45 results for “Bio Design”

How fungi can help create a green construction industry

Ian Fletcher
February 12th 2020

The world of fungi has attracted a lot of interest and seems to be becoming very fashionable of late. A new exhibition at Somerset House in London, for example, is dedicated to “the remarkable mushroom”. No surprise: we’re being promised that mushrooms may be the key to a sustainable future in fields as diverse as fashion, toxic spill clean ups, mental health and construction. It’s in this last field that my own interests lie.

Climate change is the fundamental design …

Next Generation: Elissa Brunato’s bio iridescent sequin shimmers with nature

Freya Hutchings
January 29th 2020

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Would you like to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Elissa Brunato is a recent graduate of the Material Futures program at Central Saint Martins, London. For her final project, she collaborated with material scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol from the RISE research institute of Sweden, to create shimmering sequins …

Next Generation: Exploring the vegetal cyborg with Marie Declerfayt

NextNature.net
January 20th 2020

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Want to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Marie Declerfayt is a recent graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven. What follows is an edited version of her thesis relating to her graduate project, Botanical Bodies. Playing with the boundaries between human and vegetal existence, Declerfayt's speculative project creates space for us to …

Interview: Pirjo Kääriäinen on collaboration and the new ecological biomateriality

Freya Hutchings
December 12th 2019

Meet Pirjo Kääriäinen, professor of design driven fibre innovation at Aalto University, Finland. Kääriäinen founded CHEMARTS—a collaborative program at the university that brings students from different disciplines together to experiment with new material processes—to explore alternative applications for bio-based materials.

Having a extensive knowledge of the Finnish textile industry, it’s fair to say Kääriäinen is an expert in the field. She possesses a valuable bank of insights, a clear perspective on how the industry must change, and an inexhaustible passion …

Oded Ezer discusses the future of typography and the importance of dreaming

Freya Hutchings
November 29th 2019

Oded Ezer is a typographer from Israel who never fails to push boundaries, or rather, discard them altogether. Ezer is a rebellious force that swings between commercial and experimental work, often blurring the two realms.

His meaningful yet functional commercial type is always accompanied by an unexpected twist, and his experimental work dives unapologetically into intimate and obscure areas of life, combining developments in scientific and medical fields with the universal medium of type in provocative ways.

In our view, …

This exhibition investigates how humanity will live tomorrow

NextNature.net
November 28th 2019

Occupying the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum is internationally renowned for its visionary approach and highly original curation of contemporary art. The museum’s latest exhibition, Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow, is a comprehensive investigation into the near future, a space in which speculation becomes reality for the duration of your visit.

The exhibition builds a diverse picture of what our world may look like in 20 to …

Next Generation: Biophilic design with Daniel Elkayam

Freya Hutchings
October 29th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the …

In conversation with Jalila Essaïdi

Freya Hutchings
October 18th 2019

What do in-vitro human skin, spider silk and cow manure have in common? They are all unlikely materials that can cloth, protect and inspire humans, as realized by award-winning designer Jalila Essaïdi.

Her transdisciplinary work, in which creativity meets scientific exploration, unlocks the potential of weird and wonderful biomaterials to address relevant social and environmental issues.

Essaïdi succeeds in transforming our view of the natural world, by going beyond an aesthetic admiration of nature and challenging us to reconsider the …

Next Generation: Get to know Valerie Daude

Ruben Baart
October 17th 2019

This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Kicking off this series is Valerie Daude, a recent MA graduate in Social Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). She is interested in how gut bacteria play critical roles in maintaining our human health in many aspects, and aims to understand how …

Artificial Womb receives €2.9m funding to develop prototype

Freya Hutchings
October 8th 2019

Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would …

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The world of fungi has attracted a lot of interest and seems to be becoming very fashionable of late. A new exhibition at Somerset House in London, for example, is dedicated to “the remarkable mushroom”. No surprise: we’re being promised that mushrooms may be the key to a sustainable future in fields as diverse as fashion, toxic spill clean ups, mental health and construction. It’s in this last field that my own interests lie.

Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time: buildings are hugely complicit in the crisis. Together, buildings and construction contribute 39% of the world’s carbon footprint. Energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of these emissions: households are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2015, accounting for a quarter of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.

The remaining 11% of buildings’ carbon emissions consists of those associated with construction and building materials. The UK construction industry, for example, uses around 400 million tonnes of materials each year and approximately 100 million tonnes become waste. Cement alone is responsible for a whopping 8% of global CO₂ emissions. Compare this to the much maligned global aviation industry, which emits 2% of all human-induced CO₂ emissions. Buildings and, by association, the construction industry, are profoundly responsible for climate change.

Cement – the key ingredient of concrete – is responsible for an astonishing 8% of all carbon emissions. Via Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash, FAL

There is evidently a real need for the construction industry to reduce the impact of its material and energy use and to take part in the transition towards a more sustainable economy by researching and using alternative materials. This is not an absurd ask: such materials already exist.

Mushroom materials

And yes, one such material happens to be derived from fungi: mycelium composites. This material is created by growing mycelium – the thread-like main body of a fungus – of certain mushroom-producing fungi on agricultural wastes.

Mycelium are mainly composed of a web of filaments called “hyphae”, which acts as a natural binder, growing to form huge networks called “mycelia”. These grow by digesting nutrients from agricultural waste while bonding to the surface of the waste material, acting as a natural self-assembling glue. The entire process uses biological growth rather than expensive, energy intensive manufacturing processes.

Close-up image of mycelium showing interwoven fine hyphae. © Ian Fletcher

Mycelium materials offer an exciting opportunity to upcycle agricultural waste into a low-cost, sustainable and biodegradable material alternative. This could potentially reduce the use of fossil fuel dependant materials. The materials are low-density, making them very light compared to other materials used in construction. They also have excellent thermal and fire resistant properties.

Fungal architecture

To date, mycelium materials have been used in a number of inventive ways in building projects. One particular company of note is The Living, a New York based architectural firm which designed an organic mycelium tower known as “Hy-Fi” [as seen on the cover image] in the courtyard of MoMA’s PS1 space in midtown Manhattan. Designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program, the structure illustrates the potential of this biodegradable material, in this case made from farm waste and cultured fungus grown in brick-shaped moulds.

Mae Ling Lokko, Mushroom Panels and Pentagram interactive work. Part of Somerset House exhibition: Mushrooms The Art Design and Future of Fungi. © Mark Blower

Another project of note is MycoTree, a spatial branching structure made out of load-bearing mycelium components. This research project was constructed as the centrepiece for the “Beyond Mining – Urban Growth” exhibition at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 in Seoul, Korea. The project illustrates a provocative vision of how building materials made from mycelium can achieve structural stability. This opens up the possibility of using the material structurally and safely within the construction industry.

Mycelium materials have also been analysed for uses ranging from acoustic absorbers, formed packaging materials and building insulation. And NASA is currently researching using mycelium to build habitable dwellings on Mars.

Recycled buildings

I am investigating the development of mycelium materials using locally sourced materials such as wheat straw. Wheat straw is a cheap and abundant source of waste in the Yorkshire region, so would be a fantastic raw material for construction. My main objective is to develop a material for use in non-load bearing applications, such as internal wall construction and façade cladding. The material displays similar structural properties to those of natural materials like wood.

Close-up image of mycelium of P. ostreatus growing around wheat straw. © Ian Fletcher, Author provided

The development of mycelium materials from locally sourced agricultural waste could reduce the construction industry’s reliance on traditional materials, which could improve its carbon footprint. Mycelium composite manufacturing also has the potential to be a major driving force in developing new bioindustries in rural areas, generating sustainable economic growth while creating new jobs.

