It all starts in a basement

About three years ago, in a shabby basement lab in Ghent. An architect and a bioengineer (me) start a research on mycomaterials. These materials based on fungi are fully biodegradable, produced with waste and find applications in interior objects, packaging and insulation. These and other biomaterials offer a promising solution to society’s ever growing waste problem.

Close to no one was looking into these materials back then. We ploughed through experiment after experiment (many of which failed) and gradually built expertise in the fascinating domain of biofabrication. Soon, a little ecosystem of people working on sustainable materials formed, and we supported each other by passing on knowledge, all the while progressing in research and design under the name Magma Nova.

  Where it all began, the ReaGent open biolab. Photo: Kim Verhaeghe.

Where it all began, the ReaGent open biolab. Photo: Kim Verhaeghe.

Several summers later, we feel it’s time to look back and reflect. We explored the tremendous creative power of operating on the intersection of design and research. Of using nature as a guiding principle both in material use and methodology. Of storytelling and a new sense of materiality. And yet, we feel like we’ve only just started. We will zoom in on these topics in blog posts to come.

Today, our team of designers and researchers counts six people, and we went on to have a new start as Glimps. Glimps now is a design studio that develops products and experiences in biomaterials and sustainability. We explore current and future biotechnologies, applications in sustainable design. Forever balancing between possible and probable, always making ideas touchable and experiential.

This blog post tells our story through past and current projects, what we stand for and where we’re going.

  Lumifungi, Belgium’s first mycomaterial product by Permafungi and Glimps. Photo: Caroline Pultz.

Lumifungi, Belgium’s first mycomaterial product by Permafungi and Glimps. Photo: Caroline Pultz.

A short history of everything

What has happened in the three years since our basement antics?

Glimps and its team members, in collaboration with partners like ReaGent and Ekoli, have generated considerable insight into the technology of growing materials based on fungi. We partnered with Permafungi in Brussels to help them valorize a waste stream into a beautiful mycomaterial product, the Lumifungi.

Elise Elsacker, one of our co-founders, took a different path. She currently pursues a PhD on digital biofabrication at the VUB, in a new and unique interdisciplinary field. She advises Glimps as board member and works together on a project basis.

Meanwhile we released a manual for anyone wishing to start their own research or business in mycomaterials. Thousands of people have learned how to work with the material during our hands-on workshops. By now we support a community of researchers and designers visited by thousands.

Through an approach in which we aim to involve all actors of society, we try to always enrich our ecosystem. Together with ReaGent, we have initiated and facilitated several design projects with artists, designers and students all over Flanders and in collaboration with universities. In collaboration with Ekoli, we have taught children from many backgrounds how to work with the material. We have taught hundreds of high school teachers to use biomaterial technologies as practical experiments in their lessons.

In turn, these people from all walks of life made us better at what we do, through their ideas on sustainability and biomaterials.

  Teaching high school teachers the ropes of growing biomaterials.

Teaching high school teachers the ropes of growing biomaterials.

Just recently, we won the Gent Post-Fossiel competition with an installation that invites visitors to fully explore their senses in a “fitting-room” of the post-fossil city of 2050.

At the end of August, we’re organizing the first Mycomaterial Training in partnership with Permafungi. This 3-day training will teach in-depth how to apply mycelium material in design and production.

And finally we’ve experimented with many kinds of biomaterials, as well as nature inspired design methodologies. From mycomaterials, to bacterial leather and biocolorants, applying biomimicry and circular design. We've learned how to help solving climate issues through networked entrepreneurship and design. Our knowledge will be bundled in a Biofabrication Masterclass, coming early 2019.

  Printing a promotional banner with algae.

Printing a promotional banner with algae.

A Glimps into the future

We realised that before the research results were in or the prototypes were built, our professional activities had already created a lasting positive impact in education, sustainability and science literacy. We have seen how entrepreneurship can be a generative activity, if done right. When others gain, we also gain, and vice versa. When we invite people to use our knowledge, we can progress together.

We believe this can be a model for design and research all over. Therefore, we are synthesizing our experience to pass it on to others interested in new design paradigms, systemic entrepreneurship and design with biomaterials.

Moreover, we’re expanding our activities in product design. We believe that people’s homes can house products good for our planet and all its inhabitants. We’re engaging in more strategic and generative partnerships with organisations and individuals that share our values, and ambition to accelerate society towards sustainable material use.

We are convinced that our story so far is only a glimpse of what the approach can mean at scale.

Can you be part of this?

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Or come say hi in our atelier in Ghent: just drop us a message!

Thumbnail picture by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash

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