Imagine a world where biological fabrication replaces traditional manufacture, plants that grow products, and bacteria genetically re-programmed to ‘biofacture’ new materials, artefacts, energy or medicine.

This world is happening right now. Today, designers and artists have begun to either embrace or rebel against this bioengineered world and as a result, new design directions are beginning to emerge. The exhibition En Vie – Alive, presents a new design landscape, where fragments of a possible programmable ‘synthetic’ future are confronted with ‘natural’ alternative design perspectives. The quest for a different kind of ecological design models underpins the selection of projects, which range from potential sustainable solutions, to poetic interpretations and extreme provocations.

Created and imagined by leading designers, architects and artists, the work showcased here is decidedly different. These designers create and unravel a future hybrid world, where our everyday products and manufacturing tools will be ‘alive‘.

They operate within a sliding scale of a ‘natural nature’ and a new ‘programmable nature’ in the quest for innovative ecological models. In this exhibition I have created a hierarchy of possible relationships with nature, and designers are grouped around 5 themes.

1/ The Plagiarists: (Nature as a model)

Here we present designers and architects who look to nature for inspiring role models and new engineering solutions. They work with biomimicry principles, imitating processes or behaviour found in the natural world, but working with man-made and digital technologies.

2/ The New Artisans: (Nature as a co-worker)

These designers and architects collaborate with nature. They work with bees, fungi, bacteria, algae or plants and develop new techniques to grow and craft consumer goods. Here, design relates more to gardening and farming than to manufacturing.

3/ The Bio-Hackers: (Reprogrammed, ‘synthetic’ nature)

These designers and artists work in collaboration with synthetic biologists or respond to cutting-edge scientific research in the field of extreme bioengineering.  They imagine what the products and interfaces of the future could become with the use of engineered living organisms. Their ideas illustrate a possible future world.

4/ The New Alchemists: (Hybridised nature)

Here, designers, architects and artists propose to explore the merging of biology, chemistry, robotics and nanotechnology to create new hybrid organisms. They combine living (biological) with non-living (electronic and chemical) technology.

5/ The Agents Provocateurs: (Conceptualised and imagined nature.)

This final group of artists and designers explores a provocative far future.  Their work encourages a debate around ethical issues related to living technology and high-tech sustainability.

I sincerely hope that this exhibition will inspire generations to come and help establish a map of creative thinkers who dare to imagine new relationships with nature and the living. This project highlights the search for new design frontiers in the quest for new ecological models pertinent for the year 2050 and beyond.

Carole Collet, Exhibition Curator and catalogue editor, Reader in Textile Futures, Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts, March 2013.


The EDF Fondation would like to thank all the artists, designers, architects and everybody else who contributed to making this exhibition possible.

Curator: by Carole Collet, Reader in Textile Futures, TFRC, Central Saint Martins College, University of the Arts

Production : Espace Fondation EDF

Institutions and galleries : Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts / Centre culturel canadien / DOX Centre for Contemporary Art / ENSCI les Ateliers / Galerie Acte2 / Gouvernement du Canada / Imperial College / Institut Curie / IDEO / Médiathèque EDF / Method / The Workshop Residence, San Francisco / UCL

Web design / Branding: Method

Exhibition design: JSLagrange et Madeleine Montaigne_MADE, assistés de Thibault Zambeaux

Graphic design: Chevalvert

Lighting : ACL, Alexis Coussement

Exhibition build : La Fabrique de l’Est

PR : Pierre Laporte Communication

Catalogue : FranklinTill