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Bio Design: a cross-pollination of nature, technology and design

25 September 2018

Cybernatic Forest: Bio-Based Wunderkammer by BioArt Laboratories
This year, Dutch Design Week presents 8 design trends that mark the most important developments in the field of design. The first trend focuses on Bio-Design.  

Within Bio-design a cross pollination of nature, technology and design takes place. Following the example of philosopher Ernst Haeckel, “Man is not above nature, but in nature”, appears to be the adage of these bio-designers. National and international designers and collectives focus on the potential of micro-organisms, bodily secretions and technology for saving nature. Can we humans call upon the help of nature? How can we integrate biology in design and new processes? Which role does technology play in this so that we can create a better society? These are the questions to be dealt with in the first DDW18 trend: Bio-design.

Technology as a way out

Augmented nature is a set of robot tools that assists animals to survive in an ever-changing environment. The design-duo Duncan Carter and Mick Geerits from Abnormal deploy technology for the survival of species of animals. The tools empower animals who have a prominent role within a specific ecosystem to adapt to their changing habitat. In doing this, they give a new meaning to the human intervention in nature; this time not for the sake of man but for the sake of nature. An example is the whale tag. This functional hydrophone informs the whale about alternative routes so that he can avoid ships.

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Kuang-Yi Ku, Design Academy Eindhoven graduate, presents a comparable approach. What if we were to deploy biotechnology to prevent the killing of wild animals? In Chinese Medicine certain minerals and organs of rare animals are used in medicine. Kuang-Yi Ku researches if the printing of artificial animal parts could offer a solution. Curious about the larger impact of biotechnology on the future? In the exhibition “NeoBio” by trend researcher Nicole Spit we find a vista of speculative products uniting electronics and manipulated DNA.

© Studio Dáárheen

Nature as a source of inspiration

Bio-designer Lilian van Daal sees nature as a rich library from which we can continue to learn. She believes that the tiniest life forms such as single-cell organisms, Radiolaria, could be our greatest teachers. Within the project Radiolaria #1 the cell structure of single cell organisms has been imitated, modelled and enlarged with the help of 3D-printing and digital programs. This new structure has the potential to capture all the functionalities that are necessary for the use and comfort of a chair. This resulted in a locally produced soft-seating product made from one recyclable material. Want to learn more about these structures in nature? Read more about Radiolaria #1

© Lilian van Daal

Making processes more sustainable

In cooperation with the Dutch Water Authorities, Nienke Hoogvliet, Billie van Katwijk and Jeroen Wand research new opportunities for the use of waste material from sewage. Following the filtering of sewage a coating-like material remains, known as Kaumera. This can serve as athickening agent or binding agent. For this project three Dutch designers started a search for these qualities. They looked at how these qualities could be transformed into a functional addition to a design process. Nienke Hoogvliet utilizes Kaumera to make the dying of textiles more sustainable. The coating makes the textile hydrophilic, through which the dying process consumes less water. Billie van Katwijk has a similar approach, but then with ceramics. Incorporating Kaumera in the glaze improves the efficiency of the use of raw materials. Where Billie and Nienke seek out the limits of the materials for existing processes, Jeroen Wand shows the versatility of the substance in experimental research. 

Urine: a natural fertilizer?

A completely different perspective on natural waste is highlighted by the Anthroponix project. Anthroponix is a method for transforming human secretions like urine into a natural form of fertilizer. Through exposing urine to a fermentation process the smell disappears. All that remains is a fertile concentrate of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. The objective of the designers and researchers behind this method is to make us more aware of what goes into and leaves our bodies. Just imagine you collected your own urine for an entire year, then you could provide 250 kilos of wheat with nourishment. This is equivalent to more than 3000 dishes. More innovation at the cutting edge of biology, art and technology can be seen in the exhibition BioArt Laboratories
This year, DDW offers a rich selection of projects that show a synergy between nature, design and technology. Where one designer utilizes technology and design to restore nature in a positive way, another designer sees nature as a source of information. The common denominator: social and design challenges are tackled. Has this article captured your imagination? The majority of these projects can be found in the VEEM, but take a look at the complete bio-design programme.