The construction industry is faced with a choice. It must be revolutionised. If we carry with business as usual, we must live with the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.

What? Explore the art, design and future of mushrooms
Where?
Somerset House, London
When?
Now until 26 April 2020

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Would you like to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Elissa Brunato is a recent graduate of the Material Futures program at Central Saint Martins, London. For her final project, she collaborated with material scientists Hjalmar Granberg and Tiffany Abitbol from the RISE research institute of Sweden, to create shimmering sequins made from an unexpected material: wood.

Bio Iridescent Sequin Swatch

With experience working for both ready-to-wear and luxury haute couture fashion houses, Brunato has witnessed first-hand the disjointed and damaging processes of the fashion industry. Indeed, around 50,000 tons of dye are discharged into global water systems per year, and hidden behind the joy vivid colors may bring to consumers, uneven and exploitative supply chains often prevail. Additionally, sustainable materials for embroidery in particular are extremely limited; they often contain microplastics, and by now we are well aware of the devastating impact of such materials on our ecosystems.  Meeting this urgency, the designer  sought to find a sustainable solution to meet our love for shimmer.

Wondering how the sequins are made? Brunato and her collaborators at RISE  have been working with biotechnologies that made it possible to harness cellulose’s natural ability to interact with light. By extracting crystalline from cellulose, wood-originating matter can imitate the alluring aesthetics of shimmering structural colors found in nature, as seen in peacock feathers and beetle wings. The result is a game changer: a durable, compostible sequin made from natural materials, with a shimmer achieved using nature's technique of structural color.

We found out more about the Bio Iridescent Sequin...

Why make a sequin?

Brunato’s research reveals how sequins tell the story of an age-old “human desire to attain nature’s beauty,” and that “our attraction to glimmering surfaces might even relate back to our primary need for water.” Charting the history of sequins, she notes how they are “deeply interwoven with the cultures in which they exist.” For example, sequins have appeared on the burial garments of Egyptian royals in the form of metal coins, and have adorned the dresses of 19th century nobility in the form of beetle wings.

"While the democratization of the sequin has been positive, the increased use of petroleum has been creating environmental problems."

Today, plastic is the new preference, and mass-produced sequins can be found in every fast-fashion store. Brunato recognizes that “while the democratization of the sequin has been positive, the increased use of petroleum has been creating environmental problems.” However, rather than rejecting this form of decoration altogether, Brunato began her quest to find an environmentally conscious approach to our historic fascination with shimmer.

19th Century garment embroidered using beetle wings

Nature meets technology 

So, how to resolve the conflict of attaining nature’s beauty without harming it? For Brunato, “nature provided the clues.” The designer is inspired by how the nonhuman world is “abundant with examples that demonstrate the dazzling optics of structural colour.” Indeed, pollia berries, bacteria strains and beetle wings all gain their vivid colours from microscopically small nano-structures that interfere with visible light.

"we are part of nature, and technology should become our means to shift our relationship with it."

When it comes to incorporating nature’s techniques into a material application, Brunato sees technology as an essential tool for “re-imagining the landscape of available materials.” She further insists that “we are part of nature, and technology should become our means to shift our relationship with it...we are at a point where biotechnologies can enable us to reshape manufacturing.”

Additionally, as a result of scientific exploration, Brunato explains how “we understand genes, growth and forming so much better than before. We can look into materials on a molecular level and change their behavior.” Certainly, the scientific expertise of her collaborators were essential for shifting the Bio Iridescent Sequin from ideation to a material application: “the collaboration really lifted the project to the level that I imagined, by connecting to other experts, we could lift my idea from being a concept to being a reality,” says the designer.

The Nature of Collaboration

We spoke to the Bio Iridescent team to find out more about the nature of collaboration. From a design perspective, Brunato shares that “the challenge lies in learning other disciplinary ‘languages’, understanding each other’s viewpoints, approaches and interests. However, it happened very organically in this case.”

Tiffany Abitbol, a PhD chemist that specializes in cellulose and nano-materials, highlights the true compatibility of design and science: “scientists and designers have a lot more in common than they may realize. We are creative and driven problem-solvers, interested in the process as much as the final result.” She also adds that “as the issue of sustainability impacts all humans, I think a representative, multi-disciplinary and collaborative group is essential to bring forward real solutions.”

"Scientists and designers have a lot more in common than they may realize. We are creative and driven problem-solvers."

Bio Iridescent Sequin experiments

Hjalmar Granberg, who since obtaining his PhD has worked on creating new bio-based materials, notes how “feedback and new ideas from a design perspective is valuable, and it increases interest in the field of wood-based decoration and aesthetics.” Additionally, he experienced that “new questions and new perspectives arise simultaneously in such collaborations.” For example, Brunato’s insight helped the team overcome the issue of “how to present the results in a way that is attractive beyond a scientific context.”

The Future of the Bio Iridescent Sequin

All members of the team are highly optimistic about the future of the Bio Iridescent Sequin: “we could develop a process to manufacture the sequins on a larger scale, and I think we can also overcome challenges relating to their commercialization. I anticipate textile applications of nano-cellulose in the near future,” says Abitbol.

According to Brunato, the sequin has the potential to inspire a “shift of the fashion industry’s dependence on hazardous chemicals, petroleum and synthetic colourants.” She also sees the Bio Iridescent Sequin as a powerful precedent for the development of “more environmentally healthy alternatives” in the fashion industry.

"A powerful network of voices are re-envisioning a new manufacturing landscape."

Perhaps most importantly, the Bio Iridescent Sequin exemplifies how collaboration is crucial for realigning material processes to meet the needs of the planet. By producing a visually stunning and compostable alternative, the team have signalled a new approach to sustainable shimmering colour, and a waste-free alternative for micro plastics in the fashion industry.

The designer’s final message is this: “we have to link knowledge between disciplines and co-engage more intently to replenish our ecosystems.” Brunato sees today’s design climate as an “exciting time” where “a powerful network of voices are re-envisioning a new manufacturing landscape that links more closely to the ecosystem we are part of.”

Close-up of Bio Iridescent Sequin


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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Want to see your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Marie Declerfayt is a recent graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven. What follows is an edited version of her thesis relating to her graduate project, Botanical Bodies. Playing with the boundaries between human and vegetal existence, Declerfayt's speculative project creates space for us to imagine how plant-human hybridization may transform our ways of engaging and living intimately with ecosystems in embodied ways.

Botanical Bodies: an essay by Marie Declerfayt

Botanical Bodies is a speculative design scenario that investigates the possibility of using plants as a raw material for the creation of human-compatible organs. Scientific progress in understanding complex living organisms has made it possible to engineer life, and the hybridization of species has become a designed process. This project explores how plant-human hybridization might become a necessity for preserving ecosystems endangered by human activity. 

Using bones and wood as a case study for this possible blend, Botanical Bodies looks at the implications of human symbiosis with the vegetal kingdom. Through extracting a wooden bone from a living tree and implantating it into the human body, this work imagines how the distinctions between humans and plants, crowds and forests, bone and wood may fade away towards a new synergy. 

Whereas the post-human is usually imagined as a blend of the organic and the digital, human and technology, the possibility for humans to merge with vegetal life is becoming a reality in today’s scientific landscape. What if the human of the future becomes more plant than robot, more connected with the environment rather than taking advantage of it, more prone to merging with other life forms rather than seeking to stand out?

