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Clearing the air with biomaterials

Senseable Biomaterials for Healthier Habitats, a project led by assistant professor of architecture Laia Mogas-Soldevila, contributed a lattice installation made from architectural biomaterials to the ICA, acting as an antimicrobial air purifier.

From the Weitzman School of Design, photos by Eric Sucar

January 26, 2023

Can building materials make indoor air healthier?

That was the question behind the elegant, aromatic lattices that hung from the lobby ceiling at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the 2022 ACADIA conference, which was hosted by Weitzman’s Department of Architecture last fall. Not an art installation themselves, the lattices represent early progress in an ongoing research project on the antimicrobial, air-clearing qualities of architectural biomaterials.

The project, Senseable Biomaterials for Healthier Habitats, or SENSBIOM, is led by assistant professor of architecture Laia Mogas-Soldevila, the director of the DumoLab at Weitzman, Vlasta Kubušová, crafting plastics! studio director and Fulbright Fellow at DumoLab, along with the support of Katia Zolovsky of the Rhode Island School of Design, Andreas Mershin of the MIT Media Lab, and a team of undergraduate and graduate students at Penn.

Fabricated both by DumoLab and by crafting plastics! studio in Slovakia, most of the 3D-printed lattices are made from commercial bioplastics that are industrially compostable, and an experimental subset is made naturally biodegradable from chitin and cellulose, which are abundant biopolymers, and strengthened with silk.

The lattices were designed to maximize surface area and porosity, which would soon allow them to act as passive air filters. And they were infused with the molecule zingerone, an aroma that’s sometimes used in perfumes, and which once was linked to anti-pest properties. Mogas-Soldevila, who joined the Weitzman faculty in 2021, describes zingerone as having “an earthy, foresty smell.” The installation overlapped with the exhibition at the ICA, a collection of scent-themed works by the artist Sissel Tolaas, which was on display in late 2022.

“We were excited that it was a pleasant smell, had been historically mapped to human health, and could contribute to air quality,” Mogas-Soldevila says.

This story is by Jared Brey. Read more at Weitzman News.

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