London’s Design Museum has opened up a new design space showcasing design research projects that respond to environmental crises.
The display features work from six exhibitors, curated by ‘Future Observatory,’ the Design Museum’s national research programme for the green transition coordinated in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), highlighting “radical new approaches” to fashion, waste, materials and architecture.
Located on the museum’s second-floor balcony, the ‘Future Observatory’ display showcases innovative design research projects from across the UK that champion cutting-edge design research on environmental issues, introducing visitors “to thought-provoking and innovative ways in which designers are responding to climate breakdown”.
The display presents ongoing research, rather than design as a finished product or system, and includes Biodesign agency Faber Futures showcasing how it works with nature to explore ways of reducing the environmental impact of production techniques. As part of their practice, they have been working with Streptomyces coelicolor, a soil-dwelling bacterium that naturally secretes a pigment that can be used to dye textiles.
For the ‘Future Observatory’ display, they are highlighting the Exploring Jacket, a silk garment that presents the remarkable results of this technique. Visitors can learn about the process through a film documenting the jacket’s journey, from bacteria cell to fashion product.
While The Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE) is researching and developing new low-carbon materials and construction techniques to radically rethink how we build. This research is presented with ‘BioKnit,’ a knitted biohybrid structure composed of fungal mycelium, that has been specially designed using computer modelling to arch precisely across the balcony.
BioKnit is made from mycelium, sawdust and 3D knitted wool, as the mycelium feeds on the sawdust, the structure hardens to form a strong, durable material. Visitors can observe the process of developing this material and building such structures through drawings and footage of the design lab’s work.
Other displays include a mural from Climavore, made with seashells collected from restaurants in the Isle of Skye and reconstituted to form a durable material, a short film from architect and design researcher Julia King exploring design solutions that could mitigate the impact of water pollution on the north Kent coast, and how Dark Matter Labs is proposing a new approach to housing and living with their FreeHouse project that reimagines the home not simply as a piece of property, but as a generator of environmental and social value.
Justin McGuirk, Future Observatory’s director, said in a statement: “This display marks an important moment because it creates a dedicated space for both the environment and design research at the heart of the museum.”
George Kafka, Future Observatory curator, added: “Across the new Future Observatory display we see critical, experimental and ultimately hope-filled research being undertaken in the UK. The studios, labs and practices exhibited are amongst today's leading thinkers in design fields from fashion to food, working at scales from the microbial to the systemic. Through this display, visitors will learn about the vital role of design research in working towards a liveable future.”