The vegetal cyborg

Using digital and mechanical prosthesis to repair damaged organs, enhance skills, and acquire new properties is something dominant in current narratives of human improvement. Whilst this direction is slowly becoming a reality (i.e chip implantation, mechanical hearts), other possibilities to enhance the human body are being researched. 

Progress in the field of synthetic biology (design and construction of new biological entities) makes it possible to imagine new ways of modifying the human body. Previously overlooked organisms, ranging from bacteria to plants, can now be engineered to gain new functions and serve designed purposes.

"Previously overlooked organisms, ranging from bacteria to plants, can now be engineered to gain new functions and serve designed purposes."

The similarities in structure between human organs and plants has become a focus for scientists around the world. For example, one study has combined cardiac tissue and spinach (using decellularized plants as perfusable tissue engineering scaffolds, 2017, Gershlak-Hernandez-Fontana, Worcester Polytechnic Institute), and another has explored using rattan wood for bone growth (From Wood to bone: multi-step process to convert wood hierarchical structures into scaffolds for bone tissue engineering, 2009, Tempieri-Srio-Ruffini-Celloti-Lesci-Roveri). 

While scientists are working with very precise questions and with microscopic but functioning samples, speculating about the possibility of modifying the human body with vegetal matter raises all kinds of questions concerning the ways we relate to our bodies, the environment, and what it means to be human.

Wooden bones 

My decision to focus on using bones as a site for human-vegital merging is inspired by their characteristics: they are a structure crucial for our mobility, they are the slowest renewing organs of the human body (taking up to 10 years), and are closely tied to the human immune system. We attribute much importance to our bones; what happens when this importance becomes linked to other life forms?

"We attribute much importance to our bones; what happens when this importance becomes linked to other life forms?"

We are all intimately familiar with our bones in terms of their shape, the movements they allow, the structure they create, however, we don’t visually see them as a material in the way we interact with our skin, for example. Given that they remain unseen, wooden bones have similarities to human bones in terms of their texture, warmth and weight. Although metal is traditionally used to repair bones, it always acts as a support rather than seamlessly blending into the body. Wood as an organic matter seems more likely to be accepted by the body as it can merge with existing tissues.

The separation of species

What changes if we consider wood not as an unchangeable material but as an organic, evolving, growing matter extracted from a tree that can support and grow within the human body? We can then enter another perspective: the possibility of becoming a chimera with a plant.

As anthropologist Anna Lauwenhaupt has written, hybrids between species have historically been perceived as an aberration : 

“Enlightenment Europe...tried to banish monsters. Monsters were identified with the irrational and the archaic. Category-crossing beings were abhorrent to Enlightenment ways of ordering the world. Later on, rationalization meant individualization, the creation of distinct and alienated individuals, human and non-human.

Individualizing our bodies from our environment has created a separation between living beings, where to be human is to demonstrate difference, where taking advantage of other species rather than collaborating with them has become the norm. Therefore, we continue to see trees as a means for the production of wood for heating, shelter, cooking. Conventional uses of wood have become so ingrained that it is difficult to imagine another relation with it.

However, it is interesting to consider how the perceived autonomy of the human body can be easily challenged. For example, there are more foreign cells in the human body (microbes) than human cells, yet I still call myself a human. Moreover, wood and bones share very similar structures on a microscopic level (in terms of mechanical strength, size and structure), making the engineering of wooden bones far from being pure speculation.

"The perceived autonomy of the human body can be easily challenged."

Artist-sholars Elaine Gan and Niels Budandt evoke this perception:

“The imagined autonomy of the individual was tied to the autonomy of the species. Each species was thought to rise or fall on its own merits, that is, through the fitness of the individuals it produced. […] Today the autonomy of all these units has come under question  […] We can’t segregate our species nor claim distinctive status - as a body, a genome, or an immune system. And what if evolution selects for relations among species rather than “individuals”?”

If we understand ourselves as relative to other beings, alternatively we can perceive ourselves as part of a broad, interconnected network of living things, rather than as individuals defined by our seemingly unique characteristics. So, could we engage in a new relationship with the vegetal world by merging with it?

Creating a zero sum game

Why would such a hybridization the way I depict it (transplantation after transplantation, slowly merging into the vegetal world and becoming a new kind of chimera, a blend of tree and human tissues) be desirable?

And how do we reach a level of symbiosis, where all organisms involved gain something from this interaction? From a human perspective, there is a lot we could gain from becoming a bit more plant. On top of being able to replace our bones with organic matter that can be easily cultivated, the possibility to access plant awareness is tempting - we are learning more and more about how trees perceive their environment, how they can communicate with their peers and other species, how they feel pain, and respond to danger.

"From a human perspective, there is a lot we could gain from becoming a bit more plant. "

This broadening of human perception could be a gateway for connecting with all kinds of other species and perspectives, towards readjusting our relations in ecosystems currently endangered by a long history of damaging, anthropocentric activity. As for plants, what would they have to gain if humans felt more like them? Even though we are unable to perceive their needs from our limited perspective, we may be able to interact and exist with vegetal life in profound new ways.

If our symbiosis with other organisms is characterized by care and respect, we can strike a better balance between the worlds of human and non-human others. Indeed, blurring species boundaries might help us go beyond our conception of the vegetal world as a passive, unconscious resource for human use, and towards a shared, embodied existence of cooperation, collaboration and conscientiousness.

"Blurring species boundaries might help us go beyond our conception of the vegetal world as a passive, unconscious resource for human use, and towards a shared existence."


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Meet Pirjo Kääriäinen, professor of design driven fibre innovation at Aalto University, Finland. Kääriäinen founded CHEMARTS—a collaborative program at the university that brings students from different disciplines together to experiment with new material processes—to explore alternative applications for bio-based materials.

Having a extensive knowledge of the Finnish textile industry, it’s fair to say Kääriäinen is an expert in the field. She possesses a valuable bank of insights, a clear perspective on how the industry must change, and an inexhaustible passion for the benefits of collaborative work. Her realistic approach to sustainability is what informs the CHEMARTS program, along with an attitude of openness and respect for change.

What CHEMARTS does

The CHEMARTS program has produced a plethora of interesting outcomes. Participants have offered alternative applications for bio-based materials that make tangible the possibility of producing longer lasting, more sustainable applications for valuable forest resources.

Some examples: students have developed biodegradable tableware, natural sunscreen, wearable garments, home furnishings, wood-based bricks and organic jewelry.

What new possibilities are out there? We caught up with Pirjo Kääriäinen to learn more.

Biodegradable tableware. Designer: Aurora Tani

Hi Pirjo, tell us about CHEMARTS

Chemarts started in 2011, and has been an interdisciplinary collaboration from the beginning. When Aalto University was merged there was a desire to see how different disciplines could really work together.

In setting up the program, we realized that these different disciplines —engineering and design— had a shared interest in materiality, with a particular focus on using wood for new textile fibres.

We received some funding from the university and managed to set up a team; members who not only came from different disciplines but also from different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

In following, participants from chemical engineering and design set up their courses, came up with the name CHEMARTS, and thought about how to collaborate. It was a really useful, student driven exercise, and we have been developing it ever since.

How do you succeed in creating a common language between these disciplines?

Everyone who has worked on our interdisciplinary projects has said that communication is crucial for how successful the project will be. A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together.

There are two crucial elements needed for a fertile collaboration to succeed: The first is willingness; when you have a willingness to do something, you want to understand, and you make an effort to understand. If you don’t have willingness, nothing will happen.

"A shared language has to be created, and it is created and enabled by doing things, by working together, by being hands-on and making together"

The second element you need is respect. If you have respect for the other person’s knowledge, their experience, and them as a person, a true collaboration is enabled.

