A Harmless Car
3 May 2024

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Decades of writings, dialogues, and attempts to practice green-eco-good-better design, and yet here we are: not a snowflake’s chance in hell of keeping below 1.5º to say the least.

I’ve decided to lower my ambition: instead of trying to do good design, how about at least design that does no harm? So I’ve decided to make a car, that’s ‘harmless’.

Harmless: To all things, for all time. Harmless in its manufacture and its use. What a dream! But giving it a seconds thought – impossible. Impossible things can be revealing though.

The Harmless Car is work in progress. It currently has a ‘space frame’ type chassis, designed with the assistance of Prof. Jun Wu at Delft Institute of Techology, woven from coppiced willow; the least harmful material in world. It has large low pressure tyres (eventually to be made from dandelion rubber) so that should it run over a small snail (or any other creature) it will leave it unharmed. I am exploring options for harmless power… An impossible work in progress.

The Harmless Car as at Zone2Source

The Harmless Car is an object from a world with different design criteria, a different value system, a different calculus of harm from our own. It cuts to a formulation of design as a means of creating objects to transfer harm from one person, place, time or species, to another. Every design decision is political, because it contains this intrinsic calculus of harm: us or them, now or later?

If it’s inevitable your design will harm, on who or what is it just for that harm to fall? On yourself, your own family and lifestyle? Those most able to bear the harm? Those distant to you in time and place? If you could choose where to place your harm, where should it go?

Everything is connected. 

(so it’s impossible to) 

Do no harm.

The concept for the Harmless Car was developed during my participation in the Machine Wilderness residencies at ARTIS Royal Zoo, which Zone2Source organised with FoAM in Spring 2022. Further work was done during my solo show at Zone2Source in summer 2023.


Car weaving workshop, with help from Piet Hein at vlechterij.nl

Visiting Toon Wortel, the last Dutch wagon maker. Wheels are complex.

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

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