34 results for “Hypermaterials”

How to biofabricate leather; lessons from the lab

Laura Muth
June 21st 2019

Leather is one of the oldest and most versatile materials in the world. It’s a supple, tough, relatively strong and durable material and it’s relatively impermeable, yet breathable. Having existed in some form or another since the dawn of mankind, leather is used for a wide range of products—varying from furniture, clothes and accessories, to car upholstery.

The history of leather is long and has brought us many different processing methods, yet the implementation of a circular approach within production …

Lessons in bio design with Emma van der Leest

Meike Schipper
February 21st 2019

As a young bio designer at the start of your career, you'll have to overtake all kinds of obstacles. From the collection of living materials to working in a laboratory and collaborating with scientists; bio design is a newly emerging field in which you have to pave your own paths.

Meet biodesigner Emma van der Leest. Characterized by a DIY mentality, her multidisciplinary practice combines craft, scientific research and new bio-based production techniques.

Besides her own design practice, Emma founded …

This 3D-Printed Structure Can Fold Itself

Charlotte Kuijpers
January 16th 2018
Researchers at the University of Technology in Delft have created flat structures able to fold themselves into three-dimensional constructions.

Interview: Curator Ilari Laamanen on Momentum9, the Nordic Biennial

Ruben Baart
August 4th 2017
We recently spoke to Ilari Laamanen, to peel the outcrops of Momemtum9, and unveil the overlapping themes to the next nature philosophy.

Interview: Lining Yao, Interaction Designer and Maker of Novel Materials

Alessia Andreotti
June 29th 2017
We recently interviewed Lining Yao, Chinese interaction designer who uses organic materials as a technology that brings us back to nature.

The End of Air-Conditioning

Elle Zhan Wei
March 4th 2017
New heat-reflective material signs the end of air-conditioning use.

Fungal Futures: the Mushrooms Utopia

Federico Andreotti
February 7th 2017
Exhibition Fungal Futures: design with mushrooms.

World’s “Coolest” Hotel

Ruben Baart
December 6th 2016
Sweden's new Icehotel 365 uses solar cooling to stay open all year.

Designer Creates Water Bottles from Algae

Daniel Fraga
March 21st 2016
Icelandic Product Design student Ari Jónsson has used red algae powder and water to create a biodegradable water bottle.

Self-Healing Concrete

Daniel Fraga
November 28th 2015
A microbiologist has developed a way to make the cracks in concrete structures heal themselves.
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Leather is one of the oldest and most versatile materials in the world. It’s a supple, tough, relatively strong and durable material and it’s relatively impermeable, yet breathable. Having existed in some form or another since the dawn of mankind, leather is used for a wide range of products—varying from furniture, clothes and accessories, to car upholstery.

The history of leather is long and has brought us many different processing methods, yet the implementation of a circular approach within production is still a long way off. We therefore need visionaries to come up with valid alternatives in order to move towards a more sustainable approach.

Labs like Waag’s TextileLab Amsterdam and the Open WetLab give designers access to technology and living matter, in order to create alternative materials while looking at material development from a circular point of view. I am one of these designers.

How leather is made

For the production of leather, theoretically, any animal skin can be used. It’s most often made from cows, calves, sheep, goats and pigs. The production of leather comes with many problems, as it’s made from animal hide treated with chemicals. In effect, the tannery wastewater used to make the leather with, contains large amounts of chemicals and pollutants (such as chromium salts, lime mud, sulphides, acids, lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde). These not only infect the people working in the tanneries, they also accumulate the groundwater.

Over the course of the 19th century, more and more alternatives for leather were explored, of which ‘leatherette’ is currently used most. Leatherette is a synthetic material designed specifically to mimic leather, it’s typically made from natural or synthetic cloth fibers coated in PVC or polyurethane and contains no animal by-products.

This led me to wonder, whether this plastic-coated material is a valid alternative in a time where we urgently need to move towards a circular approach. Because why not develop a plastic- and cruelty free material that less affects our planet as a whole?

How leather could be made

At Waag’s TextileLab Amsterdam I dove into the history of leather and the different working methods of producing the material, but looked even closer into leather alternatives and their manufacturing processes.

During the research I worked in the labs at the intersection of design, technology and biology, growing my own materials, wondering whether we would succeed in creating alternative leathers, cancelling out the existing problems that leather creates. Instead of working in a traditional studio, I suddenly worked in a lab, combining the expertise of various disciplines in order to explore new perspectives on the design of products in relation to its materials.

Focusing on alternative leathers from kombucha- and mycelium-leather, I worked towards a small collection of 3D-embossed purses and backpacks, inspired by the insect kingdom; especially the pillbug.

Leather from fermented tea

The first material I started working with was kombucha, or, the so-called ‘scoby’ (a thick, rubbery and cloudy mass that aids the fermentation process of kombucha).

In western culture, many people will perceive kombucha as a new drink, but drinking it has already been done for centuries to purify the body and strengthen the immune system.

Note: this part may get a bit technical, so bear with me.

Kombucha starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of the scoby; the bacteria in the scoby break down the tea's sugars and convert them into alcohol. The kombucha culture can be bought in special tea shops, bio-stores and online.

All too often, you’ll hear about the so-called kombucha mushroom or tea mushroom. However, the kombucha mushroom is not an independent fungus, but rather a symbiosis of various yeasts, single-celled fungi, or more precisely, the Ascomycota and Acetic acid bacteria.

