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Aguahoja: A water-based design approach and fabrication platform

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Channel: MIT Media Lab
Categories: Environmental   |   Science   |   Technology  
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Nature made us half water. With water, the biological world facilitates customization of an organism’s physical and chemical properties—through growth and degradation—as a function of genes and environmental constraints. Designed goods, however—including garments, products, and buildings—have little to none of the fluid that gives life. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year, leaving harmful imprints on the environment: our seas, our trees, our bodies. Less than 10% of this material is recycled, and the rest becomes waste, dumped into landfills and oceans. These materials utilize raw ingredients that are extracted from the earth faster than they can be replenished, and are processed using toxic chemicals that leach out of these goods as they degrade back into the earth over thousands of years.

In recognition of World Water Day—an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance of freshwater advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources—we are excited to release the Aguahoja project. Aguahoja (pronounced: agua-hocha) is a collection of structures and artifacts made almost entirely out of organic matter and shaped by water aiming to subvert this cycle through the creation of biopolymer composites that exhibit tunable physical and environmental properties in ways that are impossible to achieve with their synthetic counterparts.

Derived from shrimp shells and fallen leaves, 3D printed by a robot, shaped by water and augmented with synthetically engineered organisms or natural pigments, Aguahoja’s biocompatible architectural skin-and-shell composites points toward a future where the grown and the manufactured unite. Surface features, patterns and colors are computationally 'grown' and additively manufactured with varied mechanical, optical, olfactory and gustatory properties, utilizing organic waste streams while preserving ecological niches. Through life and programmed decomposition, shelter-becomes-organism as it sequesters carbon while enhancing pollination, promoting soil microorganisms and providing nutrients for ‘growing’ buildings—a bona fide Material Ecology.

The collection includes a built pavilion entitled Aguahoja I and work-in-progress for another, entitled Aguahoja II. The first pavilion and associated artifacts were completed and exhibited at the MIT Media Lab Lobby in February of 2018 prior to being acquired for SFMOMA’s permanent collection. The second pavilion and associated artifacts, Aguahoja II, will be debuted as part of “Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial,” co-organized by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Cube design museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands. On view May 10 through Jan. 20, 2020, Aguahoja II will revisit sustainable design in the context of Material Ecology, the Group’s design approach and philosophy. Aguahoja II is co-sponsored by NOE. LLC and the Esquel Group and will be on display in Guilin, China at Esquel’s Integral Exhibition Hall, following its debut in the U.S.

The Mediated Matter group: Jorge Duro-Royo, Joshua Van Zak, Yen-Ju (Tim) Tai, Andrea Ling, Nic Hogan, Barrak Darweesh, Laia Mogas-Soldevilla, Daniel Lizardo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver and Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja I). Nic Hogan, Joshua Van Zak, Ramon Elias Weber, Joseph Henry Kennedy, Jorge Duro-Royo, Christoph Bader, João Costa, Sunanda Sharma, James Weaver and Prof. Neri Oxman (Aguahoja II); Research Collaborators: Joseph Faraguna, Matthew Bradford, Loewen Cavill, Emily Ryeom, Aury Hay, Yi Gong, Brian Huang, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Shaymus Hudson, Prof. Pam Silver, Prof. Tim Lu; Substructure Production: Stratasys Ltd, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, Music Composition: Jeremy Flower; Video Production: The Mediated Matter Group, Paula Aguilera, Jonathan Williams; Acknowledgements: MIT Media Lab, NOE. LLC, Stratasys Ltd, MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, Wyss Institute at Harvard, Department of Systems Biology at Harvard, GETTYLAB, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Autodesk BUILD Space, TBA-21 Academy, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, National Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Esquel Group.

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License: CC-BY-4.0 (

Music: Jeremy Flower

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