The Lab

The Design and Living Systems Lab is a pioneering research laboratory that explores the interface of biological sciences and design to challenge established paradigms and envision new sustainable materials and forms of production for the future. The Lab has grown out of 8 years of Prof. Carole Collet‘s research activities at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts.


| Research Question |

Can research at the intersection of design and biology enable us to create compelling design propositions to actuate the ‘one planet living’ scenario for the year 2050 and beyond?

| Keywords |

Design, sustainability, disruptive technologies, design-science collaborations, biomimicry, biology, botany, synthetic biology, biomaterials, future fabrication, living systems, future scoping, resilience, planetary boundaries, whole system thinking, ethics, year 2050 +.


| what |

The D&LS Lab explores a new hierarchy of relationships with the ‘living’ where designers operate within a sliding scale of a ‘natural nature’ and a new ‘programmable nature’ in the quest for innovative ecological design and fabrication models. The main objective is to explore biological sciences through design to grow new design propositions that could facilitate the transition to the ‘one planet living’ horizon 2050.

Through practice-based research, curatorial work and curriculum-based projects, The D&LS lab aims at fostering the interfacing of design and biology using 4 main axes of research:

  • Nature as a model (biomimicry principles): focus on translating natural behaviours and principles into products conceptualisation and production.
  • Nature as a co-worker (botanical and biological principles): focus on collaborating with living organisms such as bacteria, or fungi to ‘naturally’ fabricate materials and products.
  • Reprogrammed Nature (bio-engineering principles): focus on synthetic biology and the reprogramming of living organisms to grow tailored and customized ‘biosynthetic’ materials.
  • Re-conceptualised Nature (critical design): exloring design as a tool to sustaina and develop pertinent ethical questions and framework for bio-intelligent design.


| why |

Today, we can witness the effect of climate change, the rapid decline of our biodiversity, and an exponential population growth which is stretching our planet beyond its ability to regenerate. It is estimated that we, as a species, are currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to sustain our living[i]. Based on known geological reserves, recent studies show that we could run out of some of our critical raw materials within this century.

Yet, new knowledge emerging from life sciences is beginning to offer extraordinary potential for future fabrication and manufacturing. Not only we are beginning to explore the advantage of biological systems in terms of zero waste, mimimum use of energy and materials, but with synthetic biology, scientists have developed means to biofabricate like ‘Nature’ does. We can program and engineer living organisms to grow tailored materials. Such extraordinary tools can trigger a paradigm shift in terms of design and manufacture for the future.

With this emerging biological revolution and a set of extraordinary toolkit that allow us to engineer and program life from scratch, comes a need to re-evaluate the position and potential of design. Designers need to develop a critical and ethical understanding of how best to apply these new biological tools to ensure they can contribute to shaping a truly ecological age post 2050.


| contact |


Carole Collet

Professor in Design for Sustainable Futures
Director Design & Living Systems Lab
Central Saint Martins , University of the Arts London
Granary Building, 1 Granary Square
London N1C 4AA
United Kingdom