The yeasts multiply in kombucha exclusively vegetatively through bud or cleavage. It forms a whitish, gelatinous layer on the tea surface, whereby new layers grow on top of each other. The color may vary from light grey to pink to dark brown, depending on the tea that is used.

The research consisted of treating the kombucha with several substances such as glycerine, beeswax and alcohol, in order to make it durable and water repellent, as this is still a challenge of this material. To prevent the material from growing mold, conventional vinegar is often used.

In comparison to animal leather, the kombucha grows really fast, it doesn’t need much space and nutrition besides a hint of sugar. But most importantly, it can be grown in different shapes! Scroll down for recipes.

Leather from mushrooms

Another very promising material is Mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or a fungal-like bacterial colony, consisting of a mass of branched filamentous hyphae.

Depending on the strain of mycelium is used, they have a lot of properties. Some are water absorbent, others flame retardant and dielectric materials. I used mycelium from Oyster-mushroom and Schizophrenia on the surface of nutrient liquid. Mycelium can be grown on agricultural waste and can be applied in many fields; from an alternative to polystyrene and plastic packaging to furniture, bricks and leather-like materials from mycelium.

However, keep in mind that mycelium grows relatively slow; for a piece of 50x70 centimeters, this takes more than two months to grow.

This is only the beginning

In my research I mainly focused on the process of growing the alternative leather myself, and less on the application until now. As you can see, there are a lot of interesting and promising alternatives for making leather. But to be fair, these are still not ready to meet the characteristics of animal skin. More research is needed, but alternative materials and their possible applications are definitely worth your while.

Do it yourself!

While I started the research in a lab, note that these materials can as well be grown from your own kitchen! I used the recipes by Suzanne Lee - BioCouture and Elise Elsacker – BioFabForum. Made it yourself? Share your findings in the comments below!


TextileLab Amsterdam is a creative research lab combining digital fabrication processes, biology, crafts techniques, textiles knowledge and material research into relevant opportunities for the textile, fashion and material fields and how these affect the way we work together towards change.

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As a young bio designer at the start of your career, you'll have to overtake all kinds of obstacles. From the collection of living materials to working in a laboratory and collaborating with scientists; bio design is a newly emerging field in which you have to pave your own paths.

Meet biodesigner Emma van der Leest. Characterized by a DIY mentality, her multidisciplinary practice combines craft, scientific research and new bio-based production techniques.

Besides her own design practice, Emma founded an open-access wet lab and teaches at the Willem de Kooning Academy and the Design Academy Eindhoven. She welcomed us at the BlueCity Lab to talk about the emerging craft of biodesign, the importance of collaboration and experimental education.

The unpaved path towards bio design

Emma was schooled as a product designer at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. During her studies, Bio fabrication sparked her interest when she encountered  the work of bio designer Suzanne Lee. Encouraged by a video explanation of Lee’s work, she bought Kombucha tea at a local shop and started experimenting at home. Back in her student dorm - to annoyance of her roommates that complained about the smell - she successfully grew cellulose out of it. This hands-on approach is what would characterize Emma’s work.

Biocouture clutch designed by Emma during her internship at the Biocouture Studio

“By the time I had to choose an internship, there was only one place I wanted to go to, this was Suzanne Lee’s Biocouture studio in London. I landed an internship at her studio and this  was kind of life changing for me: Here I learned to grow something in a ‘proper’ way”.

After Emma’s internship, she continued to work on her own bio-based design projects, but found difficulties in getting access to a laboratory.

Form follows organism

For her graduation project Form follows Organism in 2015, Emma developed a design methodology using a slime mold. “It was difficult to explain to people that I wasn't really designing a chair or a lamp, but that I was using an organism as a design tool.  My entire school career, I firmly believed in the added value of developing materials and getting the most out of it by researching its properties, rather than just designing the next chair. We have to reinvent materials instead of reinventing products.”

We have to reinvent materials instead of products.

She also researched the changing role of the designer when working with living materials. “It is a completely different field, you have to develop a certain language to communicate with scientists.” She met with scientists who were doing great work, but didn’t apply their findings after publication. “And that triggered me - how many treasures are just laying in a lab that we can take out? As designers and artists, we hold the ability to visualize this research into tangible products.”

An open laboratory set up as part of the Microbial Vending Machine exhibited at TENT Rotterdam

But, if form actually follows organism, how much influence does the designer hold? Emma explains that the laboratory is especially an area of control, because you decide upon the environment, the temperature and the nutrition of the material. She describes it as  “a whole new craft that you need to develop.”

Both designers and scientists are skilled in working with specific materials and tools. Sharing this expertise is necessary to master the craft of bio design.

Currently, Emma is collaborating with a scientist from Leiden University to develop a coating for bacterial leather, as the bacterial leather itself is not water-repellent and not very flexible. “I'm quite excited to develop this. We started out with small experiments and now we are going to see how far we can take it. After all, I'm still a product designer and not a biologist.”

The blue economy

Her vision on bio design and the lack of available laboratories for young bio designers eventually led her to set up a bio lab at BlueCity in 2016. Located in an abandoned tropical swimming pool, BlueCity is the entrepreneurial hub for the ‘blue economy’ in Rotterdam — and the perfect environment for innovation.

Blue City 010 is located in a former swimming pool in Rotterdam

The blue economy, a concept by author Gunter Pauli, is built upon businesses that involve waste as a new source, as the output of one entrepreneur serves as the input for another. Similar to nature’s cycles, the blue economy is based on networks.

