The Obsidian Project: mirrors made with recycled chemical waste

Chemical waste is a big threat to our world. It has to be disposed of properly, but what can you do with it? Studio Drift, consisting of designer team Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, whom you may remember from their Shylight project, has developed a series of mirrors called the Obsidian Project. These mirrors are made from synthetic obsidian, the byproduct of recycling chemical waste that was previously thought to be intractable.

Several years ago, a Dutch chemist discovered a way to extract precious raw materials from chemical waste by heating it in an industrial oven until the melting point of materials such as gold, silver and mercury is reached. These materials can then be extracted in liquid form to be reused. When you reheat the ashes of the chemical waste that remain a special oven, they turn into a substance that resembles obsidian. Natural obsidian is black, hard, brittle volcanic glass that is produced when lava is cooled quickly with minimal crystalisation.

Despite being extracted from chemical waste, the synthetic obsidian is completely safe and can be used as a new raw material. For the project, the molten obsidian is poured into a sand mould until it cools into a solid, seamless single-piece construction. Because Studio Drift wanted the shape to contrast with the source of the material – chemical waste – they based the form of the obsidian mirrors on a drop of water, which is the purest element according to them. The jet-black obsidian is then polished.

The synthetic obsidian makes for an interesting material. It sounds like metal, looks like glass and is heavy as stone. The material feels cold, but has a high capacity to absorb light. It is also highly paramagnetic.

The aim of the project is both to find a valuable purpose for this material and to promote the technology and possibility of recycling chemical residue.

The Obsidian Project is on display in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum until 1 January 2017.

Photos: Studio Drift / Dezeen