Eco-Friendly Coffin Gets Accepted Into American Design Museum

May 17, 2010
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image An eco-friendly coffin built by a Kiwi designer is being displayed in a prestigious American design museum – a move that could bury the competition.

The Artisan casket, made of plywood and fitted with a wool fleece mattress and pillow, is the brainchild of Auckland designer Greg Holdsworth.

It is the first Kiwi design selected for inclusion in New York’s Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial Exhibition, which opened on Friday.

Held every three years for the past 30 years, the exhibition showcases the world’s most innovative designs for the future.

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Holdsworth and wife Leanne, whose business Return to Sender is built from their shared commitment to protecting the environment, said they were bowled over when approached by the Smithsonian.

“For the first time ever, New Zealand is on the map in what would be considered the most sought-after exhibition of future designs that are going to make a difference to the world,” Leanne Holdsworth told the Sunday Star-Times.

They have their fingers crossed that the coffin will capture the imagination of Americans and lead to an overhaul of the way they dispose of their dead. Each year the 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury millions of tonnes of steel, copper, bronze and reinforced concrete, as well as enough treated wood to build 3500 homes.

“A huge amount of unnecessary resources are used to bury people,” Holdsworth said. “It’s revolting to think about that level of waste. To be able to influence a population like that is pretty exciting.”

Holdsworth said the coffin would be on display in the museum for six months and then would tour with the exhibition around the States for two years. Her husband had originally planned to go to New York to see the exhibition, but a new baby forced him to rethink his plans.

Greg Holdsworth came up with the design for the Artisan coffin after his father-in-law was laid to rest in a casket he would have deplored because it was made of synthetic materials rather than natural wood. At the time, he was in his final year of a design degree at Unitec in Auckland and made designing an eco-coffin his project.

His low-sided coffin with a rounded lid went on to win two design awards in 2007. A lighting piece by Hawke’s Bay designer David Trubridge has also been chosen to feature in the exhibition.

See the Smithsonian’s Design Museum online at www.cooperhewitt.org.

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