“We try to work as an ecosystem, and really have nature sitting next to us at the table to learn how we can integrate her in different types of processes. If we want to shift towards a more sustainable blue and bio-fabricated future, we need to collaborate with nature — instead of working against her,” Emma says.

We need to collaborate with nature — instead of working against her.

The Lab is the ultimate place to practice what they preach. “We need to stop talking about it and just do it. The Lab is really a place and the platform where people come to acquire experience and meet each other.” The old locker rooms of the swimming pool have been transformed into a workplace for designers, scientists, researchers and students that want to experiment with biology. It combines a wet lab and a dry lab, which allows users to combine different crafts to develop a final product.

Though the Lab is still a work-in-progress, Emma aims to provide all that she was missing during her own exploration of bio design: an open and accessible place to experiment, learn and collaborate. “I started Blue City Lab to lower the threshold for anyone who wants to practice biotechnology in a DIY way of doing it.”

Microbial Vending Machine

This ideology of open access also becomes visible in Emma’s latest project: the Microbial Vending Machine. For this project she took a FEBO vending machine – a characteristic Dutch vending machine which sells deep-fried snacks ‘from the wall’– and turned it into a shopping window for living materials and speculative bio products.

The Microbial Vending Machine on show at TENT Rotterdam

“This is to show people that in less than 10 years, taking an organism out of the wall will be as easy as it is to get a soda from a vending machine today.” And the accessibility of biomaterials such as algae, fungi and bacteria is essential for bio design and biotechnology to thrive. “These collectable organisms may be far more valuable in the near future than any candy bar or soda. Ultimately, the organisms enable us to approach design, science and construction in an entirely new fashion.”

Organisms enable us to approach design, science and construction in an entirely new fashion.

Emma points out that these fast developments and the endless range of possibilities may scare people, and sometimes it scares even herself. “We can now grow meat and textiles in the laboratory, and we are already able to grow bricks in order to build houses. So, what can't we grow?”

Yet, fear of biotechnology mostly comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. “People may have heard about it, but don't exactly know what it is.” Therefore bringing the subject of biotechnology closer to the people may change the attitude towards it.  

On the future of (bio) design education

Wrapping up our conversation, we asked Emma how she envisions an ideal future for experimental and bio design, and how we can overcome the struggles that she ran into in exploring the uncharted territories of bio-based design. “We should at least have good education in this field,” she replies. “I think every designer should get introductory classes in sustainable design methods. It's really about how we can work efficiently with materials, instead of deriving them from Earth. Looking around us and see what we already have: from scarcity to abundance. And that’s a vision that generally lacks.”

Emma with the pop-up exhibit of the Blue City Lab

Emma states that most educational programs – on both art schools and universities – are still rather traditional. In her view, academic institutions could become more experimental. “I think this will hold the potential to stimulate innovation and makes collaborating easier. Try looking beyond yourself, and perhaps you’ll discover something that you’ve never thought of, which could literally change your life.”

