Bio Design //\\ Critical Design

Image: Mobile Service Stations, Extrapolation Factory

Image: Mobile Service Stations, Extrapolation Factory

Image: Vivorium,

Image: Vivorium,

Image: Synthetic Kingdom,


Elliot Montgomery, Extrapolation Factory

Ali Schachtschneider, GenSpace 



  1. Bio Design: Nature + Science + Creativity
  2. Bio Design essay provided by William Meyer (download here)
  3. Simon Understanding the Natural and Artificial Worlds
  4. Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature
  5. Toward's a Critical Design
  6. Next Nature
  7. Recent advances in 3D printing of biomaterials



  1. Anthony Dunne's Design Noir
  2. Dunne & Raby's Critical Design FAQ
  3. James Auger's Speculative Design paper
  4. MOMA's Design and Violence
  5. Simon Grand Method Toolbox
  6. Julien Bleaker Design Fiction
  7. Bruce Sterling essay on The New Aesthetic
  8. Amy Congdon - Bio Design and Speculation



 “BioDesign is the integration of design with biological systems, often to achieve better ecological performance. In contrast to design that mimics nature or draws on biology for inspiration, BioDesign incorporates living organisms into design as building blocks, material sources, energy generators, digital storage systems and air purifiers, just to name a few possibilities” (Meyers).

Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life” (Dunne). 

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about Buckminster Fuller called Thinking Out Loud. Fuller was truly an innovative thinker who was constantly pushing the boundaries of our imaginations to invent better ways of living. One such example was the Fuller Home—his answer to how to improve the home building industry. He wanted to reimagine the way homes were manufactured and wanted to make them “accessible, light-weight, easy to construct,” and circular rather than angular. Fuller imagined delivering these homes by air and dropping them right into place on one’s land. While today we do see his geodesic domes almost everywhere, we are still living in homes that are manufactured in the same way they have been for almost 100 years. However, one technological innovation that in the 20th century Buckminster Fuller could never have imagined has recently appeared that may just disrupt the way we live and even the way we understand ourselves: In a recent YouTube video from China building manufacturers showed a series of homes that were made using a giant 3D printer.

Print the Legend is a documentary showcasing the rise of the desktop 3D printing industry (Makerbot, FormLabs). With crowd funding (Kickstarter) and a ripe venture capital community, the industry is becoming flush with cash and ready to skyrocket, to put 3D printers in the homes of everyone in America. 3D printers are now in fact accessible to virtually anyone; a quick Goggle search showed that you could even buy one in Walmart for $800. The invention of the Internet and the personal computer radically changed the trajectory of human kind and the way we experience our world (Internet of Things, Smart Phones). So it remains to be seen how the personal 3D printer change our lives in the next 10 years.

Scientists, specifically in the biomedical industry, have long been experimenting with 3D printed biomaterials, but how far away are we from being able to 3D print biomaterials in the privacy of our own homes? Will we even be able to 3D print our homes? And if so, will those homes be grown using biomaterials that can auto-generate on the scaffolding from which they are created? Will we be able to print human parts using desktop 3D printers? What are the implications of growing environments and, even, growing humans?

Print The Legend briefly touches on the implications of 3D printing by telling the story of Cody Wilson who 3D prints guns and gun parts. While Wilson is a very controversial character, in my mind he is playing an important role by forcing people to think about the implications of this technology. He is not a critical designer, but taken as a case study, his “movement” could certainly be reframed into a design project à la Speculative Everything. 

This week I had a conversation with Elliot Montegomery, a former student of Dunne and Raby at the Royal College of Art and now head of a Design Futures Studio, Extrapolation Factory.  We discussed the important role of Critical Design and how perhaps, when it comes to Bio Design—where we incorporate living systems into our product—Critical Design becomes all the more important. Alexandra Daisey Ginsberg’s project, The Synthetic Kingdom, “looks at the consequences of developing and using—or misusing—new life forms for our own ends” (Meyers, pg. 168). In her project she categorizes new forms of life called Synthetica, which are “designed and modified organisms” (Synthetic Aesthetics, pg. 54). In this new era of Bio Design—where humans more than ever become the architects of the world—how should critical designers help to shape the way we use and understand our technologies?  In our world of synthetic biology and 3D printers, is it now time to move past the era of Critical Designer and into the era of Critical Engineer


3D printed biomaterials are commonplace and will radically change the way we think about what is grown. Even architects who are already thinking about the grown environment will be reimagining what it means to use biomaterials. Citizen science and bio-hacking will take on a whole new meaning. How will the next generation of technologies like programmable matter and 4D printing impact our world?