Before finishing my studies as industrial designer at the The Hague university of applied sciences I applied for one more additional minor in Amsterdam called: The essence of design. The minor revolved around further discovering and developing what drives the students in the field of design. We learned to find, and voice our passion and what made design special for every individual student. The way we worked in Amsterdam was quite different from what I was used to at IPO The Hague. It was more focused on us as designers instead of what a client or teacher wanted us to create. This was an interesting experience and really made me see design from a different perspective. The main goal of the minor was finding a subject I was passionate about and for me to shape this into a product or idea. The focus in this case wasn't per see the end product, but the way the student got there trough learning sharing and discovering creative solutions.
Through a lot of self discovery and communicating with my fellow students I discovered that one of my passions revolved strongly about finding a way to clear up the misinformation surrounding the environmental impact we as consumers have on the ecosystem. Additionally I wanted to see if I was able to make a product that was in total balance with nature without any negative impact on the environment. So instead of trying to rediscover the wheel I looked at nature for a solution.
In my research I discovered new studies surrounding the use of fungi as a sustainable material in eco-friendly packaging and products. The key point of interest here is that the material can be grown into the required shape instead of using a lot of energy trying to reshape an already grown material. In my opinion this made a lot of sense and I wanted to see what I could do with it.
Fungi grow in a complex network of threads, this network is called Mycelium.
When this Mycelium network grows trough a substrate (for example recycled wood fibers) it creates a very strong glue like bond resulting in a solid material that can be used as a replacement for glue in fiberboard, polystyrene in packaging and much more. The material is extremely versatile and has antibacterial, fire-retardant and water-repellent properties. But the best thing is that it is also fully compostable. When the product life cycle is over the material can be broken apart and be thrown in the garden or compost bin without creating any negative effects on the environment.
Although finding suppliers was a little difficult in this stage of the material development I was able to acquire what I needed to start testing and experimenting.
I started growing small batches of material to create different shapes and structures in order to do strength testing and other material analysis. During this stage I learned so much about mushroom growth and how to get the best results for the product I wanted to make.
Now the next step was figuring out what would be the best way to show off the material capabilities in a product. This was possible because in this assignment there was no client or set product goal. So I decided to choose a product that would be a good showcase for the material. Through extensive research I decided upon making a bicycle helmet out of the mycelium material. I chose to do this because the mycelium material has a very high impact resistance. Since its advised to replace your helmet every time you fall, making the helmet from co2 neutral, compostable material reduces a lot of waste. Another interesting quality of the material makes it possible to actually grow the helmet straps into the helmet.
I started designing the shell and creating the mold for the growing process of the material. I chose to make the helmet strap out of a different mushroom based material called "muskin". Muskin is a material made from the cap of a Phellinus ellipsoideus mushroom and serves as a substitute for cow leather. The material is strong and flexible and servers perfectly as the strap for my mycelium helmet design. After the growth process was complete I oven-dried the material to harden and stop the mycelium grow process in order to make the helmet safe to wear.
Of course this product is far from the safety ratings required for a road safe helmet but the design is a showcase of what might be possible in the future. There is a lot to improve but for a first experimental test I'm very happy with it. Have a look at the end result!
(p.s. With the leftover material I grew a concept clock as a personal project. click here to check it out! )