"WAND": Local Resources and Craftsmanship for Sustainable Construction


In summer 2024, the exhibition “WAND”, conceived by Olaf Holzapfel in collaboration with the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), will open its doors in Dessau. This multifaceted project combines contemporary art with traditional craft techniques. Through an artistic installation and participatory processes, it highlights the connections architecture can have with the organic world and sustainable materials.

Studio Olaf Holzapfel's walk-through installation, BUGA grounds in Mannheim
Detail view of the walk-through installation 'They Will Return There’, BUGA grounds in Mannheim, 2023-24, © Photo: Studio Olaf Holzapfel

Olaf Holzapfel has long cooperated with artisans and communities that use traditional techniques. Notable past collaborations include those with weavers from the Wichí community in the Gran Chaco region of Argentina and carpenters from Lower Saxony, creating projects with natural, region-specific materials. This creative process is fully reflected in the “WAND” project.

In the process of constructing Studio Olaf Holzapfel's installation, Dresdner Heide
View of the construction of the installation ‘Three Bridges', Dresdner Heide, 2014, © Photo: Studio Olaf Holzapfel

By bringing together regional expertise, such as a basket-weaving expert and the company and Think Thank Bauhauserde, Holzapfel develops a reflection on the perception of materials and the understanding of sustainable construction methods. The central point is a sculpture composed of an assembly of raw materials, created in collaboration with artisans and followed in their process by students from Anhalt University and employees of the Federal Environment Agency in a participatory approach. This installation thus creates a link between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary art, between local resources and sustainability goals, marked here by both the materials and the awareness inherent in the project.

In the process of constructing Studio Olaf Holzapfel's walk-through installation with Ralf Eggert, BUGA grounds in Mannheim
View of the construction of the walk-through installation 'They Will Return There’ with Ralf Eggert, BUGA grounds in Mannheim, 2023-24, © Photo: Studio Olaf Holzapfel

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of workshops, lectures, screenings, and seminars that deepen the discourse on sustainable materials and innovative applications in architecture and design. These events provide practical knowledge and promote awareness of ecological construction methods. Themes such as the use of organic materials—wood, straw, reed, and clay—as alternatives to concrete are highlighted in both theoretical and artistic ways.
Cooperation with the architecture class at Anhalt University is a key element of the project. The students accompany the entire programme from the project's launch conference onwards, developing their own proposals and presenting a selection of them within the exhibition.

In the process of constructing Studio Olaf Holzapfel's outdoor installation, Kunsthalle Mannheim
View of the construction of 'Three Oaks’, outdoor area of Kunsthalle Mannheim, 2019, © Photo: Studio Olaf Holzapfel

The official opening of “WAND” on 27 June 2024 will create a platform for exchange between the artist, scientists from the Federal Environment Agency, students, and the general public. The exhibition invites the search for creative solutions to contemporary challenges, not through the invention of new technologies but through the rediscovery of techniques and materials. “WAND” in Dessau thus becomes an exemplary exhibition showing how art and sustainability can go hand in hand, fostering a collective reflection on our approach to construction techniques, the preservation of traditional knowledge, and the role of art in sharing these issues.

More information is available on the Federal Environment Agency's website.

Portrait of the artist Olaf Holzapfel
Olaf Holzapfel at the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin in front of his permanent installation 'The Woven Garden’, 2023, © Photo: Maria Sturm