Research Team: Jorge Duro-Royo, Laia Mogas-Soldevilla, Joshua Van Zak, Yen-Ju (Tim) Tai, Andrea Ling, Nic Lee, Barrak Darweesh, Daniel Lizardo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James C. Weaver. Undergraduate Researchers: Joseph Faraguna, Matthew Bradford, Loewen Cavill, Emily Ryeom, Aury Hay, Yi Gong, Brian Huang. Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja I). Nic Lee, Joshua Van Zak, Ramon Elias Weber, Joseph Henry Kennedy, Jorge Duro-Royo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver. Undergraduate Researchers: Joseph Faraguna, Danielle Grey-Stewart, Amelia Wong, Ava Iranmanesh. Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja II)
Location: SFMOMA. 2020. SF, California (Aguahoja I). Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. 2019. NYC, New York (Aguahoja II)
Platform: Water-Based Digital Fabrication
According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), over 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, leaving harmful imprints on the environment. Less than 10% of this material is recycled, while the rest becomes waste, dumped into landfills and oceans; all the while, plastic-based materials utilize raw ingredients that are extracted from the earth faster than they can be replenished, and are processed through environmentally destructive means. There is another way. Organic structures embody more efficient and adaptable material properties compared with human-made ones, and leave no environmental marks. From a limited palette of molecular components, including cellulose, chitin, and pectin―the very same materials found in trees, crustaceans and apple skins―natural systems construct an extensive array of functional materials with no synthetic parallels.
Chitin, for instance, manifests in the form of thin, transparent dragonfly wings, as well as in the soft tissue of fungi. Cellulose makes up more than half of plant matter planet-wide. These materials, and the living systems they inhabit, outperform human engineering not only through their diversity of functions but also through their resilience, sustainability, and adaptability. The Aguahoja collection (pronounced: agua-hocha) offers a material alternative to plastic subverting the toxic waste cycle through the creation of biopolymer composites that exhibit tunable properties with varied mechanical, optical, olfactory and even gustatory properties. These renewable and biocompatible polymers leverage the power of natural resource cycles and can be materially ‘programed’ to decay as they return to the earth, for purposes of fueling new growth.
Plastic bottles purchased per minute worldwide
Chitin's age in millions of years
This project points towards a future where we subvert the industrial cycle of overproduction and obsolescence through the use of abundant natural materials. Through this project we envision the ability to temporarily divert materials from healthy ecosystems, to integrate them in human designs, and to enable natural decomposition back into the environment for purposes of fueling new growth.
By enabling digital design and fabrication with biopolymers, we aim to devise systems that incentivize the protection and strengthening of ecosystems while also providing humans with a new frontier of design and production.
In Aguahoja I we focused on the development of a robotic platform for 3D printing biomaterials. We showed that shape and material composition can be directly informed by physical properties (stiffness and opacity), environmental conditions (load, temperature, and relative humidity), and fabrication constraints (degrees-of-freedom, arm speed, and nozzle pressure). Each structure in the collection contains a unique combination of organic materials whose allocation, texture and distribution within the final object are computationally driven and additively manufactured in high resolution. This enables control over specific physical properties and environmental adaptation to changing weather conditions.
In contrast to most synthetic materials, structures included in this collection will react to their environment over their lifespan, adapting their geometry, mechanical behavior and color in response to fluctuations in heat, humidity, and sunlight. Such time-based ‘temporal’ behavior is utilized as a design feature, one that is able to sense, inform the user of, and adapt to changing environmental conditions. The robotic fabrication platform is engineered to convert cellulose, chitosan, pectin, and other abundant biopolymers, into high-performance sustainable hydrogels that can be 3D printed into objects for applications spanning scales from millimeters to meters.
Standing five meters tall, Aguahoja I is an architectural pavilion composed of the most abundant biopolymers on our planet. Its layered structure, known as a bio-composite, is designed as a hierarchical network of patterns optimized for structural stability, flexibility and visual connectivity. Combining shell-like and skin-like elements, the pavilion’s overall stiffness and strength are designed to withstand changing environmental conditions such as heat and humidity while retaining its flexibility.
Over time, with the evaporation of water, the pavilion’s skin-and-shell composite transitions from a flexible and relatively weak system to a rigid one that can respond to heat and humidity. Upon exposure to rain water, the pavilion’s skin and shell will degrade programmatically, restoring their constituent building blocks to the existing ecosystem, augmenting the natural resource cycles that enabled their synthesis.
Ratio of annual cellulose to plastic production
Derived from shrimp shells and fallen leaves, 3D printed by a robot, shaped by water and augmented with synthetically engineered organisms or natural pigments, Aguahoja’s biocompatible architectural skin-and-shell composites point toward a possible future where the grown and the manufactured unite. Surface features, patterns and colors are computationally 'grown' and additively manufactured with varied mechanical, optical, olfactory and gustatory properties, utilizing organic waste streams while preserving ecological niches.
When the biopolymer skins are submerged in water, pectin-based elements rapidly dissolve, allowing cellulose- and chitosan-based elements to deform and degrade in a controlled ‘programmed’ fashion. The structure’s basic material components are readily decomposed and reused by living organisms in order to fuel new growth. Through life and programmed decomposition, shelter-becomes-organism as it holds the potential to promote the health of natural resource cycles by such means as promoting soil microorganisms and providing nutrients for ‘growing’ buildings—a bona fide Material Ecology.
In order to address the destructive impact of climate change and pandemics on a global scale, we must eliminate methane-rich production methods and their associated construction technologies. In their place, we must develop and deploy robotic manufacturing platforms able to utilize renewable and biodegradable polymers for the design and manufacturing of multi-scale structures with complex geometries.
Replacing plastic goods with their bio-polymeric counterparts will enable biodegradation or decay for temporary products, and long-lasting properties for structures designed to stand the test of time and climate change.
Research Collaborators: Tzu-Chieh Tang, Shaymus Hudson, Prof. Pam Silver, Prof. Tim Lu (Aguahoja I). Prof. Pam Silver (Aguahoja II)
Substructure Production: Stratasys, Ltd., Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (Aguahoja I & II)
Music Composition: Jeremy Flower (Aguahoja I)
Video Production: The Mediated Matter Group, Paula Aguilera, Jonathan Williams (Aguahoja I)
Acknowledgements: MIT Media Lab, NOE. LLC, Stratasys Ltd, MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, Wyss Institute at Harvard, Department of Systems Biology at Harvard, GETTYLAB, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Autodesk BUILD Space, TBA-21 Academy, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, National Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Esquel Group
All images and videos courtesy of Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group