Course Blog

Materials That Die

In our current reality, the vast majority of the waste produced has a permanent character. These materials remain in perpetuity, ending in oceans and landfills, where they pollute and endanger our environment. In the natural world, everything has a lifecycle, so why should we be creating products that will outlive us and continue to exist as waste?

In that sense, our idea is centred around temporality of materials, which includes living, but also dying once their purpose has been fulfilled. Although there are several biodegradable products on the market, these require either time or specific equipment to decompose, and what we propose is the ability to control the “death” of the material.

Designing with death in mind may raise a lot of ethical questions, such as who, what and when the decision of death is taken, especially in regards to living things. In fact, even in Biology studies, death remains a tabu, where “textbooks seldom contain any reference to death or dying.”(1) even though “death has become a protracted process for more and more people”(2).

With these thoughts in mind, we sketched initial ideas where we depicted how our interactions with everyday objects would change, should these have a finite life. We considered scenarios where items would grow, live and die, where they could be placed in killing machines, or even be the object of a funerary ritual and a possible afterlife. We also tied in these ideas, with other contemporary practices of planned obsolescence, or mass production process.

In order to envisage the plausibility of a technology where we are able to produce and “kill” these materials, we are currently looking at a form of Quorum Sensing(3) (QS). This mechanism allows bacteria to ‘communicate’ – they emit signal molecules once the population has reached a certain density, thus indicating a favourable living environment. Could we manipulate the bacteria to trigger a signal to die on demand?

At the moment we are currently looking at how QS could be effectively used with this purpose, and in association with the aforementioned sketched ideas. Based on the findings, we can then understand the type of artefacts involved in the growing, reproducing, and killing the material in a household environment.



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3 – Miller, M. and Bassler, B. (2001). Quorum Sensing in Bacteria. Annual Review of Microbiology, 55(1), pp.165-199.