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Shells, algae, mushrooms…: the new materials of tomorrow’s design

At a time when environmental issues are at the heart of industrial and societal challenges, a new generation of designers is exploring new natural materials to evolve the properties of objects and their manufacturing processes. In their workshops, new materials created from organic or mineral elements are emerging as virtuous design pieces. These ecologically conscious designers open the way to new perspectives for a better future. Inspired by the theme “(RE)GENERATION” of the 10th edition of Paris Design Week, Acumen Magazine presents you a portrait of 7 designers who invent the materials of tomorrow and revolutionize the design factory.

Mushrooms, micro-algae, seashells… these natural organic or mineral substances could well compose tomorrow’s chairs on which you will sit. If eco-design is now at the heart of the creative experience and expectations of our society, it is more often associated with the notions of recycling or upcycling than with experimental design. However, a new generation of designers is using research in the field of sciences and biology to experiment with new materials and develop new virtuous manufacturing methods. Through their experimental approach, it’s no longer the object but the material that is at the heart of the design process and becomes a source of exploration. In their workshop-laboratories, biomaterials made up of biological organisms (algae, shells, silk thread, fungi) or transformed natural elements (fibers and liquids) give rise to durable, biodegradable, and, for some, “living” objects capable of surpassing the objective of carbon neutrality and producing oxygen.

While 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during its design phase, these designers intervene further upstream on the nature of the material that will be used to create inherently virtuous objects. Manufacturing techniques are rethought to transform these materials and processes with a lower environmental impact, for example, by reducing the production cycle or choosing short circuits. Although they are also researchers and engineers, these designers still play their primordial role in the design of objects, to learn how to work these materials, transform and adapt them, with the aim of making people forget their constraints or highlight their intrinsic beauty.
If ecology is an obvious and totally integrated part of the creative approach of these thirty-ten-year- olds, the aesthetic approach is also one of their preoccupations. Designers and manufacturers are now aware that the sustainable and ethical character of a product is not enough to make it desirable. While it’s important to develop a healthier way of life, reduce the carbon footprint, and protect the planet, this doesn’t mean sacrificing the fundamentals of design, which are to combine function and style in the conception of the object. Between conservation and innovation, this new generation of designers inventing tomorrow’s materials is ushering design into a new era.

7 designers to follow :

Clara Hardy

On the premises of Sericyne, the company founded by Clara Hardy, silkworms don’t produce cocoons but directly weave objects such as lampshades or seamless busters! A graduate of the Ecole Boulle and the ENS, Clara Hardy became fascinated by the world of silk during her studies. She has travelled all over the world and met all of the key players of the industry to get to know all the stages of its manufacture. Considering the multitude of phases necessary for the production of silk yarn, Clara Hardy conceived a protocol to reduce this cycle and privilege short circuits. This technique consists in “educating” the worms to directly weave the silk thread on 3D or 2D flat forms. Thus, instead of weaving a cocoon, the worms weave flat, reproducing the shape on which they are placed. From this is born a new natural material, the “sericine silk,” which can be worked like any other textile. Woven, embroidered, dyed, embossed … or set with stones, crystals, gold leaves, this material offers a range of varied aesthetic qualities that have earned it orders from the great luxury houses. Supported by the LVMH group, Clara Hardy has become the leading producer of silk and silk objects in France and has the long-term objective of reviving the industry.