Sustainable design is all about experimenting with new materials and processes that are less harmful to the environment.
In this perspective, there is one path that’s particularly promising: biofabrication.
Biofabrication: what is that?
“This is not just one of those wacky design things, this is the future of design. We’re moving from the machine age, to the digital age, to the organism age. Products will no longer just be manufactured; they will be grown, as we will be working with living organisms to open up a symbiotic material economy.”
Cit. Lisa White, Lifestyle&Interiors director of the trend forecasting agency WGSN.
We’ve already seen some interior design applications of bio-based materials when looking at products that upcycle waste from the food industry.
But that’s different, because biofabrication does not reuse existing materials. Biofabrication means creating new materials from scratch (the reason why it’s also called bio-facturing), but in a substantially different way.
We’re used to thinking about production as a process that starts with raw materials and transforms them into a final product. In biofabrication instead, materials are literally grown by living organisms!
Biofabrication is a new frontier of sustainable design and it's a fascinating meeting of design, science and technology. We’re just moving the first steps right now, but trend forecasters say we’ll see more biofabricated products on the market starting from 2020!
Biofabrication for interior design
Biofabricated materials have extremely wide applications. They are beautiful (which is always a thing I value as an interior designer) and their technical features make them a viable alternative to the materials we're used to.
So let’s see a few of these naturally-grown materials applied to interior design!
Mycelium is the technical name of mushrooms’ roots. It has an intricate branch-like structure that can act as a natural glue.
At Grown Bio (opened in a new window/tab), mycelium is used to glue organic waste. The result is a sustainable material that is fire-resistant and VOC free, which can take any shape and be composted. Visually it looks like stone, but it’s as soft as velvet at the touch!
Seeing mycelium products grow can also become an interesting grow-it-yourself project, which starts by purchasing a kit containing a mould & some mushroom material.
Designer Glenn Catchpole (opened in a new window/tab) has used mycelium to hold together waste wood chips in his Pare chair. This chair is ergonomic and has a beautiful organic shape. It is also another example of zero-waste circular design. It can indeed be composted at the end of its life, providing nourishment for new wood and mushrooms.
The textile industry is one of the most unsustainable; it creates a lot of waste and it’s very polluting. A bio-based solution could come from seaweeds.
The cellulose extracted from algae can indeed be turned into a yarn that is incredibly soft and breathable. Additionally, seaweeds can work as a natural dye, allowing for a surprisingly wide range of colours from green to pink.
Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet (opened in a new window/tab) has turned this into practice with her Sea-me collection.
The first piece of the collection is a rug, made out of seaweed yarn knotted onto an old fishing net. Next is a 3-piece furniture collection that follows a circular design approach and ends up with no waste. In the chair, seaweeds have been used both as yarn to weave the seating and as a natural dye to colour the yarn. Then, the leftover dye has been transformed into paint for the top of a small side table. And finally, the remaining seaweed scraps have been turned into bio-plastic bowls.
German designer Carolin Pertsch (opened in a new window/tab) has used a specific type of seagrass for her Zostera Stool.
Eelgrass is very abundant on beaches but it’s usually removed and thrown away because the brown carpet it creates on the sand makes the beach look dirty, which reflects badly on tourism. But eelgrass is so much more than waste!
Bacteria reproduce very fast, which makes them an ideal candidate for biofabrication.
Swedish designer Jan Klingler (opened in a new window/tab) has used bacteria, fungi and yeast to create the decorative pattern of a lamp. Bacteria are left free to grow on a resin disk, which then gets sealed to fix the pattern (without oxygen bacteria cannot reproduce anymore). A LED lamp is mounted on top and voilà, a bacteria lamp is ready!
Overall, biofabrication provides a sustainable solution for many industries – from interior design, to packaging, to fashion.
Right now, it’s still a relatively small discipline but new exciting experiments are coming up every single day!