For example, I don’t want to become a chemist, and I couldn’t because I don’t have the knowledge. I feel I have to leave that area to my colleagues, who are the true experts in that field. However, I believe we can play a little bit in the other’s realms. By combining and respecting each other's deep expertise, we can work together and have true collaborations.

Do designers working in the natural sciences have a different responsibility to those who don’t?

Whether you are working with the natural sciences, or some other field, I think responsibility is becoming more important for designers in general. Of course, designers can’t always have an impact on things inside companies such as sustainability, but they should at least try. Particularly as sustainability is becoming such a dominant issue. I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now.

"I think as designers we need to take a bit more responsibility than we are now."

I do agree that designers working with the natural sciences have a unique responsibility. Working with living things such as bacteria, fungi or microbes is a different story—these are alive.

How we treat and use them is always up for discussion. Ethical discussions need to happen, and designers must be aware and take part in these discussions.

To what extent does the Nordic context inform the work of CHEMARTS?

A lot. Firstly, we have plenty of forest-based materials here. And we know them quite well, as we have been using them industries such as papermaking for over two-hundred years.

We have plenty of wood in Finland, and currently we use it in ways that don’t always make sense. Valuable side streams from the industry are not always utilized efficiently, and some methods of harvesting are not the best for the environment. We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them.

"We have the raw materials but we need to find new ways of using them."

Also keep in mind that the Finnish concept of forest is completely different to, say, the Dutch concept. Nordic forests are totally different. We have a very special legislation in Finland, it’s called ‘every man’s rights’, and it’s a right the means everybody's free to go to the forest and explore, to pick berries and mushrooms.

You should not harm nature but you can go and forage. It’s a beautiful old tradition that we have here, that we hope we can keep. This context comes into our projects too, and although we often use processed wood-based materials they are still very linked to the forest. It’s a wonderful, renewable resource.

How do you navigate the conflict of continuing to extract natural materials, yet at the same time trying to be more sustainable?

With climate change, there is a lot of discussion going on about our forests being valuable carbon sinks, meaning they take in carbon and keep it within them as they grow. This means that we need to work on preserving our forests as carbon sinks, and using what we do take in different ways; using wood for long-life applications, for example creating wooden buildings that continue to store carbon for decades.

The worst possibility is that we use our materials for a short time and then throw them away. We must think about how we can balance environmental and economic needs. Finland can’t afford not to use wood at all, this is not a country rich with different resources. Instead, we can use it in better ways.

How will these bio-based material experiments help us relate to nature in different ways?

I think in general people don’t know what’s in materials these days. If you would ask people on the street, ‘what materials are you wearing?’, most of them will don’t know that they are two-thirds oil, or that they have plastic on their skin.

One value of these projects is that they connect people back to materials in general. We will continue to use materials in our everyday lives and we need to be aware of them and how they exist in our world. If you are not aware of something, you cannot have an impact on that. For example, if you want to select something more sustainable, you can’t unless you know about it.

"People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently."

We feel strongly that when you play with natural materials, when you work with them in intimate and tangible ways, you start to think about the material more deeply, and that’s a kind of trigger or motivation that allows you to think more deeply about nature in general.

And even human nature. One of our students has been exploring how to help children to express feelings through playing with materials. Our minds are deeply linked to our body, and we are looking into how these materials may make us more aware of many things — ourselves, nature, sustainability.

More and more we are not working with our hands. People used to sew, repair, make food from scratch - and this makes you think differently. To do this is to also develop your thinking and your mindset.

Do you feel that CHEMARTS disrupts narratives of humans mastering nature for their own needs? 

I think they have to disrupt this narrative. We can’t go on using nature in the way that we do. There is much more discussion happening about the agency of materials in the era of the Anthropocene.

"We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow."

We are part of nature ourselves, yet we seem to have forgotten that somehow. However we nature effects whole environmental systems. By learning about the impact, and how we use systems, we can change the way we use them. We have to change how we are using materials on a large scale, and for a very short time. The whole system is unbearable. 

How to change this?

We can change things by establishing some kind of balance. For example, experiments with natural dyes have become popular recently, but many of the plants we use for them are very rare. What would happen if the whole industry started using them? It would be a catastrophe and would bring new problems. So we need to have a more holistic way of thinking, to ask where do these techniques it come from, is it good for nature? Can we grow it ourselves, for example with bacteria? We should be very careful about what we label as sustainable.

Do you see a move in this direction already?

I see it here in Scandinavia, I may see it in central Europe. But to be honest, if we take a global perspective, not yet. We are living in a bubble, and it’s easy. We live in rich countries and we can afford to be sustainable.

I was recently speaking with someone from Lebanon, and for him the concept of sustainability was not familiar at all. So we have a lot to do in terms of spreading this thinking and knowledge. And of course we need people like Greta Thunberg, we need these kinds of activists to spread awareness.

We can take inspiration from nature, where nothing is too much and nothing is too little. Whatever nature produces, some other element is balancing it and using it. Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider.

"Our ecosystems work in a certain ways so that there is no waste, and that’s a very interesting thing to consider."

For more information about student projects and research by CHEMARTS, follow the links and see for yourself! CHEMARTS will be releasing a Cookbook in 2020, learn more about it here.

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Oded Ezer is a typographer from Israel who never fails to push boundaries, or rather, discard them altogether. Ezer is a rebellious force that swings between commercial and experimental work, often blurring the two realms.

His meaningful yet functional commercial type is always accompanied by an unexpected twist, and his experimental work dives unapologetically into intimate and obscure areas of life, combining developments in scientific and medical fields with the universal medium of type in provocative ways.

In our view, Ezer has truly earned the title of “mad type scientist”, and his oeuvre exists as a “typographic wonderland” where literally anything goes.

Ezer invites us to dream about an alternative future for type - one where text is not confined to a two dimensional existence, viewed merely as an external record of human culture. Instead, he imagines type as an integrated part of ourselves and the living systems that surround us. His typographic transgressions cleverly fuse letters to animate, changeable and embodied systems in ways that give words a whole new communicative power.

Ezer’s latest project, Veining (2019), is a continuation of his never-ending quest to bring type to places it has never been before. He presents us with a future in which self expression meets biology; where words can be surgically implanted under our skin and connected to our veins. Giving the internal workings of the body a new visibility, Ezer further imagines that a fluorescent liquid can be injected into the text-vein hybrid, taking this speculative re-imagining of body modification to the next level.

Time for a chat.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)
Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Your work often incorporates or imagines developments in biotechnology. Why do you feel a responsibility to explore these future possibilities?

I think that I have a responsibility towards the past, I am only one part of a long chain. Yet I also have a responsibility to the future of typography as a changing field. I feel maybe I can contribute something to this change. Even if my ideas are not realistic sometimes, they add to the discourse that surrounds developments in typography and technology.

"Every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming."

These works add some kind of reason to start a conversation about the future - the future of the field, and the future of our culture. Because typography is just the tip of the iceberg that is culture.

In the same way everyone has a responsibility to their culture, type is so universal that every contribution to the development of the field is also a contribution to the development of our culture. Typography is so fundamental for communicating, and an important brick in our future as human beings. The danger of what I’m doing is that somebody might think it is too far fetched. Someone can say you’re just dreaming - and I’m ok with that. Because every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Let’s focus on your new project, Veining. How did it begin?

It started as another attempt to try to find new ways of working with type. My basic approach is to understand that the role of type is changing. People are reading less and less. They feel better with videos and visuals more and more. It is similar to the times where humans heard stories, and didn’t read them.

