Combining good design and good deeds isn’t an obvious or easy thing to do, but any designer who wants ideas on how the two can work side by side should look to Norwegian design duo Morten & Jonas for inspiration. As well as creating innovative, playful furniture and lamps for their own studio, Morten Skjærpe Knarrum and Jonas Norheim work with the Norwegian correctional system in Bjørgvin prison, where they have established STUDIO Bjørgvin.
It all started back in 2009, when Skjærpe Knarrum did his Masters project on another prison, Vik, where he explored how design can be implemented in contemporary prison workshops. Last year, the designers created their first product—the Bake Me a Cake lamp—with Bergen prison, Bjørgvin prison and Northern Lighting. The tongue-in-cheek lamp, made of oak wood and smoked tinted glass, looks like a cake plate with a cake dome on top, and was manufactured by inmates. “The story of the lamp itself comes from the cartoon world—Grandma baking a cake for her grandson in prison; innocent of course. She puts a file in the cake to help him escape,” Skjærpe Knarrum and Norheim explain.
Their aim was to come up with a new and unusual design that would encourage discussion, the designers say. “Humor is an important part of everyday life in Norwegian prisons, and both prisoners and the prison employees got very involved in the work with the lamp, which built relations and created discussions about how to solve the technical challenges it posed.“
Skjærpe Knarrum and Norheim are now working with prisoners at the studio in Bjørgvin prison, where projects span from making posters to building a café and creating furniture. “It all depends on which project is coming up and what the inmates find interesting.” The designers say the work helps those incarcerated to think differently. “A lot of international research shows that cognitive thinking exercises work well on inmates. Research has also revealed that around 80% of all crimes have a planning time of just 15 minutes, and many inmates suffer from problems with long-term planning. Being involved in the design work process has a stimulating influence on the inmates; in many ways it helps to break up traditional thinking."
In addition to their work with the prisoners, Skjærpe Knarrum and Norheim also have their hands full with the Morten & Jonas studio. “We recently launched a lamp series for Bolia and have more product launches coming up next year, which we are looking forward to.” Morten & Jonas works will also be on view at the 100% Norway exhibition during the upcoming London Design Festival, where they will show their Nod lamp, Bit by Bit tables and Selfie mirrors.
Images courtesy of Morten & Jonas