Design Museum: Designing with the Living Symposium

By Lindsay Hanson

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”- Buckminster Fuller

Can designing with living systems be the change we need in the context of today’s current environmental and ecological challenges?

At Design Museum’s one-day symposium exploring how designing with living organisms can respond to today’s deep ecological challenges, our founder Natsai Audrey Chieza presented the closing keynote talk how a confluence of design, science and technology can be a powerful agent for building alternative models for design thinking, making and doing. Earlier in the day, the audience also heard from Brenda Parker (Professor of Innovative Environments, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL); Carole Collet (Director, Maison/0 & Director Design and Living Systems Lab, Central Saint Martins, UAL); Nancy Diniz (Course Leader of MA Biodesign at Central Saint Martins); Helene Steiner (Co-Founder of Open Cell) and Marcus Walker (Tom Ellis Lab, Imperial College).

The symposium explored how designers are crafting new practices and materialities with living systems such as algae, mycelium and bacteria for industries as diverse as textiles, chemicals and the built environment. Key themes that came up over the course of the event included the kinds of new tools that are shaping these emergent systems, and how to translate research into industrial-scale production. Natsai’s keynote shone light on the kinds of critical discourses designers urgently need to engage with as the discipline of biodesign evolves and expands, citing Faber Futures’ joint editorial with Studio Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg for MIT Press and MIT Media Lab’s Issue 4: Other Biological Futures for the Journal of Design and Science.

Designing with the Living offered a re-framing of biodesign  for designers, scientists and researchers alike to take time to talk about next steps in future developments with living materials. As the potential for ecological benefits of biodesign become better characterised and evidenced, and therefore primed for scalable interventions into our supply chains. Fundamental questions arise over what business models need to be developed in parallel; what contextual scale-up looks like; other material possibilities; and how education for the next generation of designers needs to adapt for a viable market to thrive.

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