Biodesign at The New Institute

Root Bridges of Meghalaya by the Khasi tribe, photos Justin Ames and Lambert Shadap.

Biodesign: On The Cross-Pollination of Nature, Science and Creativity at The New Institute in Rotterdam displays innovative projects that intersect the disciplines of design and biology.

The book: BioDesign: Nature + Science + Creativity  by William Myers, was the stimulus for the exhibition which Myers himself curated. The book profiles design and art projects that use living materials, from which a selection are on display. While some of the projects deliver more of an artistic outcome, others are currently functioning products. Admittedly, some of the more intriguing parts of the exhibition lie in biological alternatives to common materials like concrete and packaging.

Mushroom® Packaging by material science company, Ecovative, is one such product. A suggested alternative to synthetic foam packaging which makes up a large portion of today’s waste and requires years to break down, Mushroom® Packaging harnesses a natural process for its construction. Mycelium are the root systems of mushrooms which grow in agricultural waste creating a rigid polymer matrix. The resulting material is a lightweight, non-compressible structure that has all the durable qualities of polystyrene yet it is compostable. The material’s commercial success is apparent with multinational companies such as Dell adopting the packaging.

Other notable projects that utilise biology for the production of new materials are The Biocouture Shoe and BioConcrete. The Biocouture Shoe by Biocouture Atelier investigates the use of microbes to grow a textile biomaterial. Suzanne Lee, the founder of the atelier, has already made garments and shoes with this material but has so far been unable to make the material water resistant. BioConcrete by Henk Jonkers addresses the downfalls of standard concrete such as its brittle nature which cracks over time. BioConcrete is concrete with the addition of specialized bacteria that thrives in barren conditions and naturally produces limestone. BioConcrete has the ability to automatically fill any cracks that appear in the concrete.

Most visually striking of the exhibition are the photographic representations of the root bridges of Meghalaya. Found in the north-eastern Indian state – a place that records the world’s highest rainfall – the bridges depicted in the images were created by the Khasi tribe to aid local’s across the dangerous and fast-flowing rivers. Shaped by people, these root bridges grow stronger over time, giving nature a beautiful and tangible function.

Biodesign is an engaging display of curious projects for the uninitiated and a rich resource for designers, artists and even scientists.

Photos courtesy of The New Institute

Biodesign will run until 5 January 2014 at The New Institute, Museumpark 25, Rotterdam



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