The yearly competition is held to single out innovative projects at the nexus of science, technology, and the arts that have what it takes to make a significant impact on economic and social innovation. The two STARTS prizewinners each receive €20,000 and are prominently featured at Ars Electronica, BOZAR, and Waag.
Design by Decay, Decay by Design is a series of artifacts that exhibit designed decay. They were done for the 2019 Ginkgo Bioworks Creative Residency on how to design a world without waste.
“As an architect and artist, I recognize that most of what I create goes to landfill. If that is the case, let me design waste that I can live with, garbage that retains some desirability as it degrades in sight and onsite. Let me design waste as nature designs it, not only as the product of breakdown and destruction but also as input for renewal and construction,” Ling wrote.
Ling’s goal was to organize decay, using enzymes, fungus, bacteria, and other biological agents as ways of decomposing and composing biological matter at the same time. “By mediating decay through species selection, control of environmental conditions, and nutrient templating, I am actively pursuing mutability as a desired quality in the physical world as well as guarantee that the mechanisms of constructive renewal will be embedded into that world.”
Ling’s base material system included biocomposites of chitin, cellulose, and pectin, derived from the exoskeletons of shrimp, tree pulp waste, and fruit skins. These materials can be combined in varied ratios to form different bioplastics with a wide range of mechanical and physical characteristics and are environmentally responsive and easily degradable, Ling wrote.
“The challenge of working with biological materials and agents is they are environmentally responsive and have agency, and the resulting artifacts are not always predictable or standardized. Contamination was common, as was loss of viability. As a classically trained architect, I am used to having precise control over my output, and the struggle in a design practice such as this is to learn how to accept the embedded tensions where material and biological agency sometimes work in contradiction to what I have planned or what I am comfortable with. It is a struggle for industry to accept this inconvenience as well,” Ling wrote. “However, if we accept this inconvenience, using decay to facilitate renewal offers extraordinary advantages, such as access to circular systems and the ability to grow, adapt, and reproduce out of literal rotting, providing a resilience not found in industrial systems.
Given our state of climate crisis, we can no longer design primarily for human and economic convenience; our survival depends on changing our priorities and expectations for the material world, Ling wrote.
“My goal in using these material systems and these biological agents is not to create a low carbon footprint project or upcycle waste into new products. Rather it is to support a different mode of design, one where the process of making and breaking is provisional and not only consumptive,” Ling wrote.