The culmination of my master’s work, This is grown. was driven by a frustration with plastics and a visible disparity between scientific research and design manifestations around ‘natural’ materials.
Taking an organism-driven approach to material design, I manipulated the growing process of k. rhaeticus bacteria, to employ it in a new form of ‘microbial weaving’. The process optimizes the natural properties of bacterial cellulose to weave a new category of hybrid materials that are strong and lightweight, and allows the potential for entire patterns and products to be designed and grown to shape with little or no wastage.
I grew the upper of a shoe to show how this could affect the way we make products in the future. The upper is grown in a single piece with no sewing and one continuous yarn held into place by the cellulose produced by the bacteria.
The really interesting part will come when we employ synthetic biology to control what the microbes produce and how and where they grow them. But as we begin to exercise our new knowledge of nature to try and solve our material problems we have to question what is natural really, and accept that we may not actually be collaborating with nature anymore but controlling it.