Design enters firsthand in the creation of innovative biomaterials that can change the way of producing and building

Next June opens in New York Biofabricate Summit 2022, the place where 2design meets biology2, dedicated to the latest innovations truly available worldwide in the field of bio-manufactured materials.

The event was first launched in 2014 by a designer, Suzanne Lee, creative director of Modern Meadow, the American biotechnology company working on the manufacture of materials produced by microorganisms (such as yeast, algae and bacteria) or by cultivation of modified cells, DNA and proteins.

Today bio-manufacturing probably represents the most advanced frontier of the growing scenario of design biomaterials, but it is not the only design driven, among bio-based materials.

We have behind us years of research dedicated by the scientific community to biomaterials, and first of all bioplastics, but the real news today is that it is the designers themselves, very often, who take up the challenge, guiding the innovation of tomorrow.

Designers who, as alchemists of the new era, work from the earliest stages together with engineers, biologists and chemists in multidisciplinary teams, engaged in projects that have the sole objective of freeing the millennium as soon as possible from the physical and moral dependence that we still have in the comparisons of materials of fossil origin.

These are designers at the creative guide of specialized structures, or authors of their own start-ups, but all use the flywheel of design to give biomaterials international visibility and promote cultural change.

Their proposals go far beyond the experimentation of the university years: they are aimed with great determination at production, to put on the market new materials bio-reliable and aesthetically appreciable.

10 design biomaterials

Biomaterials, technically, are all those that derive from organic elements present in nature, and compatible with biological systems. So first of all the bio-derived materials, which are produced "from biodegradable living matter" (plants, trees or animals), such as natural fibers (cellulose, hemp, linen, wool, etc.) and their compounds; the wood; and also all the thermoplastic biopolymers that are obtained from sugar cane or corn starch such as PLA, for example.

Then the materials from bio-waste, obtained instead from the upcycling of waste from the food or agricultural chain. And finally the materials bio-manufactured, produced by living cells and microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts or mycelia (the vegetative filaments of fungi), and which also include certain biopolymers , such as thermoplastic polyesters which are obtained from bacteria through the fermentation of sugars or lipids.


Shimmering Wood, literally "sparkling wood", was created by Finnish designer Noora Yau and materials researcher Konrad Klockars, founders of the Structural Color Studio (SCS), a platform for collaborative projects between design and materials science, aimed at creating bio-based structural colors, from Aalto University. The biodegradable iridescent colors were created by inserting microscopic nanostructures directly into the wood, i.e. without the need for chemical compounds.


Nuatan is the bioplastic created by Vlasta Kubusova and Miroslav Kral of the design studio CraftingPlastics!, based in Berlin and Bratislava, in collaboration with research teams from Slovakia and Germany. A biomaterial 100% from renewable and biodegradable resources (degrades in just 120 days in industrial compost), for which an ad hoc odor has been designed, capable of recalling the aroma-active substances typical of the different phases of its biological cycle, to help the consumer to distinguish bioplastics from petroleum-based ones also by smell. (ph. Jakub Caprnka)


Finite, made from low-carbon, non-toxic desert sand, is a sustainable alternative to concrete. Conceived during their masters in London, by Matteo Maccario, Carolyn Tam, Hamza Oza and Saki Maruyami, to be made with local sand in desert areas, as an alternative to imported cement, after which it can be reused or left to decompose. For now it is only suitable for temporary constructions: the material has not yet passed the severe test cycles foreseen for permanent structures.


Woodoo is a translucent wood that is sensitive to the touch thanks to the use of nanotechnologies that allow the extraction of air and lignin to replace it with special bio-based polymers, which keep the structural integrity intact. It is one of the new generation "transparent" woods, an alternative to glass and plastics in architecture, and which allow the design of hi-touch interfaces for the IoT. Woodoo, in particular, is due to Timothée Boitouzet, designer and founder of the French company of the same name, dedicated to low-carbon, wood-based biomaterials.


Hempcrete, hemp and lime cement, is obtained by mixing the dried woody core of hemp stalks, with a lime-based binder, which hardens it. Used already in ancient times, in Europe it is above all the United Kingdom that experimented with it in construction, in the form of blocks and panels, sprayed, or even cast into shapes around structural elements. London-based designer Antony Gibbon has given an extraordinary face to hemp concrete, imagining a continuous corrugated sheet of roofing for his Twine House.


Woven Bark, a pine bark fabric, was created by designer Charlett Wenig for her doctoral thesis at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, in collaboration with the stylist Johanna Hehemeyer-Cürten. The material is an experimentation on the possibilities of application of craftsmanship, to produce flexible biomaterials with behaviors comparable to textiles.


Biotic is the ongoing research of the Dutch studio Lionne van Deursen, on the aesthetic possibilities of bacterial cellulose. The designer designs its color, texture and translucency, thanks to variable growth times and using natural plant-based dyes or fruit waste. Created by bacteria and yeasts that spin cellulose nanofibers, and organically grown, the material has properties comparable to animal skin, is biodegradable, resistant, and has a high flexibility that allows it to be processed in different ways.


3D Wood, 3D printed 'liquid' wood by additive layering, is a material composed of 100% renewable raw materials, which uses discarded lignin in the production of paper or other waste from the transformation of waste from the wood industry, mixed with biopolymers . Customizable at will, but still looking for its own aesthetic: here the modular panel Sawdust Screen, by Emerging Objects, San Francisco, produced by Forust Corporation.


Ottan is the upcycling project of the Turkish designer Ayse Yilmaz, who founded a production startup and created a collection of high quality materials for interior design, obtained from an innovative process of transformation of green organic waste, such as fruit peels. , expired plant products, or grass clippings and leaves.


Orb (organic refuse biocompound) is a 100% biodegradable, vegan, sustainable and renewable material, produced from organic waste from food production or the agricultural sector, by Biohm, the London start-up of biotechnology and bio-manufacturing, founded by designer Ehab Sayed in 2016, was born with the aim of promoting a transition of the construction world towards the circular economy. In the image, the Obscure lampshades, in Orb, which Biohm self-produces and sells online.