Design to Degrade
Birth, growth, death and decay constitute an inherent cycle in nature that maintains balance and enables ecosystems to adapt to external changes. Although death and decay are essential for birth and growth of the following generations, these disappearing stages are often ignored and unappreciated in manmade cultures and practices. Especially in design, in the era of mass production, the pursuit of quantity and uniformity inevitably link to many environmental issues. As a desperate response, bio-based materials have recently gained attention as alternatives to fossil-derived materials or new resources for industry, and rapid advancement of additive manufacturing (AM) has revolutionised conventional methods of manufacturing, enabling low volume, quality-focused production. This research discusses the pioneering incorporation of the stages of death and decay into design practices, exploiting a novel opportunity provided by the two key innovations, AM technologies and bio-based materials. A series of digital plants which employ and undergo the two degenerative stages are designed and produced using digital and scientific processes, and their transformative degradation induced by environmental stimuli, including humidity and UV, is demonstrated. The programmed visual and physical deformations suggest that a purposeful and systematic introduction of the two stages to the current design and manufacturing practices could offer a more sustainable and responsible approach to creation and production. They also exhibit new possibilities for digital processes, including parametric modelling and 3D-printing, through an integrative combination with bio-based materials.