[post_title] => Lessons in bio design with Emma van der Leest [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => interview-emma-van-der-leest [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-28 11:38:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-28 10:38:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=108818 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 78624 [post_author] => 1433 [post_date] => 2018-01-16 10:51:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-16 09:51:01 [post_content] => Researchers at the University of Technology in Delft have created flat structures able to fold themselves into three-dimensional constructions. Inspired by the art of origami, they designed 3D printed new shape shifting objects.The sequence of the folding parts can even be determined beforehand, which is not necessarily something new. What makes it a breaktrough in open-source possibilities, it's the use of relatively cheap material and tools. This new technique only requires an Ultimaker 3D printer and common PLA filament.Some parts contract before others, this is called sequential shape shifting and enables the user to create complex structures. By printing the 2D-structures with alternating thickness and alignment of the filament, the material will change shape when heated up. To showcase the technique, the researchers created a self-folding tulip.[youtube]https://youtu.be/XeLJd-r5H4M[/youtube]Amir Zadpoor, one of the researchers, envisions the application of this technique in different fields. Maybe we’ll buy a 2D-sheet at IKEA which transforms into a piece of furniture after we put the hairdryer on it for a while. The question is: when will this happen?Source: Tudelft.nl. Image: All3DP [post_title] => This 3D-Printed Structure Can Fold Itself [post_excerpt] => Researchers at the University of Technology in Delft have created flat structures able to fold themselves into three-dimensional constructions. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => 3d-printed-structure-fold-itself [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-16 10:59:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-16 09:59:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=78624/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 76634 [post_author] => 873 [post_date] => 2017-08-04 10:00:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-04 08:00:22 [post_content] => This year Momentum, the Nordic biennial, celebrates its ninth edition in the lush landscape of Moss, Norway. Taking the thematic approach of Alienation, the team of curators (Ulrika Flink (SE), Ilari Laamanen (FI), Jacob Lillemose (DK), Gunhild Moe (NO) and Jón B.K Ransu (IS)) seeks to extrapolate new perspectives on the human condition subjected to the rapidly changing interconnected world through transdisciplinary explorations. Presenting a group of internationally renowned artists, the biennial addresses topical concerns of cultural and geographical borders, biopolitics and social inequality, to outline a series of strategies towards "extraordinary futures". We recently talked with one of the curators of the biennial, Ilari Laamanen, to peel the outcrops of the exhibition and explore its similarities with the next nature philosophy.
The idea of pure, untouched nature is long lost
We are intrigued by the curatorial concept of this year’s biennial, Alienation, can you tell us a bit about it? The starting point of the concept was the realization that the world we live is widely disconnected, hard to comprehend, and oftentimes irrational. It seems to be more and more difficult to find a common ground in terms of ideology and philosophy, as the changes in nature, technology and society are rapid and concurrent. This time we live in cries for cross-pollination of methods and new knowledge.People also seem to be more and more lost with the sense of community. Many things might be more shared than before, yet it seems that on a fundamental humane level we are isolated from one another, and alienated even from our immediate surroundings. Our curatorial team invited contributors with different backgrounds to tackle these issues through an interdisciplinary approach and speculation.[caption id="attachment_76643" align="aligncenter" width="426"] Patricia Piccinini, Atlas, Silicone, fiberglass, human hair, car paint, 84x54x50cm, 2012.[/caption]It can be said that the theme of the biennial is related to the next nature topic. What is next nature for you?The idea of pure, untouched nature is long lost. We are forced to look at the consequences of human actions on the planet. The idea of next nature relates intimately to our habitat. The domestication and endless utilization of different species is a valid concern, as are the effects of the countless substances that are migrating into our bodies, with and without us being aware of them, thus different kind of variations of nature and human-made systems are connected to this phenomenon. It is also fascinating to contemplate what kind of hybrids we are ourselves and what we might turn into in the future.Are we becoming cyborgs?I believe that some of the more interesting developments focus on physical body. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to say that our lives are becoming more and more cyborg-like. People use technology to build, enhance and keep track of their bodies. Technology provides means to help people support their malfunctioned systems and enables them to alter or change their gender.
Solastalgia is a sense of existential distress and alienation caused by climate change
A new sense of freedom comes with all these developments, but there’s perhaps some melancholy too, as many of our actions are detrimental to environment. In the biennial, artist Jussi Kivi presents Moon Woods, a nocturnal scenario made of mostly synthetic materials. Kivi’s diorama channels the concept of solastalgia, a sense of existential distress and alienation from one’s most immediate surroundings caused by climate change. This sense of being fundamentally out of place, or longing for something, seems typical of our time.Can you elaborate on the ecological perspective in relation to the body?One should also think of plastic waste in the ocean and how that is affecting different species inhabiting the waters. The litters the fish and crustaceans consume change them and when consumed by people our bodies get affected too. In a similar way, the water we put into our bodies is affected by countless of chemicals and it is becoming quite difficult to find waters that haven’t been polluted yet. In Momentum 9, Pinar Yoldas focuses on this issue and presents new kinds of crossbreeds our actions might produce in a not so distant future.[caption id="attachment_76644" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Pinar Yoldas, Ecosystem of Excess, Detail of an installation, 2014.[/caption]One of our research topics ‘Wild Systems’ investigates how our systems have become so complex that they now behave like independent ecologies (think about an algorithm running our financial systems, or GM organisms thriving in the wild). How to cope with that?Humans did not bring the nature into being and they cannot fully control it. So from this perspective one wants to start considering if there is enough respect towards nature. While a lot of progress is being constantly made in all disciplines, the big mystery remains: how do all the developments and breakthroughs connect to one another, or do they even?So many of the existing systems around - and within - us are still too complex for us to understand. Think the potential of microbes, for instance, and how they affect our physical being and even consciousness. Sonja Bäumel’s Being Encounter is a work in the biennial that address this issue: although we claim to know so much about the things surrounding us, we are oftentimes clueless when it comes to mapping the processes in our bodies.
So many of the existing systems around us are still too complex for us to understand
Jenna Sutela’s work circles around complex biological and computational systems. For the Momentum 9 Biennial she created two site-specific installations. Let’s Play: Life depicts a computer playing through the Game of Life that simulates systems in the real world. It has been proposed as a model for the self-replication of robots. Her second installation Sporulating Paragraph introduces an alien organism operating like a microscopic machine or virus and taking the form of a living graffiti. The work, inspired by 2014 Jeff VanDerMeer’s novel Annihilation, seeks to interfere with our fundamental illusion of control.Do you think technology alienates people from people? I don’t think that technology alienates people from people per se, I would rather say that it is becoming more and more important to cultivate our inter-human relationships in favor of virtual ones. New technological equipment or gadget does not automatically mean progress, as the media theorists like Friedrich Kittler and Marshall McLuhan stated decades ago. On a similar note: not every message delivered through media is factual. Thus criticality towards media and the ability to be self-reflective becomes more crucial than ever before.
