Biodesign and Biomaterials

Biohacking Energy & Sustainability Science
Biodesign and Biomaterials

This is the third installment of our series on the state of biohacking. You can read the first installment “Safari in the Biohacking Society” and the second “Prototyping with Living Cells” and watch for more articles in the future.

“The future of design is a future where anything material in the environment  —  whether it’s wearables, cars, buildings  —  can be designed with this variation of properties and relationship with the environment that can take part in the natural ecology. Hopefully it points towards a shift that goes beyond the age of assembly into the age of a new kind of organism.”

Neri Oxman

Antidisciplinarian approach to the world of Design and science, or how do we use science to improve design and how can design improve science? (work by Neri Oxman in progress)

Welcome to Catalonia 

Valldaura Labs is a project promoted by IAAC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) for the creation of a self-sufficient habitat research center. It is located in the Collserola Natural Park in the heart of the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Valldaura has a group of laboratories researching self-sufficiency and these labs aim to be self-sufficient in the next few years. The group comprises of three laboratories: Food Lab, Energy Lab and the Green FabLab which produce the three things we need to be self-sufficient: food, energy, and many of the things essential to the good life. The biohackers at these labs combine the age-old ancestral knowledge that connects us to nature with the latest advanced technology.

Bonus: The view on Montserrat mountains was supposed to be Gaudi’s inspiration for his architectural creations.

Outside the Labs

When you explore the lands of Valldaura (the laurel’s valley) with Jonathan — the infamous British chicken whisperer — we discover all sorts of projects involving direct experimentations with the surrounding nature. There is a sense of transdisciplinary communion with the elements, mixing design, art, technologies, science, as well as bioinformatics. All of these fields unfold around architecture and agriculture for sustainable livings.

Agricultural Lands and Pollination

The open beehive project is an open source project aiming to understand and protect bees as well as their precious production of honey. These insects are probably the best biosensors existing on planet Earth. They are not only amazing pollinators, they also produce data! Honey is full of information about the fluctuating health of biodiversity. Here John and Ferdi show us the architecture and the engineering behind the glass.

Here’s some more information on Adafruit about the IoT part: “Open Source Beehives Incorporate Smart Citizen Platform for #IoT Hive Monitoring



Making a Wood Structure with a Robotic Arm

The beauty and freedom of a robot building complex repetitive forms for architecture is one possible future for building homes.

YouTube player

At IAAC they have a machine that can also shape pieces of wood into the form wanted with a chainsaw and the Kuka robot.


Students from IAAC came up with another poetic shelter projects using a robotic arm, but this time with fiber…

Traditions Can Still Teach Us a Lot

The ‘’volta catalana’’ (a Catalunyan traditional shelter) in the Green FabLab forest built by hand by Silvia Brandi (no robot this time) is a traditional shelter for shepherd.


Inside the Lab

As part of the production cycle the Green FabLab, aka “the digital fabrication lab”, uses natural resources and is a partner in the international network of FabLabs led by MIT in Boston and part of the Plan Avanza national network of laboratories in Spain.

Their line of research is centered on the development of new materials from natural ingredients such as wood, earth, or minerals for building, making bricks, glass, and resins using simple ancestral technologies and modern high-tech processes.

At Valldaura they carry out the complete cycle of matter transformation, from a sustainably managed tree in the forest which provides wood that is then dried, designed, and cut on machines powered by renewable energy to produce furniture and structural elements.

They need your help to make Valldaura into a prototype for self-sufficient habitats, an open and global community: go to their campaign at


Here’s an overview of the lab and some of their inspiring biodesigned tools and prototypes:

Fly Valldaura

Open Source Drones… learn how to make your own drone, but not only that, they organize four day workshops to teach how to map lands topologically with the Landscape Visualization and Modeling Lab tool.


Mycelium fungi


Using Mycelium, which is a part of a fungus to build furniture with the shape you want by growing it on a cardboard structure. Bonus: During the growing, you will have mushrooms to eat!

YouTube player

Bio-Photovoltaic Panel Running on Bacteria

Create energy out of shadow. This project from IAAC aims to create a bio-photovoltaic panel consisting of a battery in which energy is harvested from bacteria inside the soil to release electrons.


Biorocks Against Pollution


“Our aim is to first understand and experiment within the material limits of BiorockTM as an active urban application. We do this by controlling the accumulation process and devising a physical system which we can bio-computationally manipulate to suit our purpose. Bio-computational research in geometric formations leads to bones as a model for developing a biologically responsive material. Similar to bones, BiorockTM substance is a dynamic system that is able to repair itself after functional failures.”


Micro Mass Machine

Filtering the Urine/Passive system for purifying gray water with #microalgae



YouTube player


A Day at IAAC (The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia)
With Marcos Cruz


A lot of great people gather within the walls of the Green FabLab. The last time BioHacking Safari was there, we bumped into Marcos’s lecture about Bioreceptive Morphologies at IAAC by chance.

Marcos is an architect. His research has focused for many years on the design and creation of innovative environments in architecture. He has also taught and worked on many projects that utilize living matter in buildings, most of all the utilization of bacteria and algae. As co-editor of he has investigated design that is driven by advances not only in computation, but also in bio-technology and synthetic biology, fields that are radically changing the future of architecture.


New Ways of Learning Biology
At Valldaura Labs we have seen different programs connecting design and biology. With the links below, you could start to explore and learn about this biodesign world yourself.


Bio Academy is a Synthetic Biology Program directed by George Church, professor of Genetics at Harvard medical school in Boston. The Bio Academy is a part of the growing Academy of (almost) Anything, or the Academany. The level is very high end compared to the two other programs we describe further down.


Biohack Academy Syllabus (Waag)

Waag Society’s first Biohack Academy is an intense 10 week biohacking course held in the Amsterdam FabLab and lead by Pieter Van Bohemen and Lucas Evers. It is a good way to get started with biology by learning how to build the tools and tinkering with living materials.

Here a sneak peak of their labs in Amsterdam
Biology Zero (Valldaura)

IAAC’s latest project is to organize workshops to learn the basis of biomaterials at Valldaura labs.

YouTube player

Other workshops around biology are soon to come, such as an introduction to the microcosm of spirulina and the parameters for its growth and how to build a sensor to enhance the use of our current incubators. The objective of these workshops is to familiarize people with the science of algae, their culture, and their fantastic potentials for food and even energy.

Also coming soon “BIOLOGY & MATERIALS: the ecology of plant and animal life surrounding the Can Valldaura estate offers an abundance of material resources. The goal would be to source and test some of those organic elements that can then be processed to make natural glues and bio-plastics (then use as material for a 3D printer, for example).”

Last But Not Least:

Not so much related to biology, but another important endeavor of Valldaura is its connection with the Guifi DIY internet access. All Spain is being invaded with this mesh network and Valldaura is streaming wifi via an antenna 5 km away from its base. Connecting rural areas to a worldwide audience is part of making science as well as biology accessible to all labs wishing to share their latest biomaterial formulas…

YouTube player

Next time let’s travel to another continent, and another ecosystem: genetics, synbio, molecular biology or CRISPR… what? Guess where we’re at?




Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Biohacking Safari

Aurélien Dailly (@dailylaurel) and Quitterie Largeteau (@QuitterieL) met at La Paillasse, a biohacklab in Paris. He is a maker, photoreporter; she is a biologist, pro open science and communicator of sciences. Together, they lead Biohacking Safari, whose mission is to explore, connect and communicate open biology practices around the world.

View more articles by Biohacking Safari


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).