Mind & Matter


The Home as a Waste-Processing Machine

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The Microbial Home project. Photo: Philips Design.


Increasing awareness about resource efficiency and closed-loop material cycles is providing inspiration for unconventional design solutions. In the case of the domestic kitchen, for example, future visions may have more to do with rethinking material supply and waste streams than a particular futuristic aesthetic.

Philips Design recently proposed such a vision for Dutch Design Week 2011 in Eindhoven. Philips’s Microbial Home project is a collection of conceptual apparatuses that transform the home into a testing lab for carbon-neutral living. Focusing on the traditionally neglected problem of waste, the project seeks to filter and reuse all forms of household refuse—such as garbage, sewage, and waste water.

The Microbial Home, which was developed as part of the Philips Design Probes program, is less an architectural proposal than a system of interdependent appliances—a biological machine that operates as a cyclical domestic ecosystem within the framework of a residential structure. The eclectic mix of devices—which includes a bio-digester kitchen island, an evaporative-cooler / dining table, and an urban beehive—makes aesthetic references to the science lab and the retro-futuristic steam-punk movement. The main point here, however, is not a particular visual language, but an alternative vision of domestic resource management.

“Designers have an obligation to explore solutions which are by nature less energy-consuming and non-polluting,” says Clive van Heerden, Philips Design’s Senior Director of Design-led Innovation. ‘We need to push ourselves to rethink domestic appliances entirely, how homes consume energy and how entire communities can pool resources.”




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.