I’m naturally thinking, ok, so how would typography evolve now? That was my starting point: to find new ways of expressing, using and living with type. I had to think, what is the next step that will unite visual and typographic representation? We are living in a time where there has been a dramatic change in the role of type and written words. 

Do you see this change in the role of type as positive?

Conservative people might dislike this change. For some it is a loss. But you look at it afresh, as a possibility of change and redefinition, then it’s like a playground. It’s a good opportunity to play, think, imagine and invent. To contribute your angle. I think the next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications. It is just a matter of perception, and norms are changing rapidly.

"The next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications"

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)
https://vimeo.com/354472098

How would integrating type into the body, as Veining proposes, make us view our bodies differently?

My suggestion is that we will relate to our bodies as a kind of screen, or interface. We can treat our bodies as a format to deliver messages, a tool. Instead of something that is just receiving data, we might use our bodies in ways that actually project data. We already have similar ideas, like using the skin as an interface. But what I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface.

"What I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface."

In the next phase we may go even deeper. We have so many possibilities and spaces to use under the skin - our muscles and inner organs. This may be a first step in going deeper into the body and treating it as a tool for communication data. It was so important for me that the type would be part of the body, not an additional element - a data communicating element that is part of the happenings of the body. 

For Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006), Ezer imagined type as part of the human body - a seamless extension of his skin. This typographic fiction succeeds in re-imagining our connections with type, and experiments with the body as a communicator through a subversive hybridization of biology and text.
Oded Ezer, Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006)

Did you incorporate medical and scientific knowledge into the design process of Veining? 

Usually I do, in the case of Veining I consulted medical surgeons. But I must confess, this is slightly less important to me right now. Because if you really think about veining in terms of practicality, you would learn that at the moment it would be very dangerous to do it. Whether it’s possible is not really the question. What is more important is the concept and the idea that something like this might work in the future. If I am caught up on thinking what is possible, it will stop me from thinking about typography. The idea is much more important than the practicality. 

"Whether it’s possible is not really the question"

In some cases people really want to know how it is possible. A number of people have asked me, why doesn’t the fluorescent liquid travel outside of the word after being injected into the blood? I imagine there would be some kind of gate or barrier within the vein, at the start and end of the word. This would allow the blood to travel through but stop the fluorescent liquid from seeping out. For instance, I know this kind of thing really is being developed by scientists. 

For Biotypography (2005-2006), Ezer morphed ants, rats and sperm cells into transgenic letter-organism hybrids through an imagined biotechnological intervention in their DNA. Here, type becomes a tangible shape-shifter between biology and culture, static and living, organic and technological.
Oded Ezer, Biotypography (2005-2006)

Would you like to be in closer communication with scientific and medical worlds?

I would love to do that. I just haven’t had the chance yet. I would love to have scientists contacting me with the start of an idea, asking to collaborate. I live in a country where there are groundbreaking scientists - Israel is famous for its innovative work. But somehow it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe my work is too artsy for scientists?

"It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists"

Given the opportunity, I would jump on it! It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists. I remember when Paolla Antonelli showed Typosperma at MoMA in 2008, she was so happy to find another project by a scientist that talked about some of the same things - but from a completely different angle. 

Oded Ezer, Typosperma (2006-2007)

Is your forward thinking approach something that is intuitive to you? 

I think intuition is a big part of it. Intuition is one of the most important things for going to the next level. But if you have no knowledge behind your intuition, your ideas will never go as deep as they can go. I think that my more academic and artistic knowledge is such a deep and great source for inspiration.

If you have it you can play with that in endless combinations. But if I want to move forward and create something about the future, I have to make the jump. The jump involves taking what I know and combining it with aspects that are new. And to not be afraid of going places where other people haven’t gone yet. I’ve never had this kind of fear - my only fear is to stop creating or to stop thinking. I’m not afraid to look ridiculous, I just want to go further.

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Occupying the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum is internationally renowned for its visionary approach and highly original curation of contemporary art. The museum’s latest exhibition, Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow, is a comprehensive investigation into the near future, a space in which speculation becomes reality for the duration of your visit.

The exhibition builds a diverse picture of what our world may look like in 20 to 30 years. Depicting a range of works that represent utopia, dystopia and everything in between, the showcase will ask fundamental questions about technology in order to establish what our future ought to be.

Here are three must-see highlights:

The momentous expo includes ecoLogicStudio’s “in-human” garden, H.O.R.T.U.S XL, where visitors can witness a productive meeting of biological autonomy and man-made creation. Within the installation, technology and nature find balance; the sculpture's 3D printed structure optimizes the growth of the algae inoculated into it by humans, and in turn, the algae purifies the air that surrounds it, making this living sculpture receptive to both human and non-human life. The project grapples with how developments in synthetic biology and design give the notion of "living" a new artificiality.

Drawing on developments in human reproductive technologies, Ai Hasegawa (an artist featured in our Reprodutopia project) will show her speculative project, Shared Baby. Hasegawa imagines a scenario in which the DNA of multiple parents can be used for the creation of one child, and additionally, the sex of the parent is irrelevant. The project asks, how will family structures be transformed by such developments, and what will the future of humans look like when individuals share the DNA of multiple people?

Delving into the social implications of robotic-human relationships, Vincent Fournier's photographic series, Man Machine, questions how humans will live alongside increasingly anthropomorphic robots. Fournier's aim was to "create a balance between the spectator and the robot, between a process of identification and distance.” In doing so, his photography addresses how the integration of robots in our daily lives sparks both fascination and fear when it comes to social acceptance of this change. 

These works join 100 projects from an impressive selection of visual artists, architects and designers, including Agi Haines, Daan Roosegaarde, Patricia Piccinini, Neri Oxman, XTU Architects and many more.

Read Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft's essay on judaism in relation to the production of laboratory-grown meat.

Next Nature Network also contributes to the exhibition by presenting six Bistro In Vitro meat dishes. Adding our unique perspective to this impressive future forecast, we provide a tangible narrative through which visitors can contemplate how our current food culture may be transformed by the normalization of in vitro meat. Indeed, before we can decide whether we are willing to consume lab-grown alternatives, we must consider how meat may manifest in our lives, our kitchens and on our plates.

What? A near-future forecast disguised as an exhibition 
Where? Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
When? Now, until 29 March 2020

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Meet Daniel Elkayam, a fresh-faced Industrial Design graduate, based in Jerusalem, Israel. For his graduation project MAYMA, Elkayam worked with algae in ways that implore us to "imagine a world in which we harness nature in our favor without harming it," as the designer puts it.

Delving into the notion of biophilia — the belief that humans have an inherent tendency to make connections and form relationships with the natural world — Elkayam wonders about how humans relate to the natural world, and how the use of living materials may affect these (often consumerist) relations.

Welcome to the Next Generation: Get to know Daniel Elkayam.

What is MAYMA?

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

With the help of Dr. Filipe Natalio from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Elkayam developed a genetically modified outer shell for the algae which allows for the exchange of gases needed to sustain photosynthesis. The result is a living material that is autonomous yet confined, both natural and unnatural.

Elkayam sees MAYMA as a speculative venture into how we can make new connections with nonhuman life. His work explores how we can look afresh and reconnect with overlooked resources when they are presented in new forms.

The development of his project, and the deeper scientific exploration it involved, allowed the young desiger to see algae in a completely new light — as an untapped resource with dynamic possibilities. MAYMA brings together scientific exploration, human desire and the needs of algae in thought-provoking ways.

