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BioDesign: Our Living Households

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 17, 2013

Imagine a dining room chandelier illuminated not by conventional electrical current, but by live, flourishing bacteria that introduces continual fluctuations to the tint and intensity of the light. In the Bacterioptica, designed by Petia Morozov, a multitude of glass Petri dishes in various sizes are nestled in a gossamer web of fiber optic cables supported by hundreds of metal rods and caps.

It’s one of the extraordinary microbe-inspired household objects described in a "The Beauty of Bacteria, a New York Times story by Julie Lasky. The story described a growing movement called bio design that leaps from biomimicry to the real use of natural organisms in the creation household objects. Examples of fungus, algae, bacteria and plant life harnessed to give energy and form for household items are described in BioDesign: Nature+Science+Creativity, a book by William Myers, a scholar and teacher of design. Click here to see projects pictured in the book, published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

A press release from the Morozov Alcala Design Laboratory (MADLAB) explains the award-winning Bacterioptica light fixture is designed to be a household organism—living and breathing the same air as the family. It also "cultivates, distributes and illuminates the bacterial life of the family.” New owners get detailed instructions on how to prepare each bacterial sample for its place in a suspended Petri dish—and samples can come from the skin of family members and guests, household pets, and from outdoors in the yard. The Bacterioptica comes with an initial configuration, but can be customized for size, sample capacity and lighting intensity. The release says the fixture is "expected to flex over time as it becomes integral to the events of the dining room.”

Another biodesign innovation is Joris Laarsman’s Halflife Lamp. Laarsman designed a lampshade coated with hamster ovary cells modified with firefly DNA. The cells generate an enzymatic reaction that makes the lamp light up. On his website, Laarsman says the lamp "addresses a twilight between an inexhaustible harmless utopia, the fear of a monster of Frankenstein, and our often romanticized idea about nature that colors our morality. For this no animal has suffered, it theoretically doesn’t need electricity to generate light, and it is biodegradable.” But it does need a continuous supply of nutrients to keep the cells alive, hinting at biodesigners’ vision of a new relationship between people and possessions. "We’re used to thinking we can throw away objects,” Laarsman told the Times. "We’re not used to objects you can care for and treat well, or that renew themselves.”

Energy from plants can power a lamp, too. The Moss Table is a collaboration among Carols Peralta and Alex Driver, scientists from the United Kingdom, and Paolo Bombelli of Italy. Electrical current is produced when bacteria consumes organic compounds moss releases during photosynthesis. Scientists learned to harvest enough electricity to light a lamp attached to the table. On the Cambridge University website, Peralta calls the design a vision of the future, when "self-sustaining organic-synthetic hybrid objects surround us” and satisfy our needs in an eco-friendly manner.

Mitchell Joachim, who cofounded an architecture and urban design studio in Brooklyn, where he also has a biodesign lab, says the fear of a Frankenstein style sci-fi blunder has brought visits from Homeland Security and the FBI. He thinks such anxiety is unnecessary. "It’s like you are designing a teapot and you accidentally make a machinegun,” he told the Times. "It just doesn’t happen.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  design  innovation 

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