Living Artefacts: Conceptualizing Livingness as a Material Quality in Everyday Artefacts
Elvin Karana, Bahareh Barati, Elisa Giaccardi


Biodesign suggests the integration of living organisms, such as bacteria, algae, fungi, and plants, into design, prevalently as material sources. Designers mobilize livingness of organisms at the design time (e.g., their grow-ability into predefined forms, their ability to release colour in growth, etc.), for achieving a minimal ecological footprint and novel material expressions. The design outcome is a non-living artefact with material qualities comparable to the convention (e.g., leather-like, foam-like). Livingness, however, can be prolonged to the use time of artefacts so that the design outcomes go beyond being a mere sustainable material alternative or a unique material expression. Instead, within their unusual ways, such artefacts offer novel responsive behaviour and interaction possibilities, and new ways of doing and living, while raising critical questions about care, symbiosis, cohabitation, and adaptation. In this article, we propose the concept of living artefacts, where livingness is understood as a biological, ecological, and experiential phenomenon. To support this understanding, we propose three principles—Living Aesthetics, Mutualistic Care, and Habitabilities—as fundamental loci of designing for livingness. We illustrate the three principles with a number of cases that help articulate a finer-grained understanding of their applicability in biodesign practice.

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