Where do our things really come from? China is the most common answer, but Thomas Thwaites decided he wanted to know more. In The Toaster Project, Thwaites asks what lies behind the smooth buttons on a mobile phone or the cushioned soles of running sneakers. What is involved in extracting and processing materials? To answer these questions, Thwaites set out to construct, from scratch, one of the most commonplace appliances in our kitchens today: a toaster. The Toaster Project takes thereader on Thwaites's journey from dismantling the cheapest toaster he can find in London to researching how to smelt metal in a fifteenth-century treatise. His incisive restrictions all parts of the toaster must be made from scratch and Thwaites had to make the toaster himself made his task difficult, but not impossible. It took nine months and cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store. In the end, Thwaites reveals the true ingredients in the products we use every day. Most interesting is not the final creation but the lesson learned. The Toaster Project helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture and the ridiculousness of churning out millions of toasters and other products at the expense of the environment. If products were designed more efficiently, with fewer parts that are easier to recycle, we would end up with objects that last longer and we would generate less waste altogether.
Foreword by David Crowley, head of critical writing at the Royal College of Art and curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
"Easily my favorite book this year, The Toaster Project should be required reading for artists, designers, consumers and anyone who has ever bought or thrown away a toaster. Thomas Thwaites, a graduate student at London's Royal College of Art, sets out to build a toaster from scratch -- not just an object that toasts bread, but one that aesthetically and mechanically replicates the ubiquitous $6 drugstore toaster.... Thwaites is a laugh-out-loud-funny but thoughtful guide through his own adventures, touching provocatively on ideas as far-ranging as medieval metallurgy, sustainability, mass production, and our 'throwaway' consumer culture. You'll buy it as a gift for the title and the concept, but you'll end up keeping it for yourself once you crack the cover -- so take my advice and buy two." -- NPR.org.
Thomas Thwaites is a designer who operates in the border zones between the natural and social sciences and creative disciplines. His work examines how technology, science and economics interact with trends, fictions and beliefs in shaping our present, and possible futures. As an undergraduate he studied economics and biology at University College, London, with this training informing his design work. He completed his Masters in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in 2009. His work has received several awards and is exhibited internationally, at galleries in London, Dublin, Rotterdam, and Tokyo. Based in London, he is currently working on a commission from the Wellcome Trust.