Attracting over 500 attendees, the third annual BioFabricate conference drew a crowd of scientists, academics, designers, entrepreneurs and artists for a full day of presentations, discussions and exhibits exploring innovations in contemporary bio tech. The presenters and panelists showcased a wide range of technology with a focus on the value created when designers participate in a cross-disciplinary fashion.
The opening session addressed the role of the designer in the world of biotech, with speakers encouraging designers to function as the interface between the user and the technology. Collaborating with experts allows a designer to ask questions and explore applications that don't typically arise. The formal boundaries of the lab were contrasted with the informal structure of the design studio, with designers seeking to be "disruptive without disrupting"—fostering innovation without causing total chaos.
The second session explored the concept of genetic ownership and access to DNA. Artists, designers and entrepreneurs all working with genetic material approached this idea from very different perspectives. Several of the presenters are making their ideas available to the non-scientific community through "kits" that make it easier to use the tools.
After a lunch break, the talks turned to tactical applications of bio tech, with presentations showing mycelium furniture from Ecovative, lab-grown bricks from BioMASON, fabrics made of engineered spider silk and more. All together, it was a strong showing of how the technology is moving out of the lab and into the mainstream. Overall, this session reinforced the notion of democratization of technology, showing how different companies from around the world are commercializing science.
The day wrapped up with an exciting product unveiling by adidas, who used the gathering as a place to showcase their Futurecraft Biofabric concept sneakers. The prototype shoes feature an upper made from Biosteel fiber, a high-performance fiber developed by the German biotech company, AMSilk. The material is lighter and stronger than conventional synthetic fibers, and is also 100% biodegradable. The audience loved the dramatic unveiling of the shoe, and it was a great example of how to bring the concept of bio fabrication to a broad consumer market.
The conference included a Design Lab showcasing exhibits, products and materials from the presenters. The conference was hosted by Parsons—the conference took place in the Tishman Auditorium in their new University Center building, while the Design Lab was housed in their new Making Space. We've written about their new facility previously, and this event showcased how important it is to offer spaces like this for students and the wider population. The photos below show some of the exhibits on display from the Design Lab.