Emy Bensdorp and Loreta Castro

At the end of this month, the nominees of the Redesign Everything Challenge will be announced, after which an international Jury will collaborate on a final list of winners. To help us with the selection process this year, we’ve carefully curated a global team of experts in design, circularity, and social impact, including two winners of previous WDCD Challenges.

Joining our Selection Committee all the way from Mexico City is architect Loreta Castro, who won last year’s Make it Circular Challenge together with her team from Taller Capital. Their project Guiding the Runoff transformed a debris-filled ravine on the outskirts of Tijuana into a vibrant public space. Next, bringing her expertise to the Jury is Dutch designer Emy Bensdorp, who became one of the winners of the 2021 No Waste Challenge with her project Claybens. Claybens offers a solution for a type of pollution that most people don’t know exists, turning soil that has been contaminated by PFAS chemicals into clean and colourful building bricks. 

Here, we chat with Loreta and Emy about where their projects are at today, their unique approach to spatial and urban design and their best advice for our potential nominees and winners.

We’re very happy to have two past winners on our Selection Committee and Jury! How does it feel to be on the other side of things this time?

Emy: It feels like closing a loop. Winning the No Waste Challenge played a big part in Claybens’ development and I feel excited for the future winners of the Redesign Everything Challenge, because they will have a great programme ahead of them. I can’t wait to see the submitted projects, it will be inspiring for sure!

Loreta: It is very interesting to have an overview of the very different types of projects presented for the challenge. From space-related issues, to the development of new materials, and even ideas of ways to transform the natural landscape to foster new life while cleaning the ocean for plastics.

Claybens bricks

Claybens bricks

Claybens bricks by Emy Bensdorp.

Do you think your experience gives you a unique perspective on the judging process? 

Emy: Being one of the previous winners helps to see the potential in the projects. I will be looking for projects that hit the mark on scalability and impact. We need to disrupt our systems to make a change, and big ideas need the biggest boost to get off the ground, so winning the Redesign Everything Challenge can be a great start. 

“We need to disrupt our systems to make a change, and big ideas need the biggest boost to get off the ground.”

Loreta: Definitely, it helps to evaluate the presented projects because it is easier to understand the possibilities of ideas on becoming successful. It helps to compare similar ones with those that have made it.

How have your own projects changed or developed since winning the Challenge?

Emy: The bricks are now in full development and PFAS has also become better known, creating a sense of urgency. In the past two years we have completed three pilots and we are currently preparing our first industrial-scale pilot. This step in scale comes with new opportunities and challenges, so there is plenty to do. 

Loreta: We have visited the park in Tijuana once since we won the challenge. It is amazing to say that it keeps working fantastic. Moreover, we are starting to develop other projects with foundations that look for similar ideas.

One thing that your projects have in common is that they address the need to change how our cities are built and designed. Can you tell us why this is so important?

Emy: The construction industry uses a lot of resources in terms of material, money and human capital. What if we can mobilize these resources to build a better tomorrow? Most people in the world live in cities, and cities are still expanding worldwide. This creates opportunities for change. How do we want to live? What materials do we want to use? How can we rebuild healthy habitats where not only people but also other lifeforms prosper? 

Loreta: At Taller Capital we are convinced that design can fix the broken city. We know that the time spent thinking about how we can conceive positive transformations in our cities pays back in much better living conditions for urban populations.

“At Taller Capital we are convinced that design can fix the broken city.”

Guiding the Runoff project by Taller Capital

Urban renewal project by Taller Capital

Urban renewal projects by Taller Capital: Guiding the Runoff (Parque Xicoténcatl) and Parque Bicentenario.

For Loreta: When you think about where urban design is heading in Mexico, what are some key issues that concern you? What is something that makes you hopeful?

Loreta: In Mexico, we are undergoing a time of extreme drought. We need to put a lot of effort into finding different ways of managing water systems. I am convinced of the power of urban design in guiding such strategies. The water problem is so big, that all ideas need to be put in place fast. The success of interventions where public spaces become water management soft infrastructures in Mexico today is evident. I am positive about the will of different groups (governments, private sector, academy, and the society at large) to support ideas of the sort all around the country. It is important that other designers become encouraged to do similar things.

Emy, what about for the Netherlands?

Emy: In the past few years, the Dutch design field has shifted from product-focused to society-focused. Many designers now make conscious decisions based on societal needs and work on pressing issues such as sustainability and inclusion.  Of course, we still make beautiful ‘things’, but we ask ourselves: how does this contribute? I love this development. Designers produce great ideas, innovations and experiments. It can be challenging to integrate these into reality and it takes time to create change. But by trying it, showing it and doing it, the design field is playing an important role in shaping tomorrow. 

Lastly, being a creative entrepreneur can be really tough! What is one key piece of advice you’d like to pass on to our Challenge participants?

Emy: You won’t find the answers in your living room. Go out there and try it. 

Loreta: Be resilient, be persistent, don’t give up!

Top image: Emy Bensdorp at What Design Can Do Amsterdam 2022, by Laura Ponchel. Loreta Castro during the Make it Circular Challenge Bootcamp in 2023, by Jan Kirkham.


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