With more emphasis than ever being put on a company’s eco-credentials, biomaterials have hit the mainstream in a big way. Sustainable interior design using products made from biodegradable living matter – such as cork, hemp and mycelium – are playing a large role in the move to environmentally friendly and Net Zero offices.
In years gone by, biomaterials were considered a bit of a ‘left field’ option, but now they’re blazing a trail right across the board. Industries are thoroughly embracing the concept and welcoming materials made from food waste, manufacturing by-products and sea plastics, as well as naturally occurring, plant-based solutions.
What are biomaterials?
Biomaterials (or biobased materials) are made from biodegradable living matter, such as wood, paper and bioplastics made from plants such as algae. They’re a healthier and more environmentally friendly option, offering benefits galore, but they also add a lovely natural, earthy feel to a space.
The concerns over carbon emissions are boosting a popularity surge for biomaterials in the design industry. They’re perfect for a business seeking to reduce its carbon footprint, while also becoming increasingly stylish, so there’s no need to compromise on ethos over aesthetics.
Increasingly popular examples of biomaterials being used in architecture and interior design include:
Let’s start with the most obvious, shall we? Wood is perhaps the most commonly used biomaterial.
We don’t need to explain to you how this versatile and sustainable product is top of the list, suffice to say it’s a good all-rounder. It’s not even just perfect wood either. US-based architects, Hannah, used some damaged ash that had been infested with a type of beetle for exterior cladding on a cabin in upstate New York, demonstrating that even compromised materials like ‘waste wood’ can be utilised to their full potential.
Wooden structures have also been used to create natural zoning here in the Mayborn Group break out areas.
Hemp is well known as an especially fast-growing variety of the cannabis plant. It’s also inexpensive, versatile and popular as an eco-friendly building material as it is able to actually sequester carbon. That’s a pretty nifty way of working to reduce your company’s environmental footprint!
Cork is another one you should be familiar with. It’s long been a renewable, resistant and insulating material, but has really become popular as an attractive decorative material, or for its excellent sound-proofing qualities.
Cork tiles on the walls or floors have a positive impact on acoustics in an office space while adding a rustic, natural tone to the area.
Bamboo is a fast-growing grass that offers a massive amount of strength for its size and cost, making it a great product to build or design with. Architecture studio Brio even used bamboo in tandem with steel to support the roof of the Mumbai Artist Retreat in India, as shown below.
You might remember papier-mache from school projects but it can actually be a sensible and environmentally conscious building material.
In 2020, design-build studio I/thee used papier-mache to create a prototype home named Agg Hab, to provide an example of an environmentally low-impact home.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of fungi and is fairly new as a product used to make furnishings, such as the lampshades, tables and pouffes used to decorate the zero-waste restaurant Silo in London, reflecting the restaurant’s sustainable ethos.
As well as also being able to absorb carbon, mycelium is surprisingly soft to touch, strong and biodegradable and therefore an excellent eco-friendly alternative to more traditional fibres.
Using paper in interior design or architecture is not a new concept for many, especially in Japanese interior design. In Western design, paper is being increasingly used due to its versatility and reusable nature – particularly for pop-up spaces.
Once the temporary venue is closed, the paper can easily be dismantled, reused or recycled.
Algae actually consume and store CO2 as it grows. In a move to lower the building’s carbon footprint, materials produced from local salt and algae have been used in tiles on the interior of the French Luma Foundation in Arles, designed by Frank Gehry.
Not only does this dramatically lower its carbon footprint but, as you can see from the below image, it looks truly amazing! Quite the talking point! The tiles in the lobby here were made by harvesting the waterborne algae from nearby salt flats.
Algae and salt tiles in the lobby of the French Luma Foundation.
Raffia comes from the raffia palm tree and is a surprisingly durable fibre, with the added bonus of being renewable and biodegradable. All properties one would look for in sustainable and environmentally-conscious material.
It’s more known for its typical use for woven textiles, furnishings, baskets and hats, or combined with wood to make bigger pieces. The texture and natural properties of raffia bring a soft, tropical feel to a project and it looks great paired with plants to complete the look.
Cane is also made from the outer part of the (naturally renewable) rattan tree and is then typically woven into webbed patterns. You’ll likely be familiar with cane as a material for occasional tables and chairs but it’s actually a very versatile option and practical for commercial or even office use too.
We used wood in various ways in the CPP Group offices, as shown here as a barrier to divide up the zones in the office, while adding a natural feel to the otherwise potentially stark environment.
Whether you’re looking to lower your company’s carbon footprint, keep a cap on costs, create a more natural environment or are just seeking something different from the norm, using biomaterials in interior design is fast becoming an exciting new option.
If you’ve been inspired by any of the projects or techniques covered in this post and reckon it might be time to bring your workspace up to speed whilst keeping sustainability at the forefront, get in touch and see how we can work together on your next office redesign project.