyst

As we are emerging from a global disaster, design will inevitably present itself as a key tool for exploring and proposing solutions. My work has taught me that design can be most active by working with the communities of makers and manufacturers that sustain our local economies. Hardly grand innovation, these interdisciplinary groups are evolving their work to promote good material values and reject the exploitation of people in a race to the bottom. Working in this way disregards ‘solutionism’, proposing an alternative to recursive innovation and, in my experience, has greater potential for change. Without a solution, designing in this way is a constant and evolving challenge that will form the foundation of the work that I hope to go on to after the RCA.

Best Bench

Sand casting

Sand casting

Sand cast T section

Sand cast base

Best Stool


Printed base - ready for sand casting

Printed T section - ready for sand casting

Sand cast bridge

Sand cast off axis T section

Best Practice is a body of work that shifts the outlook of the designer away from a primarily user-focused methodology to one that values skills, local economies, communities and the viability of an object for small manufacturers. Working with Whitton Castings in Greenwich, Best Practice designs within the methods used at that workshop and looks for ways in which small-batch, locally produced objects can be made accessible to a larger market.

Best Bench, made during the Covid-19 lockdown period, was developed through a series of 3D printed components designed around the only locally available timber... a broom handle. The elements were prepared & printed at home and mailed to Whitton Castings.


Sand cast aluminium, broom handles, rivets, birch ply, PLA


100cm x 26cm x 47cm
3D printingaluminiumCastingFurniturelocal manufactureLocal Productionmetal

Medium Kotto Tile

Settling tanks - Google Earth

Wedging recycled clay

Finished clay body

Long Kotto Tiles

Small Kotto Tile

Slag spreading - Malador Pit

Google Earth

Clay matrix diagram

Kotto film
Kotto is a project exploring the potential for developing products & architectural surfaces from the waste generated in the Cornish kaolin mining industry. For each ton of kaolin extracted, nine tons of waste is produced, this ‘slag’ dominates the landscape of North Cornwall. Kaolin is a pure white mineral used primarily in the whitening of paper as well as in English Bone China. All extraneous minerals are refined out, piled in mountains, known as the Cornish Alps.

Kotto tiles, vases and vessels are made from the minerals extracted in the refinement processes in combination with a kaolin based clay. The natural minerality of the ground is valued rather than refined out, creating a visual language that is unique to the heritage and geology of that part of North Cornwall. All elements of the Kotto project were retrieved from defunct pits around St. Dennis.


Kaolin, feldspar, quartz, silica, bentonite and other waste minerals
Six part mould construction

Six part mould construction

Kotto Vase #2

Kotto Pendant

Mould preparation

Kotto Case #3

Kotto Vase #4

The development of the Kotto project into a series of products was a chance to combine recycled material with a productive manufacturing technique.

The six-part mould can make five or more products; the vases, lights & bowls are all produced using the mould in different arrangments. Made in this way out of necessity during the lockdown period, the mould is more productive and has more variation whilst using fewer materials - all values that would be beneficial in any small studio practice.


Kotto ceramics & plaster mould

Handle #1

Handle #2




Handle #3

Handle #4

Best Handle arose from my first interactions with Whitton Castings during my final project (Best Practice) at the RCA. Beginning as a tool to learn how they work and what process they use, the handles allowed me to work with Whitton Castings rather than just observing their workshop. I supplied lathed shapes, with purposely minimal instructions & was able to work with them to turn the handles out. The function of the handle is simple and therefore lends itself well for exploring a process.

The handles, in an uncomplicated way, are a good example of Best Practice. We import plastic equivalents from around the world, objects with no origin embedded in their appearance, made of complex, often unrecyclable materials. Best Handle is an irregular alternative that's simplicity belies its potential to support skilled work in the local economy.


Sand cast aluminium

Marine Devs. reef module diagram

Development site

Marine Devs. material sample #2

Marine Devs. material sample #3

Reef module illustration

Marine Devs. - Open Book

Reef proposal exhibit

Reef module layout

Calcium Carbonate (CaCO₃) is a material common to Ostrea edulis (European Oyster) and the traditional building material, Lime Cement. Reefs comprised of huge oyster populations historically dominated shallow northern European waters. These natural structures would filter and clean the ocean, create a substrate for rich kelp beds and be a nursery for the development of juvenile fish. These reef structures are now almost totally extinct from European waters.

“Sustainable success of restoration efforts depends on successful recruitment and, there­fore, not only on the supply of sufficient larvae but also on the availability of suitable substrate. After their planktonic phase, oyster larvae prefer to settle on oyster shells. Suitable and abundant settlement subst­rate is a major limiting factor for Ostrea edulis recovery in areas with natural spatfall and of high importance for sustainable restoration.”

Marine Devs. proposes a 3D printed modular reef structure that is made from the same material as that of the historic oyster reefs, CaC03. The emergence of cement 3D printing would allow these modules to be designed and produced in a way as to maximise the protection of the oyster larvae before they are established. Beyond this reef modules could provide protection for juvenile fish and a habitat for the threatened species of European Brown Kelp to develop. Over time the calcium carbonate would erode and leave only the established oyster reefs behind. A cradle to cradle proposal for one aspect of the many threats that are facing our nearshore waters.
16 July 2020
13:00 (GMT + 0)

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