A union of grown materials by Silvio Tinello
3 Minute Read
by Purva Chawla
In a landscape where bio-fabrication is becoming the norm–at least in concept–and grown or cultured materials are finding a place in multiple industries, how does a newly invented material or product in this realm stand out?
The answer emerges in a quick review of Industrial designer Silvio Tinello's project Grown Objects.
At the very onset, let me spell out a few key ideas that resonate from this collection of bio-fabricated objects, and the body of research behind them.
1. More than one type of bio-designed or cultured material can come together in one object, to both harmonious and stimulating effect.
2. Ties to culture, regions and local materiality add immense value, even within the context of lab-grown materials.
3. It's the little things that count: The smallest, most forgotten parts of designed objects are an opportunity to make a statement about, and contribution to more sustainable, bio-based design.
As I write this last statement, I am holding in my hands a copy of Silvio's 'business card'– a narrow, soft rectangle cut from a translucent, leather-like material. The material is bacterial cellulose, cultivated by Tinello, and has been imprinted with his details. At the same time, on my screen are images of his Grown Objects collection (exhibited at Salone del Mobile in Milan this year), where tiny tags and imprinted labels made from this same cellulose material are attached to products throughout the collection.
Bio-fabrication: When Biology is the technology used to grow, instead of manufacture materials–Silvio Tinello
The use of a cultured bio-material to create something as seemingly insignificant as a small tag is actually a powerful gesture. Collectively, the replacement of labels or tags on objects, traditionally made in synthetic fabrics or plastic, with bio-based materials can have a huge impact. Not only is it a strong statement, it paves the way for designed objects to be biodegradable in their entirety, and ready to be recycled/disappear. Additionally, gestures like Tinello's printed cellulose tags give an object cast from biomaterials a degree of finesse and ensure that the detailing on conventional objects is never missed.
Beyond these details, what are the pieces in Silvio Tinello's Grown Objects project really made of?
The collection of functional objects like lamps, pots, bowties, a penny bank, as well as an experimental shoe, are made with either one or two bio-fabricated materials crafted by Tinello. These two materials are a bio-agglomerate made by agglutinating yerba mate substrate with mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms), and a cultivated bacterial cellulose whose properties can resemble that of leather or a sheet of soft cardboard.
While the former material was developed by Tinello during his time as a Fullbright scholar and masters student of Sustainable Design at the University of Philadelphia, the latter was created during his residency at Genspace- the first community bio-lab in New York City. To create his bio-agglomerate, Tinello tapped into the inherent abilities of mycelium–the vegetative part of fungi. "The role of mycelium in nature is to swallow and transform nutrients, to return them to the ecosystem. In this case, it is used as a natural binder for material and product development" he says.
Working with a single biomaterial is complex enough, but Silvio Tinello creates a union of two materials, capitalizing on the properties of each, and pairing them with applications strategically. His designed objects have a combination of hard and soft components, and the bio-agglomerate and leather-like cellulose are molded, cast, stitched and folded to meet the needs of these components.
Finally, what strikes a chord with us is the link between Tinello's bio-materials and a culture and region. For his bio-agglomerate, Tinello's substrate isn't just any organic waste or fiber, it is material sourced from the vast amount of Yerba Mate sticks that are discarded annually in Argentina. Besides the fact that the indigenous plant is a part of the "Argentine cultural DNA", it is used to create a traditional beverage. Clearly, there is a strong cultural tie that adds value to this new material, and one that brings a sense of familiarity to a bio-fabricated object, which may otherwise feel foreign to users.
Readers, to learn more about Silvio Tinello's ongoing research and design, and more his Grown Objects Collection, use the link here to visit his website.