In our new book Radical Matter, we present a snapshot of projects and material innovations by the designers at the forefront of the making revolution. All over the world, an emerging generation of designers and makers are rethinking raw materials, repurposing waste, and presenting radical solutions to the challenges of making and surviving in the modern world. In this post we explore how designers are beginning to use the by-products of living systems as materials for design.

The quest for sustainability and an ecological approach for design models is leading us towards a scenario in which biological manufacture replaces industrial and living entities are engineered to grow materials and products. Designers and material innovators are mimicking the closed-loop, circular systems found in the natural world to enable the production of biodegradable materials from fungi and bacteria.

Mycelium by Carole Collet

From Earth: Mycelium Textiles by the Design & Living Systems Lab

One of the aims of From Earth: Mycelium Textiles is to develop biodegradable, compostable textile coatings to replace finishing processes derived from oil, instead using manipulated mycelium growth. Various mycelium are cultured on a variety of materials that either harness, support or resist the fungi’s growth; these include coffee grounds, agar, hemp, sisal, soya bean fibre, raw silk, organic cotton and linen. Developments include a mycelium lace, where the living material serves to reinforce and mend the lace it grows on, and a self-patterned mycelium ‘rubber’. The latter is as flexible as rubber, and exhibits ‘floral’ patterns which are not created by moulding, but by the mycelium itself, as it grows on waste coffee substrate. This is the first known example of a self-patterning mycelium material.


Shiitake Lamp by Krown Design

Grow It Yourself by Krown Design

Netherlands-based Krown has pioneered a mycelium-based home kit that allows anyone to grow their own creation in just a few days, for just a few euros. The Grow It Yourself (GIY) material arrives in dried form. A combination of stabilised mycelium and agricultural waste, it is reactivated with water and ready to use in four to five days. Using simple moulds, the material can be grown into almost any shape. When the finished object has been allowed to grow for six days or so, then dried out, it is light, durable and compostable when it reaches the end of its useful life.


Modern Meadow, Photography by Sara Kinney

Zoa by Modern Meadow

US based biotech start-up Modern Meadow has created a bio-fabricated leather that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The material has the same look, feel and even smell as leather procured from animals, but is entirely lab-grown. Modern Meadow replicates the building blocks of nature using cells that are designed and engineered in the lab. To make Zoa, bio-engineered yeast cells produce collagen, the primary protein that makes up skin. In addition to acting as a cruelty-free and eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather, or to ‘pleather’ in fashion, accessories and interiors, the synthesised substitute could be engineered for alternative applications and processes. It could potentially be used as a veneer, a sprayable coating or a bonding and joining agent, making it possible to replicate natural leather’s aesthetic and qualities for many applications.


Faber Futures X Ginkgo Bioworks

Faber Futures by Natsai Audrey Chieza

Faber Futures by Natsai Audrey Chieza Natsai Audrey Chieza is a designer, systems thinker and storyteller working at the intersection of design and biology. As she explains, ‘biology has become a design space’ and, in the case of Faber Futures, Chieza aims to establish craft-oriented methodologies in biotech. The designer is pioneering systems of dyeing and printing textiles using pigment produced by living bacteria. Proposing the innovation as a sustainable alternative to current polluting processes, the designer credits biological systems with an inherent eco-conscience. ‘Nature is pretty smart,’ she says. ‘In its diversity, we find multitudes of different survival strategies that are energy efficient and circular. Nothing goes to waste and organisms have incredible, creative ways of harvesting, storing and distributing energy.’ During her recent residency with US-based biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, the transdisciplinary designer experimented with a range of processes and applications to engineer print and pattern for entire garments.