As a researcher at the MIT Media Lab and a creative resident at Ginkgo Bioworks, Andrea Shin Ling studied the science of decay: how environmental factors such as moisture and heat affect the decomposition of biomaterials. Her work focuses not on preventing this biomaterial decay but on controlling it, allowing objects to change color and shape over time in aesthetically pleasing ways. Her work, she says, “is an example of what architecture or design could be if we harnessed all the biological advantages of the decomposition process.” Nature has designed materials to decompose and return to the earth. But in human-made environments, structures and objects that no longer serve a purpose become waste, polluting our environment, seas, and bodies. Less than 10% of plastic, wood, glass, and metal is recycled. Ling’s work, which earned top honors from the European Commission’s 2020 STARTS Prize and is scheduled to be exhibited later this year at Ars Electronica, in Linz, Austria, and Bozar, in Brussels, suggests a radical new possibility of controlling the decomposition of materials safely at scale. “Even as an architect, when your building is supposed to last hundreds of years, it is ultimately destined to break down,” Ling says. “My work is about exploring how we can use nature not just as a model, but also as a tool for design.”
See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.