How can we make our indoor climate healthier by developing new materials from living organisms? And what role can designers and architects undertake to contribute to the development of healthy indoor ‘gardens’? These were some of the questions explored during the first meetup on 2 April 2020 with experts including: Lorena Trebi (Sapienza University of Rome), Sandrine d’Haene (VU Amsterdam), artists Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, and Samira Boon (Studio Samira Boon).
The project LABS: Future interiors by Studio Samira Boon, the HybridFormsLab by Raoul Frese / Biophysics of Photosynthesis VU Amsterdam and Waag Society, investigates the spectrum of life of living materials. It conducts research into bacteria grown textiles as a substrate for vegetation to generate diverse airborne bacteria emissions indoor while altering and directing the airflow.
‘Microbiology of the built environment’ approaches architecture as a metabolic micro-ecology, rather than a static structure. It reveals a complex synergy between users and architectural elements, both visible and invisible. Invisible architecture is constructed of ubiquitous air inhabitants – known as airborne bacterial community. It has a major impact on interior characteristics defining air quality. As we spend at least 90% of our time within built environments, the quality of its microbial life defines the quality of our life.
Proper cultivation of microbial gardens, disrupted by artificial boundaries, could have a major potential to improve our human ‘urban indoor species’ health and wellbeing. Vegetation composition and structure according to observations play a major role in shaping indoor aerobiome. However, due to the lack of data, evidence-based guidelines for vegetation management for optimal benefits and design strategies need yet to be explored in a systematic way.
During this first meetup on 2 April 2020, we start a constructive conversation with different parties who have been or are working on similar topics and create a space to reflect on key points such as:
- How to cope with such living systems and their communities as a designer?
- Are they (airborne bacteria) contaminants or an essential link in the chain of urban and human metabolism?
- Can we generate dynamic and biodiverse ecosystems within confined sealed environments of buildings?
Report meetup #1
LABS: Future Interiors meetup #1 was organised by Studio Samira Boon together with Waag as an online event. Many people showed up and the presentations worked well via online video conferencing. Samira Boon introduced the meeting by presenting various projects on aerobacterial systems, like a fabric that improves air quality and responds to the different seasons.
Lorena Trebi did a presentation on designing with living organisms. This means nature is no longer a model, but a co-worker. The designer loses part of the control of the material. Lorena showed images of her own material, developed at TextileLab Amsterdam. These textiles are byproducts from fermentation processes of bacteria and yeast, based on the process of making kombucha. The colours of the textiles were dependent on the amount of sugar each bacteria culture got.
‘A green society should not be designed: it should give space to all forms of life.’
Sandrine d’Haene did her presentation on microbiology and the microbiotica in the air. These are the bacteria we don’t know much about, but we are confronted with them constantly. Sandrine d’Haene showed which bacteria emerge in our surroundings. Just like Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, she emphasized the importance of ventilating your living space. This art duo presented an introduction on the biology, ecosystems and sample techniques of the so-called aeriobiome.
After the presentations, the audience asked their questions. For example: how can we provide a greener society with biodesign? ‘We shouldn’t see bacteria as materials. We should treat them with more respect,’ Evelina Domnitch said. ‘We know next to nothing about building a cell from nothing. We should not design a greener society, but give space to all forms of life. They will build the green society for us. We do that by doing nothing, by stopping what we’re doing.’
Principal of Studio Samira Boon, a textile architecture studio based in Amsterdam and Tokyo with a strong focus on creating flexible and dynamic environments. As an expert on the material properties of textiles, Studio Samira Boon advises and collaborates with architects to formulate site-specific solutions.The studio was founded in Japan and combines the adaptive and sensory qualities of materials with research into state-of-the-art computerized production techniques. Recent works include the 3D woven SUPERFOLDS and ARCHI FOLDS: two innovative series of textile structures, which bring together technique, science and art. For ARCHI FOLDS she collaborated with Tokyo University and the Dutch TextielLab to combine traditional origami techniques with computerized textile folding possibilities.
Lorena Trebi is a designer and Phd student in Design from the Department of Planning, Design and Technology of Architecture of Sapienza University of Rome, with particular interests for bio-design and the opportunity to implement symbiotic processes between nature and culture, design and science. Her PhD thesis ‘Evolving Matter’ addresses the radical paradigm shift brought by the advent of bio-fabrication, raising questions on the future of material and artifacts, as well as of production and consumption systems. In particular, the research aims to investigate how the role of the designer is changing together with the evolving scenario: how she/he fits into the novel multidisciplinary and laboratory dimension of the project; how far hers/his contribution in fostering the appreciation and application of new biomaterials in an appropriate timeframe.
Sandrine d’Haene is a researcher specialized in photosynthesis. She recently received her PhD degree on her thesis ‘Regulation of light energy in photosynthetic bacteria’. Combining microbiology, molecular biology, biophysics and biochemistry, she contributes to the art-science laboratory of Raoul Frese, Hybrid Forms Lab, which is part of the Faculty of Science, Physics and Astronomy at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The Hybrid Forms Lab is a place where scientists work with artists since 2017. Sandrine has been supporting several art-science projects including photosynthesis integrated in symbiotic machines (Raoul Frese & Ivan Henriques), organic materials from symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (Raoul Frese, Samira Boon and Iza Awad), airborne microbiome (Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand) and cyanobacteria use for bioalgorithmic Politcs (Raoul Frese & Michael Sedbon).
Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand create sensory immersion environments that merge physics, chemistry and computer science with uncanny philosophical practices. The duo’s artworks have emerged through unorthodox collaborations with pioneering research groups, including LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory), the Atominstitut (TU Vienna), and RySQ (Rydberg Quantum Simulators). They are recipients of the Japan Media Arts Excellence Prize (2007), the Meru Art*Science Award (2018) and five Ars Electronica Honorary Mentions (2007, 2009, 2011,2013, and 2017).