Medulla: from weed to furniture

In a project called Medulla, Dutch designer Don Kwaning developed various materials like paper, foam and even construction material from the cosmopolitan weed soft rush.

Soft rush (Juncus effusus) is a herbaceous flowering plant that thrives in wet areas like wetlands and marshes and is found on every continent. The plant is commonly considered a weed. In Japan, soft rush is used in the production of traditional tatami mats. However, in the Netherlands, state forestry removes thousands of kilos of the plant each year, which are turned into biogas or to improve the soil structure of agricultural land that contains a lot of sand.

Kwaning’s material research proved that the weed can be used in the production of various materials, by separating the pith from the fibres.

The pith of soft rush is a foam-like material. It possesses lightweight, shock-resistant and insulating properties, which makes it suitable for, for instance, packaging material. The foam can be used as ‘noodle strings’, how it comes from the plant, or it can be compressed into a foam block, without the need of any bonding additives. Depending on the force of the compression, the pith foam can reach different densities. It is also suitable as lightweight sheet material that can be used in furniture.

As a proof-of-concept, Kwaning developed packaging material and furniture, all made from soft rush. The furniture piece is an object consisting of five boxes for storage, which together double as a side-table. The boxes are made of sheet material made only from compressed soft rush pith. Kwaning also made a packaging box made from compressed pith as a replacement for polystyrene packaging boxes. The sheet material is compressed with a lower density than the construction material.

In addition to the pith material, Kwaning also used the fibres, showing that every part of the plant can be upcycled. He made a cardboard box from the fibres of soft rush, containing the foamy pith strings as replacement for polystyrene packaging beans, as well as packaging paper. The fibres can also be turned into materials like rope, non-wovens and textiles.

Photos: Don Kwaning / Meggar