Aug 2017 - Jun 2018
Piyum Fernando, Jennifer Weiler, Prof Stacey Kuznetsov of SANDS Lab, Arizona State University & student participants
Dilshani Ranasinghe, University of Moratuwa & student participants
Rethinking the industrial design process through biomaterial based co-making
PROTOTYPING | CRITICAL MAKING
Series of solo & collaborative experiments exploring designing household products from mycelium biomaterial. Subsequent co-making activities conducted in Arizona & Sri Lanka with design students & auto-ethnographic reflections documented.
EXPERIMENT 01: FORM GIVING
How might we rethink form giving in existing industrial design processes, using biomaterial 'growing' as a probe?
Growing concerns about the environmental impact of current industrial materials has given rise to a movement of designers, scientists & manufacturers exploring biologically sourced and biodegradable material to create a new age of sustainable products.
However, at the time of the experiments, objects made from mycelium were largely bound by and designed for the preconceptions regarding our present industrial design processes. The forms and aesthetics of these objects still embodied the ethos of design for assembly, stack-ability, logistical optimization, and consumerism at large. Therefore these first explorations were aimed at:
Expanding forms to challenge the use of biomaterials as mere replacements to industrial materials, and embody a novel, more organic aesthetic that is more representative of the material's inherent nature
Challenging preconceptions regarding component assembly by embedding various digital components at the growth stage
Ecovative's Grow-It-Yourself kit is mycelium spore and cellulose-based agricultural waste mixture aimed at disseminating product 'growing' as a DIY maker activity. This material was used across all 3 experiments.
Growing light fixtures
Due to the mycellium being fire retardant & light weight, light fixtures and fittings are popular experimental products. First experiments centred around building a more organic shaped light fixture, that communicated the nature of the material.
The particle size of the material limits the construction of complex forms & small details. Flexible molds ensure that forms can be retrieved easily while addition of psyllium husk powder increases malleability & moisture absorption.
Embedding lights in the growth phase provided interesting results, with the mycelium roots acting as a diffuser. Conversations around the viability of reusing the electronics after the lamp itself has biodegraded arose in the making of Lamp 02.
Danielle Trofe's Ecovative Mycelium Lamps
The form failed to hold shape due to the large particle size. A flexible silicon mold proved better than a 3D printed rigid polymer. However, the two halves did not grow into each other as expected
EXPERIMENT 02: FREEFORMS
Where does design end & life begin? How might we challenge designers' agency when designing with biomaterials?
Traditional industrial design processes materialize a 'finished' product, often with 'clean' finishes & aesthetics. These processes are deliberate and are controlled by design blueprints and precise machinery. On the other hand, biomaterials, especially with their ability to be grown on-site, have the potential to be continuously reshaped, even while they are being used. To examine this notion I let the mycelium grow more freely with minimal form giving, dried the objects partially and let them develop their fruiting bodies. This led to conversations among the researchers on how biomaterials could potentially keep living and changing even after the object moves from 'manufacturing' to utilization. We discussed if the agency of designers could stop at a point in the biodesign process, with the material itself giving form to the product thereafter. Could this process create one-of-a-kind products naturally and provide a new solution to think beyond industrially controlled customization?
EXPERIMENT 03: EXPANDING 'GROWING' FOR SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT DESIGN
STUDENT CO-MAKING SESSIONS
In what ways can we challenge traditional product design + manufacturing processes?
Two co-making workshops were held at the School of Arts, Media & Engineering, Arizona State University and the Department of Integrated Design, University of Moratuwa respectively. The first group of students embedded electronic circuits to give digital capabilities to the material as it was growing. The second group interpreted the idea of 'growing' through multiple product forms, molding methods & new functionalities.
Initial presentation on our burgeoning material crisis followed by the hands-on co-making session at Arizona State
The second workshop consisted of a product design focused introduction followed by a hands-on workshop.
Below is one of the student projects titled 'Tree of Life' a decorative light fitting that 'grew' it's colour throughout the day.