Lab-grown futures: Design exploration for the development of fungi as a leather-like material

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
P1 OPINNÄYTTEET D 2019 Arias Barrantes
Degree programme
Creative Sustainability
Living organisms such as fungi – mycelium – are opening a new paradigm for the manufacturing industry through the technology of biofabrication. To engage in this phenomena, designers and scientists are starting to collaborate in transdisciplinary contexts. However, little is known as to how this collaboration with experts takes place and even less how designers develop their interaction with living organisms in laboratories. Fungi possess a biological machinery of their own, which is often unknown to designers. The research for this master’s thesis took place primarily at the laboratories of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. This work explores how design processes using fungi can lead to sustainable alternatives to animal leather through the practice of biofabrication. I define this practice as a process that integrates living matter for the manufacturing of biological materials or products. The aim is to open the spectrum of physical materialities for fungi and through this practice understand the interaction between the designer and the living material as it grows and speaks to the designer. These materials are alive and possess an agency of their own. Through the interaction with fungi and the collaboration with scientists, this practice of design offers new possibilities to extend beyond the traditional forms of doing design. One is by engaging users in the process to explore material experiences and another one is by applying speculative design when exploring future applications for these materials. The focus of this research lies on the practical design work in the laboratory. The methodology includes constructive design research, material design driven method and user involvements through two workshops and ten interviews. The contextual research includes the practices of speculative design and biodesign. Further research includes more centralized research on a single species of fungi, conducting a life cycle assessment, and internal research on the use of design practices in the context of laboratories.
Berglund, Eeva
Thesis advisor
Kääriäinen, Pirjo
Penttilä, Merja
mycelium, fungi, biomaterial, material, speculative design, biodesign, sustainability, biofabrication
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