Criticality towards media and the ability to be self-reflective becomes more crucial than ever before
Is technology capable of enhancing our humanity?Advancements in technology have enabled freer access to information and data than earlier, so at least in theory this should create greater understanding of us as humans and how we should act and interact on this planet. When we consider the Western culture and its strong embrace of dichotomies and categories, it would be easy to feel worried about technology taking over nature. But as we might want to take a more holistic approach and see all things on some level connected, it would make sense to accept the growing role of technology in our lives and rather make the connection to the fundamental human need to expand its intellect, creativity and ability to invent.[caption id="attachment_76646" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Mediated Matter, Synthetic Arpiary, Honeybee Hive Installation in the Synthetic Apiary environment, excerpt from a video, 2016.[/caption]What does science fiction mean to you? Science fiction can be a useful tool for both speculating future, and touching upon current matters from a distanced perspective. Take Momentum 9 artist Kapwani Kiwanga, for instance, who in her Afrogalactica performance series intentionally confuses truth and fiction to unsettle hegemonic narratives and to create spaces in which marginal discourses can flourish.
How much of our fear is part of cultural conditioning and fiction?
When considering mainstream film productions in the science fiction genre, the setup is typically built around the threat against humanity and this planet we inhabit. A big question in relation to the theme of the biennial is: does the threat come from the external environment or from within? And how much of the fear people feel is constructed inside their heads and how much of it is part of cultural conditioning and fiction?Instead of thinking about stereotypical creatures from outer space, our curatorial team leaned more towards abstract nowhere, where the question is not so much about the threat anymore, but about the realization that we are constantly exposed to, and invited to engage with, matters previously unfamiliar to us. In terms of science fiction related inspiration, Todd Haynes film Safe (1995) and Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) are some examples of the more nuanced works that resonate with the biennial’s thematics.[caption id="attachment_76645" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Museum of Nonhumanity, installation view at Suvilahti, Helsinki, 2016. Photo by Terike Haapoja.[/caption]Tell us about the role that insects play in the biennial.In the context of this biennial, the idea of an alien is not necessarily something that comes from outer space, but can be more likely found in our everyday surroundings. The relationship between humans and insects is too often simply utilitarian, or insects are considered a nuisance. We wanted to shed light on this complex relationship through three different works, which can be also seen as connected to the broader themes of the biennial.Mediated Matter by Neri Oxman tackles the issue of possible bee extinction (caused by strong pesticides) through their ‘Synthetic Apiary’. The video documentation, featured in Momentum 9 highlights the pioneering project that enabled the birth of first ever bee in a synthetic, man-made environment. The work is typical for Mediated Matter who, as they put it, “focuses on the nature-inspired design and design-inspired nature”.
The idea of an alien is not necessarily something that comes from outer space, but can be found in our everyday surroundings
Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson’s Fly Factory breeds insect larvae for human consumption. The project started from the designer’s desire to offer more sustainably produced protein and to alleviate potential food shortages in the future. The factory feeds insects on food waste and recycles nutrients they excrete as fertilizer.Lastly, Museum of Nonhumanity, a project by artist Terike Haapoja and author Laura Gustafsson presents the history of the distinction between the humans and other animals, and how this imaginary boundary has been used to oppress human and nonhuman beings. In the section of the museum that deals with disgust, insects are used as an example of species of lesser value: and how certain types of insects have been also used as abusive names for people of lesser value. The project illuminates the worst sides of human actions towards nature and one another. It also makes the audience contemplate their own mechanisms of making distinction between themselves and the others.
No man is an island
The biennial takes place in Moss, Norway; how important is the geographical location - or Nordic context, as you put it - for the exhibit?While years ago the biennial started out as a platform for Nordic art and talent, it became an international, thematic exhibition that addresses topical, important issues in culture and visual arts. For this edition’s curatorial team it was important to spend as much time as possible in the Norwegian city of Moss, where the biennial takes place, to build a connection between the featured works and the local surroundings.I, for instance, found it highly interesting that Momentum Kunsthall, one of the main exhibition venue of the biennial, used to be a brewery. It was also fascinating to learn more about the ecosystem of the neighboring river and how it was in danger of being severely damaged due to plans of building new tower blocks in that area. Furthermore, I got the chance to familiarize with an amazing collection of old taxidermy animals and laboratory equipment from local schools. It was great to collaborate with many of the local people who do not come from the art or design background.What makes the biennial stand out?What makes this biennial stand out is its genuine concern about the topics it addresses - and the very special group of contributors it features. Nordic contemporary art scene, or cultural field in the general, is not strongly market-driven, which enables different kinds of practices and a sense of freedom in the decision-making. While connected to the local, the biennial also has international ambitions, and the featured works take part in discussions that deal with topical issues of our contemporary culture all over the world: no man is an island.Ilari Laamanen is a curator based in New York City. Having a background in media studies and cultural studies in Nordic Universities, he focuses on thematic, interdisciplinary projects. Recent curatorial work includes: Momentum 9: Alienation (Moss, Norway, 2017), Fashion after Fashion (Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, 2017), and Ordered Dance (Station Independent Projects, NYC, 2017).You can find Momentum9: Alienation until October 11th at various locations in Moss, Norway. Watch the trailer below.[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/226262991[/vimeo]Want to stay up to date about the latest next nature news, events and other NNN projects? Make sure to join Next Nature Network and never miss a thing! [mc4wp_form id="72385"] [post_title] => Interview: Curator Ilari Laamanen on Momentum9, the Nordic Biennial [post_excerpt] => We recently spoke to Ilari Laamanen, to peel the outcrops of Momemtum9, and unveil the overlapping themes to the next nature philosophy. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => interview-ilari-laamanen [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-09-12 18:57:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-09-12 16:57:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=76634/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 75776 [post_author] => 809 [post_date] => 2017-06-29 10:23:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-29 08:23:38 [post_content] => Real innovations are high tech but analogic, they are created by mixing biology, genetics and design to save energy and resources. This is the concept behind Lining Yao’s work, Chinese interaction designer and maker of novel materials and interfaces. She recently completed her PhD at Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab in Boston, where she focused on pushing Human Computer Interaction towards Human Material Interaction, and she is now Assistant Professor at HCII Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.We met her in Milan, where she gave a lecture at Meet The Media Guru, the Italian platform that invites innovators from all over the world to share their ideas and projects (last April NNN director Koert van Mensvoort was also their guest).“I don't have a definition of my work, but I think traditional disciplines have a blurred boundary currently, and we are inventing a new discipline”. Yao operates somewhere between design, engineering and science and uses organic materials as a technology that brings us back to nature, to the original form of life. “I think we could alter nature with technology in a positive way. Going forward, with the same respect to nature as our ancestors did, but with a scientific understanding of nature across scales and from the bottom up. Going forward, we return to nature but a programmable nature”.

