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Growing zero footprint materials


The two Readerships of Design Academy Eindhoven take centre stage in today’s Arena programme. One of the topics to be debated is Mycelium-based Materials for Product Design, a research through design project that explores how zero footprint materials can be literally ‘grown’. Designer Maurizio Montalti and several other partners investigate the cultivation of fungal filaments on substrates such as wood, straw, or plant matter taken from waste streams, which will then form an interwoven network called mycelium. Depending on the chosen combination of fungus and substrate a range of mycelium-based materials can be created with different properties, ranging from elastic to rigid, water-absorbing to water-repellent, porous to compact. The installation Fungal Curiosities in this years’ Graduation Show demonstrates the research process and shows several of its results.

By Vincent Thornhill

By framing the collection of organically grown mycelium objects by systematic matrices of input variables and output qualities, the research project 'Mycelium-based Materials for Product Design’ creates transparency in an industry consumed by half-truths and buzzwords. As the graduating students also navigate their way through ambiguous and conflicting realities, Maurizio Montalti’s research and products aim to cut through the noise and preconceptions surrounding the production and consumption of biological material.

Montalti sees words like ‘sustainable’ as dangerous. They cloud the judgment of both the public and policy makers in evaluating the potential of the implementation of microorganisms the production process of everyday objects and environments. As labels like ‘sustainable’, ‘bio’ and ‘natural’ infiltrate store shelves without any real foundation, real progress in bio-technologies becomes harder to identify with. At the same time, bacteria and fungi are still seen as ‘other’ or ‘dangerous’ (despite our bodies being mostly comprised of microbes).

Instead, the research exhibited in Fungal Curiosities fights the over-simplification of labelling, electing to communicate the intricacies of the material processes, while at the same time moving beyond speculation to display tangible, producible products.
Through providing an open insight to the production processes behind these earthly (yet somehow alien) materials, the work hopes to galvanize other designers to address, but also face the challenges of introducing new design techniques to the wider public. Here, beyond questioning and speculation, is where Montalti believes cultural change is most fertile. To achieve this, he redefines his design practice as a hybrid endeavour, connecting various fields of expertise to materialise outcomes. Through recognising and respecting the knowledge and value each bring, he believes you can form a meaningful and productive dialogue between different partners who may not speak the same technical language.

Connections and intersections between different types of expertise and processes, but also different species, strains and waste streams begins to take on an almost algorithmic dynamic. Variables in parameters lead to different typologies of material with different mechanical and experiential properties. As consumers are seduced by nostalgic notions of what the term ‘biological’ implies, perhaps this algorithmic approach and explanation offers a transparent but comprehensible understanding of the biologically-enabled production processes. Designers who incorporate such techniques can create new ways to achieve a more balanced approach to our material world, but also a more nuanced understanding of our bodies and behaviour within this ecosystem.


Fungal Curiosities is curated by Maurizio Montalti (DAE) and Serena Camere (TU Delft).
Project Partners: Utrecht University, TU Delft, Design Academy Eindhoven / Readership Places and Traces, MOGU, CNC Exotic Mushrooms, Zwethlande, Tresor, Mediamatic.
Project supported by NWO/TTW.

Published: 25-Oct-2017 16:00
  • MAGIC FUNGI

    Fungal Curiosities, Graduation Show 2017

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