Living Bacteria as a natural dye

Natsai Audrey Chieza works at the intersection of biology and design, and wants to show how living organisms can make sustainable materials

Silk dyed as part of Project Coelicolor   Toby Coulson

Silk dyed as part of Project Coelicolor

Toby Coulson


Designer Natsai Audrey Chieza has an unusual creative partner: the soil-dwelling bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor. Under the right conditions, S. coelicolor produces a pigmented compound, which Chieza uses to dye fabric and garments in patterned hues of pink, purple and blue. “It dyes textiles in a colourfast manner with barely any water and no chemicals,” Chieza says. “In many ways, that's the definition of a natural dye.”

Chieza has been working with her “companion species” since 2011 and this year launched Faber Futures, a London-based biodesign lab that aims to help other researchers and companies harness the power of living organisms to develop their own sustainable materials. “Project Coelicolor is a great way to say, ‘This is what we did with this micro-organism; let us help you figure out what to do with yours,’” she says

Regardless the industry, Chieza hopes that biodesign can lead the way to more sustainable means of production, helping manufacturers to shift away from petroleum-based materials, divest from fossil fuels and reduce waste. With Faber Futures, she is also keen to develop an ethical framework for working with living organisms. “If we can engineer life, that means science has become a design space," she says.

The scent palette



The scent palette

The project aims to visualise fragrance, particularly in relation to how colour and shape is used as a method of communication in the process of making customised perfume. Fragrances are invisible, so it is hard to remember when smelling a lot of fragrances at once. If there is specific colour or shape to each bottled fragrance, it will be easier to remember and it will help people arrive at a choice.

In terms of the process of making perfume, it mainly depends on numeric quantification such as ratio or formulation. Transforming the numeric information to something experienced more intuitively and emotionally is the one of the main parts of this project.

BioPlastic Fantastic


Recent graduate from the Royal College of Art Johanna Schmeer considers the future of food based on her knowledge of the possibilities afforded by nanotechnology. Creating a series of synthetic foods for a future whereby the worlds growing population needs to tap into new resources she conceives how products made from enzyme enhanced bio plastics would in theory harvest essential nutrients as alternatives to traditional food sources.

Built on fact, her project is based on a recent scientific breakthrough by scientist Russell Johnson, who has identified a way to synthesise functioning biological cells made from plastics.

Adding a smattering of fantasy based on this fact, Johanna has created 7 food products that fulfil the essential food groups. For instance they produce water, sugar, fat, minerals and proteins. These speculative objects secrete powders and liquids that could be ingested in our distant future.


DNA testing and genetic modification are not new, but what is interesting is that a series of designers are looking to explore the ethics of this in a rash of projects coupled with advancements in DNA sequencing. Researchers have recently developed a technique that uses genetic analysis to create a computer composite of what the person looks like. In an article in the New Scientist,  the team captured images of 600 volunteers across ethnic backgrounds to build up a link between genes affects on facial structure based on sex and race. New Scientist had one of their writers volunteer their DNA with very accurate results. Commenting on issues surrounding privacy and ownership of DNA Artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo has created a DNA vending machine that dispenses human genetic material. The DNA Vending Machine replaces snacks with samples of peoples genetic code which can then be bought.

Also driven by a social comment on a patent granted in 2013 that would allow a gene perfecting system for future parents to control the characteristics of their children, Ben Landau showed his First Gift Blanket during Dutch Design week last year.

A modern take on the heirloom blanket to be passed from generation to generation the blanket has interwoven into it familial DNA sequencing putting into question the value of our personal data. Alongside the blanket he also asked visitors to donate their DNA for sequence testing.

Future Skin Care


Speculative designer Amy Congdon considers a future where biotechnology will give designers a new set of materials and tools to work with. Believing that future materials will be grown from cells she suggests a range of jewellery that is grown from our bones, skin and cartilage. Envisioning a future 2082 her ‘Bio Nouveau’ collection replaces cosmetic surgery with tissue engineered disposable biological atelier pieces. In order to care for these semi living body adornments she has created a fictional range of body care products that include Graft Moisturiser & tone, SynSkin treatment and Graft Aftercare and Bioskin glue.

Poor Tools


We love the work of Studio Fludd and their alchemic approach to design so were delighted by their latest project 'Poor Tools' exploring up-cycling, materiality and a touch of humour. Invited by the art collective How We Dwell ,they spent a week in November on an almost deserted island in front of Venice, Italy.

Whilst there they worked with the materials to be found on the island and the small kit of tools left for them. Collecting natural and artificial findings on the island (including rubbish) they created a series of objects that tell a narrative about the wildly chaotic environment that is the island with wild goats wandering around contrasted witt the new offices and hotel being built there.

They created a wunderkammer housing their engaging and delightful objects and tools which tell a story in their own right.



There have been a few projects exploring the rituals of beauty and exploring the narratives of alchemy and process and here is the latest from materials alchemist Sarah Linda Forrer. A recent graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven, Sarah explores materials, experience and 'atmospheres'. As part of her graduation project she has designed a series of mystical skin care tools that are inspired by the ancient Egyptians belief that beauty was a sign of holiness.

Fascinated by the idea that cosmetics could be used beyond aesthetic purposes, but to include magical and ritualistic experiences, Sarah has explored exciting materiality and design outcomes.

Her collection of skin care tools are almost future soft fossils exploring texture and tactility. She has for example mixed patterned hard wood from the Alpine river with bubbles of rubber as a cleansing tool and Alabaster stone as a spoon to mix oils and powders.


Considering trends and shifts in our relationship with our health and wellbeing Nina van Bart's 'The Alchemist' short film cites the bathroom as a laboratory where one can take control over beauty and wellbeing. Mixing materials and chemicals, substances react to create new super sensory experiences. Playing with materials from growing crystals to drifting mist, van Bart's film suggests a future whereby we can mix our own personalised perfect elixir.

Nomadic Sand Bath


Continuing his quest for quiet relaxation in our busy urban environments, Harm Rensink's latest project shown during Dutch Design Week in an old church explores bathing in warm earth that covers the user. Taking inspiration from the Japanese thermal sand baths the firmness and the warmth of the sand stimulates the senses and enlightens the mind and in the words of Harm 'Leads you into a new reality'.