"How may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? "

Making the unfamiliar familiar

MAYMA evokes familiar archetypes such as the aquarium, house pants and traditional weaving techniques. Elkayam introduces algae in familiar ways to find a middle ground from which people can connect with it as both a potential resource, and as a living being for which humans have a responsibility. This feeling of responsibility is something Elkayam sees as crucial for living with nature in the future.

The designer seeks to ask, "how will the relationship between human and nature change if humans have to take care of the materials that purify the air around us? Would it be the same as taking care of a pet?" and "how may our consumption habits change if the materials we use are alive? Would this new duty of 'care' make us consume less?"

Questions like these encourage us to think more deeply about our current use of natural materials. For instance, how deeply can we connect with a non-living wooden table? What duty of care do we have for it, beyond preserving its aesthetic appearance? What will happen if the natural materials that surround us are not inanimate, silent witnesses to our everyday lives, but alive, responsive organisms that require our care?

Rethinking biophilia

When we think about connecting with nature in a biophilic sense, Elkayam challenges us to think through the contradictions that surround our relationship with nature.

We may see MAYMA as another example of human mastery over nature, and think to ourselves, what’s different here? This is where Elkayam’s work challenges us to dissect our notions of what is natural.

Elkayam aims to create a productive tension between living and static, domestic and wild, touched and untouched. Projects like MAYMA can encourage us to let go of the romantic ideal of unspoilt nature, and see how scientific exploration can re-enchant us with natural materials in unexpected ways.

"Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers?"

Algae as co-designers

Elkayam’s project can be seen as tentative investigation into where the boundary lies between nature’s autonomy and humanity's desire for connections with it. It opens up discussion about what kinds of relationships we can form with living organisms when we let go of the idea of nature as pure, static, balanced and harmonic.

If biophilia is about making connections with the natural world, then we must learn to connect with new, not-so-natural nature that surrounds us.

In this case, can connections be made stronger when we can experience natural materials in ways that incorporate the needs and desires of both the human and nonhuman?

Will organisms such as algae become our next co-designers, or perhaps, our next natural companions? 

MAYMA consists of three tanks that contain formations of modified microscopic algae. Within each tank, the algae is manipulated into unnatural shapes that replicate man-made material fibres.

MAYMA is one part of Elkayam's two part graduation series SEAmpathy.

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What do in-vitro human skin, spider silk and cow manure have in common? They are all unlikely materials that can cloth, protect and inspire humans, as realized by award-winning designer Jalila Essaïdi.

Her transdisciplinary work, in which creativity meets scientific exploration, unlocks the potential of weird and wonderful biomaterials to address relevant social and environmental issues.

Essaïdi succeeds in transforming our view of the natural world, by going beyond an aesthetic admiration of nature and challenging us to reconsider the amazing capabilities of less marketable, overlooked and often undesired bioproducts. 

As a resistor of labels, her work is interdisciplinary, and seeks to see design ‘problems’ as opportunities for change. She is specialized in the fields of bio-based materials and biological art (bio-art).

With the Dutch Design Week 2019 just around the corner, we caught up with Essaïdi to discuss her vision on design, how biomimicry informs her work, and her appointment as an ambassador for the leading design event in Northern Europe. But first, let's get you acquainted with her work.

Bullet-proof skin

For one of her infamous projects, Bulletproof Skin’ or ‘2.6g 329m/s, Essaïdi combined in-vitro human skin with spider silk from genetically modified goats. Seems incomprehensible, right? Wrong!

Essaïdi delivered proof of concept in the form of a bioengineered human skin capable of stopping a low-speed bullet. The project received the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award in 2010, which offers funding and support to designers and artists who collaborate with life sciences to produce groundbreaking, interdisciplinary works.

To give you an idea of how it works:

human skin plastic surgery
Human skin, leftover from plastic surgery.
human skin leftover
Human skin with its layer of fat still attached, leftover from plastic surgery.
Isolated dermis
Isolated dermis, used to extract fibroblasts from.
in vitro human skin
Full thickness in vitro human skin
preparing shooting rage
Preparing the shooting rage at the Netherlands Forensic Institute.
bullet in skin
A bullet wrapped in a piece of in vitro skin attached to a block ballistic gell.

Cow-manure couture

For her project Mestic, Essaïdi transformed cow manure into cellulose-derivatives. With this venture came the possibility of forming a local, manure-based economy. By using excess manure for the production of plastics and textiles, this project revolutionized the way we look at waste.

"In nature nothing is considered waste. Yet manure, in its essence, is easily considered the most vile substance we know. Mestic shows that even this most disgusting matter is inherently beautiful."

cow-source-cellulose
The source of cellulose
Cellulose derived from manure
Messo fibres, usuable for the paperindustry
Process in the lab
Mestic® as thin as cigarette rolling paper
Viscose made from mestic®

Behind the materials

While the above designs are characterized by the use of unconventional materials, Essaïdi’s works always go deeper to address wider issues.

Bulletproof Skin, for example, is about the relativity and dual nature of security. The work forms a response to the culture of fear that has emerged from news feeds and social media channels that manipulate our feelings of safety.

Additionally, Mestic strikes at the heart of our aversion to waste by demonstrating how even the ‘disgusting’ can be inherently beautiful. Essaïdi shared her approach, stating that "the materials are results, they enable me to tell the story." And, when it comes to materials she would like to work with in the future, she sees no boundaries: "none of them are off-limits."

"The materials are results, they enable me to tell the story."

Besides her artistic practice, Essaïdi is CEO of Inspidere B. V., a biotech company to envision, develop, design and implement sustainable new materials and products, and accelerate their path to market.

She also founded the BioArt Laboratories. Here, she welcomes scientists and designers from all over the world to collaborate on projects that push the boundaries of art, design, technology and science. The BioArt Laboratories offer participants "the right tools and critical questions to help steer their work and overcome obstacles", and in turn, those who take part "bring various perspectives on nature and technology." Projects have varied from exploring desert animal adaptations as a solution for drought, to converting food waste into textiles as a way of challenging consumption habits.

Given that her work champions ‘innovation inspired by nature’, Essaïdi elaborated on how sees the relationship between humans, nature and technology in design: "There are many elements of nature that we can learn from, or ideas that we can ‘steal’ or adapt into technology in a sustainable, non-invasive way."

Indeed, her approach is characterized by respect and admiration for nature, and she further believes that through studying natural processes we can find solutions for contemporary issues. She highlights that "by looking at nature’s adaptations to environmental changes, humans can learn how to use technology to adapt to societal changes as well."

"By looking at nature’s adaptations to environmental changes, humans can learn how to use technology to adapt to societal changes as well."

 Here we see how biomimicry plays a role in Essaïdi’s philosophy as an artist. By exploring the composition, processes and capabilities of natural materials, she demonstrates the exciting possibilities that emerge when we decenter the human and allow nature to become our mentor. Work of this kind can allow us to think of nature as a resource to be collaborated with rather than controlled.

What will Essaïdi bring as DDW ambassador? 

Moving on to Essaïdi’s appointment as DDW ambassador, we were curious to learn what she wanted to bring to her role this year. Her answer is clear and concise: "I have always been interested in design projects that offer more than just economic value. As an ambassador, I want to raise awareness of different values that design can offer, such as ecological gains and sustainable applications."

Essaïdi further agreed that her appointment may represent a shift in what is expected from design and its future possibilities: "I think my goals fit a larger trend towards global awareness of the importance and urgency of sustainable design."

"I want to raise awareness of different values that design can offer, such as ecological gains and sustainable applications."

