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Sustainable Design: Biofabrication Is The Answer

Topic: Sustainable Design
Sustainable design: biofabrication is the answer

When talking about future interior design trends, sustainable design is certainly on top of the list. The impact we’ve had on the environment so far has been an absolute catastrophe and design is now researching ways to shape a sustainable future. In this perspective there is one thing that’s going to be an absolute game changer: 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 biobased 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 (reason why it’s also called bio-facturing), but in a substantially different way. We’re used to think at production as a process that starts with some 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 between 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! That’s round the corner!

BIOFABRICATION FOR INTERIOR DESIGN

Biofabricated materials can 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 alternatve to the materials we're used to. So let’s see a few examples of these naturally grown materials in interior design!

Mushrooms’ mycelium

Essentially, mycelium is the name given to the roots of mushrooms. It has an intricate branch-like shape that can act as a natural glue.
At Krown, mycelium is used to glue organic waste together. The result is a sustainable material that is fire-resistant and VOC free, can take any shape and can be composted. Visually, it looks a bit like stone and its imperfect pattern would look amazing in a contemporary home!

A round table with biofabricated base out of mycelium and glass top.
Credit: Mycelial table by Krown; with mycelium base grown on demand.

They even have grow-it-yourself products (like the table lamp below), where the customer is given the mould and the mushroom material and can grow the lampshade at home! I’d totally try this!

A table lamp with wood structure and mycelium base shade.
Credit: Grow-it-yourself lamp kit by Krown; with mycelium shade.

Designer Glenn Catchpole has used mycelium to hold together waste wood chips in his Pare chair. This chair is ergonomic and has a beautiful organic shape. But it's 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.

Organic shape chair that looks like a regular bent-wood chair but it's actually an example of biofabriction.
Credit: Pare chair by Glenn Catchpole

Seaweeds

The textile industry is one of the most unsustainable; it creates a lot of waste and it’s very polluting. A biobased 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 has turned this into practice with her Sea-me collection. It all started with a rug made out of seaweed yarn knotted onto an old fishing net.

Sustainable design rug made of seaweed yarn and fishing net.
Close up of the texture of the rug.
Credit: Sea-me rug by Nienke Hoogvliet

Then, she created a small furniture collection that follows the idea of circular design, ending up with no waste. First she made a chair, where seaweed is used both as yarn to weave the seating and as natural dye to colour the yarn. Then, the leftover dye was transformed into a paint for the top of a small side table. And finally, the remaining seaweed scraps were turned into bio-plastic bowls.

The sea-me collection; a chair, a side table and a few bowls all made of seaweed.
Credit: Sea-me collection by Nienke Hoogvliet

German designer Carolin Pertsch has used a specific type of seagrass for her Zostera Stool. Eelgrass (this is the name of that seagrass) 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" and this reflects badly on tourism. So once again, this is a lovely example of waste upcycling!

Wooden stool with seagrass seat.
Credit: Zostera stool by Carolin Pertsch

Bacteria

Bacteria can reproduce very fast, and this makes them an ideal candidate for biofabrication. Swedish designer Jan Klingler used bacteria, fungi and yeast to create the decorative pattern of a lamp. Bacteria are left free to grow on a resin disk, then the disk is sealed to fix the pattern (without oxygen bacteria cannot reproduce anymore). Finally, a LED lamp is mounted on top and voilà, the bacteria lamp is ready!

Bacteria lamp sitting on the floor in a living room.
Bacteria lamp detail in the tones of blue.
Bacteria lamp detail in the tones of pink.
Credit: Bacteria lamp by Jan Klingler

I've seen these lamps personally at Milan Design Week and I have to say the effect is really beautiful!

Bacteria lamp detail against a brick wall.
Credit: DforDesign. Bacteria lamp at display during the Swedish Design Moves exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019.

Overall biofabrication can be an effective answer to many of our sustainability questions: from interior design, to packaging, to fashion. Right now, it’s still a relatively small discipline but new experiments come up every single day! And I’m positive; if now we’re talking about the future of design, I’m confident I’ll soon be able to write a blog post about biofabrication as one of the latest interior design trends!

 
 
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