Science vs. Craft

Growing cultures – from the petri dish to your future wardrobes

Text by Libby Banks

When it comes to radical 21st century design, bacteria and mycelium are where it's at.

A new generation of designers has put the most ancient examples of biological engineering - the human body and the natural world - at the heart of future thinking, with the intersection of our primal past and future potential at the core.

This tension is explored in the work of textile designer Lærke Hooge Andersen. She imagines a "synthetic kingdom" where natural hybrids evolve, combining man-made synthetics with organic structures to form a new "natural" - or as she puts it, "ancient designs for the future".

Andersen's work is not confined to theory; she is currently in the laboratory making these future textiles. "I like to think I am giving the biotech consumer of the future a glimpse of a lifestyle with synthetic biology, be it good or bad," she says. Her experiments have produced materials with extraordinary sensory qualities, like the fusion of animal fur with tree bark.

What is clear is that technological advancement is not used to control or coerce nature; instead, there is a celebration of its anarchy. Iris van Herpen has based her three-dimensional printed dresses on naturally occurring water molecule formation, a technique that enables the preservation of natural chaos as a fixed, wearable structure. Textiles designer Erdem Kiziltoprak researches the growth, shapes and movement of the "invisible membranes of nature", such as bacteria populations, to form his print patterns. These are overlaid with mould-forming materials like yeast and kombucha tea to create a second skin.

Lucy McRae, meanwhile, provides a perfect example, has teamed up with synthetic biologist Sheref Mansy to create swallowable parfum, "a capsule that enables human skin to emit a genetically unique scent about who we are." Due this year*, the fragrance is emitted as molecules are excreted through the skin's surface.

The confluence of art, engineering and biology is not simply about the pursuit of new aesthetics - it is initiating a dialogue between art and science, as exemplified in the work of glass sculptor Matt Durran. He has collaborated with the Royal Free Hospital to create moulds in which human cartilage cells are grown for patients. Some might find this gruesome - but isn't there something magical about this union of scientist and artisan?

Erdem Kiziltoprak, Bacterial Motility

Digitally printed and half pleated fabric, fabricated with shape memory alloys at the back to interpret the movement of bacteria during growing in petri dishes. §

*2012 - but they are unable to give exact release date.

  • Science VS. Craft Erdem Kiziltoprak