An environmental problem can provide innovative solutions within itself.

An environmental problem can provide innovative solutions within itself.

Photography by: Caras Ionut

Photography by: Caras Ionut copyrights.

It is incredible the amount of interesting ideas you can develop from the study and analysis of living things. If God is in the details, then innovation is in researching, understanding a problem and finding a solution within the problem itself. Recently I stumbled upon a few designs by students and graduates from Royal College of Art (RCA), all catching my attention by the relationship that connected their by-product designs. Mainly a by-product is a derivative of an organic, mineral or living specie, that follows an industrial process, like leather.

These new materials (by-products), emerge from the occurrence of environmental problems created by living species; any kind. So this living specie, creating a sort of plague in the city and destroying the habitat of other species, was the agent of study, which then is destined to a process upon it’s death or useful life, and turned into something useful. In other cases, the specie on watch was the tool to create something within domestic use when it’s life has perished.

My references upon this topic come around designers: Evelien Crooy, who designed an ink extracted from cochineal insects, used traditionally for cosmetics, for the Dutch Design Week. Jeongwon Ji , explored crab shells and created a bioplastic for electronic products calling it Crustic. London’s coastal shores are filled with these crustaceans that are taken as a plague. Their consumption is a solid market, therefore shells end up in the trash. With this solution. the shells end up in good use, expensive, but good.

Evelien Crooy- Red Cochinian insect ink

Evelien Crooy- Red Cochineal insect ink

Bio-Electric plastic- Crustic, by Jeongwon Ji

Bio-Electric plastic- Crustic, by Jeongwon Ji

Like these, there are so many problem scenarios around us with enormous possibilities of becoming new materials waiting to be discovered. But this doesn’t mean you have to go around killing animals, let’s be thoughtful! Analyze! At least a group of students in my locality (Puerto Rico), are working on it in a scientific and architectural manner.

The need for innovation has always been man’s curiosity to reach places and comforts no one has ever been, like the man on the moon. As Blaine Brownell introduced this concept a few years ago, in Transmaterial;  the eras of innovation were described along the motives that took those scientists and designers to create marvelous ideas comprised during war and even NASA. As this might be the historical fact that embraces the need to search more and more about sources of innovation in materials science,  we need to update to our scale, time and resources.


Insect ink:
By-product of cochineal insects -coloring agent in cosmetics
Main agent: Chitin polymer
Mix: chitin + water + other fluids such as orange acid to change the red to other similar tones.

Crustic-Bioelectric Plastic:
By-product of crab shells.
Main agent: Chitin polymer
Chemical free extraction of polymer from crushed shells.

Brownell, Blaine. Transmaterial: A catalog of materials that redefine our physical environment. Ed. Brownell, Blaine. New York. Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Dezeen Magazine online, “Ink made from insects by Evelien Crook.” Nov. 1st, 2013.

Dezeen Magazine online, “BioElectric by Jeongwon Ji.” July. 1st, 2013.

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Mabelle Plasencia

Founder and Editor at INmatteria©
• Architect | LEED AP BD+C, with an intense passion for materiality, innovation, technology and science. • Arquitecta | LEED AP BD+C apasionada por la materialidad, innovación, tecnología y ciencia.