Indeed, this year’s DDW theme, If Not Now, Then When?, seems to support this sense of urgency, and has been described in the press as a ‘call to arms’. Asking Essaïdi whether design had reached its potential as a tool for change, she crucially pointed out that "humans have been constructing the world to meet their needs by design for eons."

"It is not so much the question if design has reached its potential as a tool for change, but if we are willing to explore and understand evolving and complex problems and turn them into sustainable solutions. The tools are there, we just need more problem loving creative change-makers."

"The tools are there, we just need more problem loving creative change-makers."

So, where can we find these problem loving creative change-makers? Essaïdi highlights the importance of experimental spaces like the BioArt Laboratories in working to meet this urgent need. She sees the initiative as an essential, collaborative "movement of creative change-makers — willing to reconfigure our current practices towards a circular economy."

We are excited to have Jalila Essaïdi on board as a speaker during the DDW Talks: Bio Design. Note: This event is part of the professionals program (register for early bird €75 via this link). But members of Next Nature Network attend this event for free! Drop us a line to claim your ticket.

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This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.

Kicking off this series is Valerie Daude, a recent MA graduate in Social Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). She is interested in how gut bacteria play critical roles in maintaining our human health in many aspects, and aims to understand how biological organisms interact with their human host.

This research has led her to design the Microbial Self project, a series of interactive facial prosthetics that measure and visualize the diversity of microbial species inside our guts, hence give insides on our bodily and mental health condition.

According to the designer, "the masks act as body extensions that enable a dialogue between us and the microorganisms inside of us. Displaying your 'inside' in the middle of your face, hiding your identity and sharing it with your microorganisms."

Welcome to the Next Generation: Get to know Valerie Daude.

Where does your fascination for microbial design come from?

As a woman of 1,92m, standard organizations like ISO or DIN consider my size non-standard. As a result, the world that has been built does not fit my body size and makes me experience the negative aspects of industry standards every day.

This motivated me to research ergonomic theory, the process of normalization and standardization of the human body, and especially historic concepts of the normal or average.

I found that the first physical unit of measurement was the human body itself. The resulting anthropic units went beyond focusing on the body, and were used to define the dimensions of the world.

How did this insight inform your work?

While trying to define alternative units to measure the human body, I learned that our physical and mental health is highly influenced by trillions of microorganisms that live within, on and around us. 

The differences between bodies on a microscopic level have a much bigger impact on humans’ overall wellbeing, more than differences in size and dimension. This insight made me change my focus from defining a body through its anthropometric measurements to interpreting the body in a much smaller and much more diverse unit — I started to investigate the microorganisms inside the body. 

Tell us a bit more about these microorganisms

Only 43% of each human body's total cell amount is human. The remaining 57% are microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Their population and genetic material are referred to as the human microbiome.

Bacteria far outnumber other microbes, and most species are found in the gut. Their diversity is essential for many aspects of our physical and mental well being. Between 400 and up to 1000 different bacteria species live in a healthy gut. The more different species you have, the better it is for your body.

They help us to digest certain food, synthesize vitamins, balance our immune system, and through the gut-brain axis, they influence our cognitive functions, mood, and even our behavior.

Each human body has its own unique set of microbes that constantly change over a lifetime. Diet, exercise, hygiene, medication and many other influences from our environment determine the composition of our microbes.

We constantly influence our microbial bodies without being aware of the impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

And your project aims to visualize this?

Yes, I am working on methods to measure, visualize and display the diversity of our gut bacteria. Therefore I developed the concept of Microbial Masks, which have an integrated breath test that analyzes the diversity of gut bacteria through chemicals in your breath.

With every breath, the mask translates the results into a readable color code that is displayed on the mask.

Who are the masks for?

First and foremost, it's an ongoing design research project. At this stage, the project aims to explore through speculation how relationships between humans, as well as between humans and microbes, will be affected through advances in microbiome research.

To date, the relationship between humans and microorganisms has largely been biased. Microorganisms, especially bacteria, are primarily associated with diseases, contamination, and death.

Changes in present-day society such as diets with increased sugar, salt, and saturated fat, insufficient exercise, overuse of antibiotics, disinfectants, and pesticides cause a microbial imbalance in our environments and our bodies.

This contributes to an increase in obesity, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, depression, and mental health concerns. We need a paradigm shift, from thinking about microbes as enemies that have to be eliminated and destroyed, to thinking about achieving a healthy microbiotic environment within and around us. 

Where could you see the masks first introduced?

In a later stage of the project, the breath test technology could be implemented into wearable healthcare devices.

Nowadays, patients have little power in most healthcare systems and are depending on the decisions of healthcare professionals. Through self-tracking devices, individuals can get involved in the management of their microbial balance within the gut, and by extension, their overall health.

Would you wear this yourself?

I would wear and present the Microbial Masks on public events, symposiums, or exhibitions and invite others to test them. The main purpose of them is to open up conversations about the future application of microbiome research, data security, and to challenge the relationship between humans and microorganisms.

This phase of the project is not about introducing the design or technology to the market. Rather, the purpose is to gather people around these speculative objects as a way of maintaining interdisciplinary debate and creating new perspectives on scientific research.

The Microbial Masks are physical, haptic and form interactive conversation pieces that challenge the senses and imagination, triggering the exchange of insights between different professions, from artists to scientists, to learn from each other’s perspectives.

On a scale from 1-10, how speculative is the project?

I see this project as a near-future scenario in which healthcare becomes much more personal, political and expressive. In general, I would rate it a 7.

There are some parts, like the breath test, which is still a concept. But there are already diagnostic tools, like the hydrogen breath test, that can measure bacterial growth in your digestive tract through chemicals in your breath.

Also, the application of this technology in a mask can not be ruled out. In China, it is already very common to wear masks in public for health reasons. Although it is much more likely that many would prefer to keep the information gathered by the Microbial Mask private. 

Apart from that, the potential of microbiome research in healthcare is real. More and more at-home gut bacteria testing kits appear on the market. They all claim to help improve health.

Although the tests are questionable, in terms of their reliability, the market is growing rapidly. I took this extremely impersonal and quite slow procedure and transformed it into a more sensual and faster method: a breath test.

The microbiome holds the ability to influence our body, identity, health. Masks aside, one may argue that designing your microbiome is a form of biohacking, would you agree? Why?

Yes, definitely. Biohacking doesn't have to be related to micro-dosing, LSD or implanting chips. It's also about the controlled enhancement of your physical and cognitive performance, through the use of technology and biology.

There is constant interaction between microorganisms and hosts, autonomous processes of unconscious exchange that can enhance or decrease the host's performance. Humans are influencing their gut microbiome through everything they eat, inhale, absorb, digest and synthesize. Presumed that this influence may be conscious, guided, and goal-oriented, it can be interpreted as biohacking. Thereby the goal is to enhance the host’s overall health, cognitive function, and performance achieved through a balanced and diverse gut microbiome.

Why should we share this data?

Our body produces measurable data at every moment, and we could use this data to improve care and find new treatments for disease. Due to emerging molecular technologies, scientific knowledge and advances in human microbiome research are booming. This will inevitably bring striking changes in  understanding ourselves, normalcy, health, and illness, and consequently transform medical care, plus personal and public health.

The enormous amount of data we could generate by monitoring all those autonomous microorganism processes in our gut, with every single breath, holds exciting potential for researchers and doctors - on the condition that the collected data remains anonymous and is protected to prevent its misuse. This data could improve healthcare and find new treatments for disease.

Understanding how microorganisms interact with their human hosts could explain different aspects of many complex diseases. We can gain better insight into metabolic diseases, diabetes and Alzheimers, immunological and autoimmune diseases, or even behavioral changes, like depression and anxiety, or autism and ADHD in children.