Going forward, we return to nature but a programmable nature

Yao takes advantage of the adaptability characteristics that exist in nature to create products that react to different environments, without using energy or electricity. This way even a pinecone can become a smart material. “When the rain wash the pinecones out from the tree to the ground these pinecones are closed, if you pick them up and let them dry they will open, but if you put them back into water they will close again. A little humble pinecone is a nature grown smart material, because it transforms and responds to water opening and closing, and this transformation is reversible and does not need electricity”.

A humble pinecone is a smart material

Similar to how a pinecone behaves, some bacteria called bacillus subtilis natto expand and contract depending on the humidity levels detected in the surrounding air; the more humidity, the bigger the bacteria gets. Yao uses these bacteria as natural actuator to create bioLogic Second Skin, a garment that reacts to the wearer’s sweat opening and closing, “the bacteria expand and contract in the presence of moisture, like nano-engines”.[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/142208383[/vimeo]“On a daily basis we use motors to make things move, responsive and interactive, but how can we learn from nature to build sustainable and smart systems?”. This question drives Yao’s research “Transform Materiality” to explore how to use nature energy stimula to transform material and make them behave smartly.
Everything can be scientifically designed
“Everything, including aesthetic, can be scientifically designed”. The synthetic bio-skin fabric reacts to body heat and sweat, causing flaps around heat zones to open, enabling sweat to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux. Based on the natural phenomenon of hygromorphic transformation, we introduce a specific type of living cells as nanoactuators that react to body temperature and humidity change. This process creates a new ecology between the cloth and the human body, the cloth becomes part of the human ecosystem”.[caption id="attachment_76016" align="aligncenter" width="1080"]Lining Yao Second Skin bioLogic Second Skin.[/caption]Her latest bio-design principles application is related to food. “We called it Transformative Appetite, we wanted to program food to interact in smart ways”. Together with her colleagues at MIT, Yao designed a futuristic pasta made of a 2D printed edible natural material that turns into a designed 3D shape when dunked into boiling water. Again, a natural element, in this case water, is used as stimulant to trigger the transformation process. “With our flat pasta we can save 67.3% of shipping and packaging space and reduce the costs. This is very important, that’s why Ikea makes its flat furniture and then bother us to assemble them”.
How can we learn from nature to build sustainable and smart systems?
Yao’s programmable pasta is made of gelatine, cellulose and starch. Gelatine naturally expands when absorbing water, giving the researchers a way to manipulate the food. In order to achieve controllable bending behavior, the team introduced ethyl cellulose strips as both shape constraints and water barriers on top of the film.[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/199408741[/vimeo]“Food is very interesting because it’s a bridge between people form all over the world and with a different education, it’s a universal topic that makes us designers able to contribute to people’s daily life. That’s why we picked food as our context to explore programmable materials”.[caption id="attachment_76013" align="aligncenter" width="779"]Transformative Appetite Lining Yao Transformative Appetite Pasta.[/caption]Yao’s work offers a vision of a future upstream form the more popular digitized alternatives. “We manipulate materials not to artificially replicate them, but to use them right after they have been adapted. We create changeable, malleable and controllable objects that are totally natural. The application of these properties in our living spaces could save a lot of energy. We could develop a world where humans won’t need to learn how to use interfaces anymore, because the interfaces will automatically respond to people and environments”. A world that is technological, but also natural at the same time.Featured image: Meet The Media Guru [post_title] => Interview: Lining Yao, Interaction Designer and Maker of Novel Materials [post_excerpt] => We recently interviewed Lining Yao, Chinese interaction designer who uses organic materials as a technology that brings us back to nature. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => interview-lining-yao [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-25 10:02:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-25 09:02:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=75776/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 71875 [post_author] => 1324 [post_date] => 2017-03-04 10:26:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-04 09:26:00 [post_content] => We enjoy a sunny summer day, but we certainly don’t like it when it's too hot. According to Washington Post report, the world is about to install 700 million more air conditioners.“In just couple of decades you could go from 13 percent to 70 or even 80 percent” said Lucas Davis, UC Berkeley economist. Air-conditioning in the US alone costs about 29 billion dollars in households. The mass use causes roughly 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the air every year. While we are cooling down our own little housing environment, we are making the planet hotter. Which in turn makes us more reliant on air conditioning. And the cycle continues. But now, we might just have a solution.A team of scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder recently announced a new material. This plastic roll  highly effective in reflecting heat. It even works when the sun sets and without any additional electricity. The heat reflector is made of cheap ingredients that can easily be mass produced. It is capable to bounce 96 percent of sunlight that hit the material, allowing what is under the material to cool off effectively. It is not much thicker than aluminium foil, which means it can be applied on windows and rooftops to cool down houses. Even on top of solar panels, which will help the panels harvest one to two percent of energy, “that makes a big difference in scale” Said Yin, one of the creators of this new material.Sources: Live Science, Washington Post. Image: Quartz [post_title] => The End of Air-Conditioning [post_excerpt] => New heat-reflective material signs the end of air-conditioning use. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => end-air-conditioning [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-06 19:06:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-06 18:06:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=71875/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 71097 [post_author] => 1191 [post_date] => 2017-02-07 11:31:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-07 10:31:59 [post_content] => In 2005, in his book Mycelium Running, American mycologist Paul Stamets predicted that mushrooms would help save the world. Twelve years later, several scientists and innovative entrepreneurs are using mushrooms to run their researches, businesses and dreams. Until Sunday February 12, you can learn more about the role of fungal micro-organisms at Fungal Futures exhibition in Enschede, The Netherlands. Even Stamets would be astonished by what a group of artists and designers can make nowadays with mushrooms.What is mycelium and what is its secret power? Fungal mycelium is a dense network of filamentous, called hyphae, capable of converting and breaking down the most variegate substrate. It can be used to create biomaterials with novel properties.Fungal Futures aims to demonstrate that in the near future fungal organisms will be one of the main actors leading towards a responsible social development. The exhibition presents new sustainable applications for mushrooms: as textile, as transparent living materials, as base to grow shoes, clothes, bricks, lamps, vessels, chairs and even food on toxic waste. Essentially, it’s possible to create everything out of mushrooms, art and design masterpieces included.The exhibition also promotes practical experiences. The time to buy aseptic supermarket champignons wrapped in plastic is over. Growing your own mushrooms at home is possible and here you can learn how to do that.Fungal Futures acutely shows how human beings could build together with nature a more sustainable future, shaped by novel materials and processes relying on fungi.Sources: TED, Fungal Futures [post_title] => Fungal Futures: the Mushrooms Utopia [post_excerpt] => Exhibition Fungal Futures: design with mushrooms. