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Designer’s Biocollaborative Design Journey Blends Furniture and Insects

FDT Bureau

In British designer William Eliot’s innovative creation, the Digested Objects stool, an unlikely collaborator takes center stage: mealworms. These industrious insects, known for their ability to digest polystyrene, played a crucial role in shaping the unique form of the stool as they gnawed through blocks of the non-recyclable plastic. Here is a detailed report on FURNITURE DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY (FDT). The stool itself is recognizable as a three-legged seat, yet its form is anything but ordinary, bearing a gnarled and pitted appearance with no apparent logical basis for its contours. To achieve this distinctive design, Eliot employed a process that combined traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology. Initially, Eliot injected blocks of polystyrene with sugar trails to guide the mealworms’ chewing, ensuring they focused on specific areas. However, he then allowed them the freedom to burrow in any direction they pleased, granting them agency in the creative process. Beyond using the mealworms solely as recycling machines, Eliot sought to explore the concept of biocollaborative design, treating the insects as creative partners. This approach involves fostering a symbiotic relationship between humans and other species, allowing each to contribute to the design process. The Digested Objects stool represents Eliot’s effort to move beyond mere imitation of nature, instead embracing a dynamic interaction between designer and the natural world. Drawing inspiration from pioneers like Neri Oxman and Ren Ri, who worked with silkworms and bees respectively, Eliot saw the potential for innovative design solutions through collaboration with insects. Throughout the project, ethical considerations remained paramount for Eliot. He ensured the mealworms' well-being by providing breaks from their polystyrene diet and offering organic biowaste as an alternative food source. This care reflects a broader shift in perspective, viewing insects not just as creatures to be protected but as creative partners deserving of respect and consideration. The culmination of Eliot’s work resulted in the creation of the Digested Objects stool, a testament to the possibilities of biocollaborative design. By combining the mealworms’ natural behavior with advanced manufacturing techniques, Eliot achieved a striking piece of furniture that captures the intricate architecture created by the insects in the polystyrene. Image credit: William Eliot
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Furniture Design India and the magazine FURNITURE DESIGN & TECHNOLOGY (FDT magazine) are from the trusted 22-year-old media house of SURFACES REPORTER and PLY REPORTER.

FDT is a B2B monthly bilingual magazine from India that shares the pulse of the furniture business in India and connects the manufacturers, OEMS, product designers, architects, showrooms, designers and dealers.

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