For designers and consumers, this territory is new and exciting, and perhaps scary: living systems can be unpredictable and need care. However, the opportunities are revolutionary.
Life is characterized by regeneration, efficiency, and dynamic response to the environment to maintain system structure and processes. Thus, Biodesign naturally incorporates enhanced resilience and reduced waste and maintenance. Using life in design also opens up new avenues to problem-solving through the enormous diversity represented by living systems, built upon billions of years of trial-and-error in the evolutionary history of life on Earth.
Perhaps most importantly, Biodesign alters our perspective on environmental sustainability and humanity’s relationship with nature. The development and maintenance of sterile technology places us at odds with all other forms of life. In an increasingly urban society, the human experience becomes divorced from the natural world. We know that, in the short-term, this threatens species and habitats that stand in our way. In the long-term, it is also increasingly clear that a devotion to sterility is ultimately self-destructive.
From Lake Erie water quality to an individual’s healthy immune functioning, the goods provided to us by living ecosystems are irreplaceable. Biodesign proposes a vision of the future in which humanity prioritizes and wields the living systems on Earth, rather than fights against them.
The field of biodesign is broad, ranging from practical solutions to striking pieces meant to challenge the viewer’s way of thinking. Biodesign sometimes relies on elaborate technological or bioengineered solutions, but can also focus on natural living organisms in the immediate environment.
Incorporation of living ecosystems into buildings and landscapes is becoming a standard practice. For example, installation of living green roofs and walls is often incentivized to provide well-known benefits ranging from stormwater control to habitat for local biodiversity. Living concrete is on the horizon, with bacteria incorporated into walls to heal the damage that comes with time. But biodesign also, alternatively, invites architecture to embrace the effects of time, if growing trees become an integrated component of an evolving structure.
Biodesign has the capacity to disrupt manufacturing processes, such as with microbially derived leather-like material grown in the lab rather than harvested from animals. Likewise, you may have already received a shipment in the mail that was protected by packaging peanuts made from fungal mycelium that grew on agricultural waste.
Finally, some biodesign advocates ask us to imagine life in which organisms surround you, designed to be working on your behalf. Your furniture is made from fungal mycelium, bioluminescent bacteria light up your kitchen while algal walls clean the air, and dinner was harvested from the living river in your home or an animal-free biotechnology.