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => fungal-futures-mushrooms-utopia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-12 14:50:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-12 13:50:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=71097/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 69203 [post_author] => 873 [post_date] => 2016-12-06 12:59:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-06 11:59:28 [post_content] => Since 1979 we have been using satellites to measure Arctic sea ice levels, which have been warning us about the alarming decrease of ice growth. Climate models predict that by 2040, the Arctic Bay will continue to freeze in winter, but could be free of ice in summer. Now imagine an ice hotel in this scenario that melts away every year.Initially founded as a pop-up hotel in 1989 in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the Icehotel used to open exclusively during the winter season. But from last month, a whole new icy experience was added to the original plan, the hotel became permanent, welcoming guests throughout the whole year.Similar to its seasonal counterpart, the hotel-igloo hybrid takes up 2.100 square meters, becoming part of the landscape. What differentiates the two is that the year-round experience is achieved thanks to 600 square meters of solar panels, which will generate 75 KW of electricity during the summer period and prevent it from melting.The Icehotel 365 is situated next to the original structure and is made of 30.000 liters of ‘snice’, a combination of snow and ice. With its average indoor temperature of five degrees below zero, the hotel offers 20 artsy suites, where guests are offered a bed made of - you guessed it - ice. We no longer need to buy polar ice to remind us of the period when ice caps used to exist on Earth, we can visit the Icehotel.Source: CNTraveler [post_title] => World's "Coolest" Hotel [post_excerpt] => Sweden's new Icehotel 365 uses solar cooling to stay open all year. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => worlds-coolest-hotel [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-09 10:48:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-09 09:48:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=69203 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 62226 [post_author] => 859 [post_date] => 2016-03-21 15:03:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-03-21 14:03:01 [post_content] => Icelandic Product Design student Ari Jónsson has used red algae powder and water to create a biodegradable water bottle, tackling the issue of excessive plastic production and waste.As a student of the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Jónsson exhibited this project at the 2016 DesignMarch, a design festival held in the capital city, Reykjavik."I read that 50 per cent of plastic is used once and then thrown away so I feel there is an urgent need to find ways to replace some of the unreal amount of plastic we make, use and throw away each day" Jónsson told Dezeen. "Why are we using materials that take hundreds of years to break down in nature to drink from once and then throw away?" By mixing Agar powder - a substance derived from red algae - with water, a jelly-like material was created. Jónsson heated the substance and poured it into a mould, which would in turn provide the shape for the bottles in question.algae-water-bottle-by-ari-jonsson_dezeen_936_1This bottle retains its shape as long as it is full of water; as soon as it is emptied, it begins decomposing. If stored for long inside the bottle, the water may retain some flavour from its algae-based material; which, for some people, may not even be a problem. Jónsson says that if you like the taste, you can even eat the bottle in the end.The creation of this bottle was driven by the problem of plastic waste, and the urgent need for a substitute material. Would you drink from such a bottle?Source: Dezeen [post_title] => Designer Creates Water Bottles from Algae [post_excerpt] => Icelandic Product Design student Ari Jónsson has used red algae powder and water to create a biodegradable water bottle. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => designer-creates-water-bottles-algae [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-03-21 15:03:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-03-21 14:03:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=62226 [menu_order] => 319 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 )[9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 58996 [post_author] => 859 [post_date] => 2015-11-28 11:06:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-11-28 10:06:03 [post_content] => Henk Jonkers, a microbiologist at the Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, has developed a way to make the cracks in concrete structures heal themselves. This is accomplished by embedding the concrete with limestone producing bacteria - the Bacilus Pseudofirmus or the Sporosacina Pasteurii. When water enters the cracks in the concrete, the dormant bacteria become activated and start producing limestone which fills the cracks and eventually covers them. This prevents many problems commonly found in concrete structures as they age, such as leakage and the corrosion and oxidation of the steel reinforcements.This innovation tackles the issue of the durability of concrete, which is the most common building material used worldwide. These bacteria can lie dormant in the artificial stone for up to 200 years, which is way beyond the common lifespan for modern buildings.Sources: Futurism, Smithsonian [post_title] => Self-Healing Concrete [post_excerpt] => A microbiologist has developed a way to make the cracks in concrete structures heal themselves. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => self-healing-concrete [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-12-01 17:08:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-12-01 16:08:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://nextnature.net/?p=58996 [menu_order] => 437 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [post_category] => 0 ))[post_count] => 10 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 113494 [post_author] => 2144 [post_date] => 2019-06-21 09:09:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-21 08:09:56 [post_content] =>

Leather is one of the oldest and most versatile materials in the world. It’s a supple, tough, relatively strong and durable material and it’s relatively impermeable, yet breathable. Having existed in some form or another since the dawn of mankind, leather is used for a wide range of products—varying from furniture, clothes and accessories, to car upholstery.