What’s the dream scenario for this design? What’s the nightmare?

The nightmare would be if microbial data would be used to exclude, discriminate, or disadvantage people. It could be extremely problematic if insurance companies or employers want to have access to this kind of data. Furthermore, choice of friends and partners may be influenced, since body contact significantly influences the microbial communities on a human's skin.

The dream scenario is to use microbiome research to improve healthcare and to create a collective understanding of the importance of microbes for ourselves and our environment.

I designed the three Microbial Masks based on bodily systems which are highly influenced by our microbes. The digestive system, the respiratory system, and the immune system. In the future, wearables in healthcare may be defined as an extension of the body, technology that merges with your body like an external organ. I am not a big fan of the sleek industrial design of standard wearables in healthcare today. The aesthetic translations of my research are also visual proposals for a more expressive and sensual design of future wearable healthcare products.

We live in a microbial world, without being aware of it. We might need to conceptualize the human body as an ecosystem and the human being as a superorganism, rather than a single individual.

Catch Microbial Self as part of the Dutch Design Week at the DAE Graduation Show 2019. From 19 — 27 October at Melkfabriek, Eindhoven.

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Hooray! The team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (whom we previously collaborated with to design a prototype for an artificial womb) has been awarded a €2.9 million grant to develop a working prototype of their artificial womb.

Artificial womb: a brief explainer

The artificial womb would provide premature babies with artificial respiration in conditions close to a biological womb. Oxygen and nutrients would be delivered to the baby through an umbilical cord-like tube. Inside, the baby would be protected by a substance close to amniotic fluid.

Guid Oei, a professor at the university and a practicing gynaecologist, says that the conditions of current incubators are too harsh for premature babies born without fully developed lungs or intestines. As a result, attempts to deliver oxygen and nutrients directly to the organs often result in lasting damage and survival rates are low for babies less than 22 weeks old.

“Within five years it will be possible for a premature baby to continue to mature in an artificial womb”
Guid Oei, gynecologist

Indeed, the model is revolutionary in that “when we put the [babies] lungs back under water then they can develop, they can mature [...] the baby will receive the oxygen by the umbilical cord, just like in the natural womb,” Oei explains. The researchers hope that the artificial womb will be ready for use in clinics within five years.

The technology needed to create the artificial womb has been tested on lambs using so-called bio bags. Lambs born at the equivalent of 23 weeks of human pregnancy continued to develop within the biobags and, after being removed, grew up normally.

The power of design

It's interesting to see how a visualization — that was initially created to spark conversation about scientific developments in reproductive technology — is now at the forefront of media reporting of the research grant.

The design was conceptualized and visualised by Next Nature designer-in-chief Hendrik-Jan Grievink, in close collaboration with the team of Guid Oei, for Dutch Design Week 2018.

The unique collaboration between Máxima Medical Centre and Next Nature Network is part of an ongoing research into the impact of technology on the future of biological reproduction, intimacy and relationships: Welcome to Reprodutopia.

Want to see it for yourself? You can! The prototype is currently on display at the Reprodutopia expo in Amsterdam. During your visit, challenge and ask yourself: How will we live, love and reproduce in next nature?

What? The Reprodutopia Clinic expo
When? From 9 October  — 30 November 2019
Where? Droog Amsterdam

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The world of fungi has attracted a lot of interest and seems to be becoming very fashionable of late. A new exhibition at Somerset House in London, for example, is dedicated to “the remarkable mushroom”. No surprise: we’re being promised that mushrooms may be the key to a sustainable future in fields as diverse as fashion, toxic spill clean ups, mental health and construction. It’s in this last field that my own interests lie.

Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time: buildings are hugely complicit in the crisis. Together, buildings and construction contribute 39% of the world’s carbon footprint. Energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of these emissions: households are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2015, accounting for a quarter of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.

The remaining 11% of buildings’ carbon emissions consists of those associated with construction and building materials. The UK construction industry, for example, uses around 400 million tonnes of materials each year and approximately 100 million tonnes become waste. Cement alone is responsible for a whopping 8% of global CO₂ emissions. Compare this to the much maligned global aviation industry, which emits 2% of all human-induced CO₂ emissions. Buildings and, by association, the construction industry, are profoundly responsible for climate change.

Cement – the key ingredient of concrete – is responsible for an astonishing 8% of all carbon emissions. Via Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash, FAL

There is evidently a real need for the construction industry to reduce the impact of its material and energy use and to take part in the transition towards a more sustainable economy by researching and using alternative materials. This is not an absurd ask: such materials already exist.

Mushroom materials

And yes, one such material happens to be derived from fungi: mycelium composites. This material is created by growing mycelium – the thread-like main body of a fungus – of certain mushroom-producing fungi on agricultural wastes.

Mycelium are mainly composed of a web of filaments called “hyphae”, which acts as a natural binder, growing to form huge networks called “mycelia”. These grow by digesting nutrients from agricultural waste while bonding to the surface of the waste material, acting as a natural self-assembling glue. The entire process uses biological growth rather than expensive, energy intensive manufacturing processes.

Close-up image of mycelium showing interwoven fine hyphae. © Ian Fletcher

Mycelium materials offer an exciting opportunity to upcycle agricultural waste into a low-cost, sustainable and biodegradable material alternative. This could potentially reduce the use of fossil fuel dependant materials. The materials are low-density, making them very light compared to other materials used in construction. They also have excellent thermal and fire resistant properties.

Fungal architecture

To date, mycelium materials have been used in a number of inventive ways in building projects. One particular company of note is The Living, a New York based architectural firm which designed an organic mycelium tower known as “Hy-Fi” [as seen on the cover image] in the courtyard of MoMA’s PS1 space in midtown Manhattan. Designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program, the structure illustrates the potential of this biodegradable material, in this case made from farm waste and cultured fungus grown in brick-shaped moulds.

Mae Ling Lokko, Mushroom Panels and Pentagram interactive work. Part of Somerset House exhibition: Mushrooms The Art Design and Future of Fungi. © Mark Blower

Another project of note is MycoTree, a spatial branching structure made out of load-bearing mycelium components. This research project was constructed as the centrepiece for the “Beyond Mining – Urban Growth” exhibition at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 in Seoul, Korea. The project illustrates a provocative vision of how building materials made from mycelium can achieve structural stability. This opens up the possibility of using the material structurally and safely within the construction industry.

Mycelium materials have also been analysed for uses ranging from acoustic absorbers, formed packaging materials and building insulation. And NASA is currently researching using mycelium to build habitable dwellings on Mars.

Recycled buildings

I am investigating the development of mycelium materials using locally sourced materials such as wheat straw. Wheat straw is a cheap and abundant source of waste in the Yorkshire region, so would be a fantastic raw material for construction. My main objective is to develop a material for use in non-load bearing applications, such as internal wall construction and façade cladding. The material displays similar structural properties to those of natural materials like wood.

Close-up image of mycelium of P. ostreatus growing around wheat straw. © Ian Fletcher, Author provided

The development of mycelium materials from locally sourced agricultural waste could reduce the construction industry’s reliance on traditional materials, which could improve its carbon footprint. Mycelium composite manufacturing also has the potential to be a major driving force in developing new bioindustries in rural areas, generating sustainable economic growth while creating new jobs.

The construction industry is faced with a choice. It must be revolutionised. If we carry with business as usual, we must live with the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.

What? Explore the art, design and future of mushrooms
Where?
Somerset House, London
When?
Now until 26 April 2020

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