Bio-Logics: Designing with Nature, 2020, Faber Futures. Image Credit, Felix Speller, Design Museum.

Bio-Logics: Designing with Nature

Design Museum

Through a series of Faber Futures’ studio projects, Bio-Logics: Designing with Nature (2020) exhibition explores how design can learn from nature to develop regenerative materials and systems of thinking and making. Our display at the Design Museum in London presents design research, scientific experiments and prototypes that question whether we can achieve new processes for production that embrace nature’s logic, rather than extract its resources. Could this radical new approach create a fairer and more sustainable future?

Bio-Logics: Designing with Nature, 2020, Faber Futures. Image Credit, Felix Speller, Design Museum.

​From mapping geographical microbiomes (Wild Type, 2020) to locating alternative narratives on biology (Other Biological Futures, 2018), we unpack the research, writing, experimentation, and prototypes we have developed on our own and with our collaborators over the years spent designing with living systems:


Project Coelicolor, 2011 – present

​At Faber Futures, we have been investigating whether biological systems could offer more efficient, and less harmful, alternatives to industrial production. This thinking is captured in Project Coelicolor, a collaborative project with Professor John Ward and his synthetic biology lab at University College London’s Department of Biochemical Engineering, designed to minimise the use of water in textile dying by growing bacteria directly onto the textile instead of using synthetic dyes.

Our sample display showcases the range of design-driven protocols engineered to achieve specific aesthetic and performance-related material outcomes – delivering products which not only possess embedded value in themselves, but also demonstrate the viability of new methods and technologies. ​These material artefacts allow us to consider the collaborative performance strategies between the designer and the organism – both the nature and mechanics of the apparent symbiosis between the two. The designer no longer specifies all the details of the final product, but rather brings together the conditions in which the living process can thrive and create.

This new taxonomy of making has been enabled by the global cultural shift towards the blurring of disciplinary boundaries, driven by the possibilities of new technologies, and the increasing cultural, economic and industrial necessity of a sustainable model of production and consumption. Microbial dyes have the potential to replace petrochemistry, dramatically reduce water-use and eliminate toxic effluent in the manufacture of textiles. But beyond this, can we develop the capacity to tell new material stories?

Project Coelicolor: Assemblage 002, 2019; Natsai Audrey Chieza, Faber Futures in collaboration with Professor John Ward, Department of Biochemical Engineering, University College London. Image Credit, Felix Speller, Design Museum.
Project Coelicolor: Textile samples, 2013-2019. Natsai Audrey Chieza, Faber Futures in collaboration with Professor John Ward, Department of Biochemical Engineering, University College London. Image Credit, Felix Speller, Design Museum.
Project Coelicolor: Scale, Void, Assemblage 001, 2017. Faber Futures x Ginkgo Bioworks. Image Credit, Felix Speller, Design Museum.

Other Biological Futures, 2018

Other Biological Futures is the fourth issue of MIT Media Lab’s Journal of Design and Science, co-edited by Faber Futures’ founder Natsai Audrey Chieza and Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. The issue had scientists, designers, curators, artists, bioengineers, activists and historians speak to the real challenges and potential for biodesign in the future.

The included conversations address questions such as: Can biology help us do things better? Will biodesign help us change ourselves and our world for the better? And for whom, or for which other species does it matter? These cross-pollinatory dialogues explore the complex social, economic and ethical issues involved in answering, perhaps, the most important question in biodesign: Who gets to design life, and in what context?

Read the full issue here.

Colour Coded, 2018

Colour Coded is a technical project that highlights how the alphabet of DNA is enabling a new language to be scripted and stored. Together with Ginkgo Bioworks, we created a pigment extract of S.coelicolor to donate to the Forbes Pigment Collection, as its first DNA-coded colour. Beyond preserving the isolated pigment molecule, we have also embedded the metadata of the organism’s use case and the context of their collaboration into strings of DNA.

As a speculative intervention, the project suggests that what lies ahead depends on how this new language and alphabet are designed to be understood, and that through this, new types of data-driven interactions between human and non-human interfaces could emerge. Colour Coded prompts us to question how information storage interacts with current requirements for the preservation of material artefacts. How do we document, distribute, preserve and recover the colossal amounts of data we are generating? Do we one day stumble upon revelatory time capsules in the form of DNA that teach us something new in a place or context we cannot yet imagine?

Colour Coded, 2018. Faber Futures x Ginkgo Bioworks. Image Credit, IMMATTERS Studio.
Colour Coded, 2018. Faber Futures x Ginkgo Bioworks.

Wild Type, 2020

Wild Type (2020) explores the microbial ecologies of specific soils and their relationship to the landscape. Within this experiment, we collected different soil types from four unique locations on Dorset’s Jurassic Coastline, the United Kingdom’s most biodiverse region. Each soil sample yields a different microbial ecosystem, whose dependencies can be linked to geology and human factors like land-use.

​Our display includes four Winogradsky columns: miniature, enclosed ecosystems used for the culturing of microbial communities. Each column consists of sediment and water from one of four specific soilscapes. The ever-changing columns reveal diverse bacterial communities and their interdependent roles, urging us to think about the many ways we all live together.

Understanding the microbial world in context and outside the hermetic seal of a lab is critical for building a foundational awareness of biological systems, and other possible multi-species narratives those ecosystems can forge.

A Roadmap for Preferable Futures, 2020 – present

Design of, with and from biology is an ambitious design proposition, however, dependent upon measures of value and impact it carries. Unpacking the systems that produce the world we are surrounded by is key to creating any meaningful transformation in service to the kind of world we wish to live in.

The Roadmap for Preferable Futures (2020-present) traces how design has historically interacted with realms of power, from the economic to the cultural, ultimately supporting extractive regimes. Charting the role of design in relation to drivers of value, as well as economic models, production systems and the technologies that underpin them, our research demonstrates design’s agility as a profession to respond to shifting client needs, social change and technological advancement. It also highlights relationships between forms of production, economics, technology and culture that have created harmful feedback loops resulting in biodiversity loss, climate change, systemic racial and social inequities.

Design has played a role in perpetuating social and environmental injustices, but it can also help build alternative models for the futures we all need. If we are to redesign how we make and consume, based on humanity working with nature rather than against it, what alternative design frameworks emerge, and what other systems are they in dialogue with?

The Roadmap for Preferable Futures, 2020, Faber Futures.
The Roadmap for Preferable Futures, 2020, Faber Futures.
The Roadmap for Preferable Futures, 2020, Faber Futures.

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