The history of leather is long and has brought us many different processing methods, yet the implementation of a circular approach within production is still a long way off. We therefore need visionaries to come up with valid alternatives in order to move towards a more sustainable approach.

Labs like Waag’s TextileLab Amsterdam and the Open WetLab give designers access to technology and living matter, in order to create alternative materials while looking at material development from a circular point of view. I am one of these designers.

How leather is made

For the production of leather, theoretically, any animal skin can be used. It’s most often made from cows, calves, sheep, goats and pigs. The production of leather comes with many problems, as it’s made from animal hide treated with chemicals. In effect, the tannery wastewater used to make the leather with, contains large amounts of chemicals and pollutants (such as chromium salts, lime mud, sulphides, acids, lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde). These not only infect the people working in the tanneries, they also accumulate the groundwater.

Over the course of the 19th century, more and more alternatives for leather were explored, of which ‘leatherette’ is currently used most. Leatherette is a synthetic material designed specifically to mimic leather, it’s typically made from natural or synthetic cloth fibers coated in PVC or polyurethane and contains no animal by-products.

This led me to wonder, whether this plastic-coated material is a valid alternative in a time where we urgently need to move towards a circular approach. Because why not develop a plastic- and cruelty free material that less affects our planet as a whole?

How leather could be made

At Waag’s TextileLab Amsterdam I dove into the history of leather and the different working methods of producing the material, but looked even closer into leather alternatives and their manufacturing processes.

During the research I worked in the labs at the intersection of design, technology and biology, growing my own materials, wondering whether we would succeed in creating alternative leathers, cancelling out the existing problems that leather creates. Instead of working in a traditional studio, I suddenly worked in a lab, combining the expertise of various disciplines in order to explore new perspectives on the design of products in relation to its materials.

Focusing on alternative leathers from kombucha- and mycelium-leather, I worked towards a small collection of 3D-embossed purses and backpacks, inspired by the insect kingdom; especially the pillbug.

Leather from fermented tea

The first material I started working with was kombucha, or, the so-called ‘scoby’ (a thick, rubbery and cloudy mass that aids the fermentation process of kombucha).

In western culture, many people will perceive kombucha as a new drink, but drinking it has already been done for centuries to purify the body and strengthen the immune system.

Note: this part may get a bit technical, so bear with me.

Kombucha starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of the scoby; the bacteria in the scoby break down the tea's sugars and convert them into alcohol. The kombucha culture can be bought in special tea shops, bio-stores and online.

All too often, you’ll hear about the so-called kombucha mushroom or tea mushroom. However, the kombucha mushroom is not an independent fungus, but rather a symbiosis of various yeasts, single-celled fungi, or more precisely, the Ascomycota and Acetic acid bacteria.

The yeasts multiply in kombucha exclusively vegetatively through bud or cleavage. It forms a whitish, gelatinous layer on the tea surface, whereby new layers grow on top of each other. The color may vary from light grey to pink to dark brown, depending on the tea that is used.

The research consisted of treating the kombucha with several substances such as glycerine, beeswax and alcohol, in order to make it durable and water repellent, as this is still a challenge of this material. To prevent the material from growing mold, conventional vinegar is often used.

In comparison to animal leather, the kombucha grows really fast, it doesn’t need much space and nutrition besides a hint of sugar. But most importantly, it can be grown in different shapes! Scroll down for recipes.

Leather from mushrooms

Another very promising material is Mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or a fungal-like bacterial colony, consisting of a mass of branched filamentous hyphae.

Depending on the strain of mycelium is used, they have a lot of properties. Some are water absorbent, others flame retardant and dielectric materials. I used mycelium from Oyster-mushroom and Schizophrenia on the surface of nutrient liquid. Mycelium can be grown on agricultural waste and can be applied in many fields; from an alternative to polystyrene and plastic packaging to furniture, bricks and leather-like materials from mycelium.

However, keep in mind that mycelium grows relatively slow; for a piece of 50x70 centimeters, this takes more than two months to grow.

This is only the beginning

In my research I mainly focused on the process of growing the alternative leather myself, and less on the application until now. As you can see, there are a lot of interesting and promising alternatives for making leather. But to be fair, these are still not ready to meet the characteristics of animal skin. More research is needed, but alternative materials and their possible applications are definitely worth your while.

Do it yourself!

While I started the research in a lab, note that these materials can as well be grown from your own kitchen! I used the recipes by Suzanne Lee - BioCouture and Elise Elsacker – BioFabForum. Made it yourself? Share your findings in the comments below!


TextileLab Amsterdam is a creative research lab combining digital fabrication processes, biology, crafts techniques, textiles knowledge and material research into relevant opportunities for the textile, fashion and material fields and how these affect the way we work together towards change.

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