Could you live in a banana cocoon? Vegan sustainable architecture
This year, Milan Design Week was a petri dish for exciting sustainable interiors featuring vegan principles, proving traction by designers and manufacturers in this area. Designers harness nature to inspire innovatively sustainable architecture and homeware, creating spaces that are aesthetically captivating, multi-functional, technologically-smart, and future-proofed.
What is vegan sustainable architecture?
Vegan architecture is sustainable, cruelty-free, and uses non-animal-derived components; vegan materials are traditionally recyclable and sourced locally. These materials include hemp, sand, cobs, ceramics, wood, and linen; and contemporary design and engineering incorporates robotics and biomaterials such as fungi, banana fibres, and algae.
Sustainable architecture considers the impact of buildings on ecosystems, the well-being of inhabitants and animals that share the land. Biophilic design elements that evoke nature, such as earthy colours, natural light, soothing water features, and abundant plant life, are integrated into spaces to enhance the connection between humans and the natural world.
Veganism is a subsection of sustainable architecture, as not all sustainable materials are vegan, such as wool and felt, where wool production often involves cruel methods; or leather used in upholstery, feathers, bone, eggshells and other animal-derived substances.
Sustainable architecture and materials to get excited about
Eco-manufacturer Room in a Box has created an uber-cool bedstead made from cardboard. During the manufacturing process, Bed 2.0 required 8,000 times less energy than conventional models, and their modular shelving allows for innumerable arrangement combinations.
• Blast Studio uses waste coffee cups and mycelium as a 3D printing material, to produce architectural structures. The process is fascinating as the mycelium consumes the cups and grows, taking over the structure and producing mushrooms that can be consumed. Blast Studio also creates furniture using robots, organic and waste material. Co-founder of Blast Studio, Paola Garnousset, told Dezeen, “Our vision is to start a new type of living architecture that could self-repair and be harvested to feed people.”
• The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is developing vegan noise-isolation systems for soundproofing using fungi. Mycelium mixed with straw, wood and waste from food production is printed into the desired shape by a 3D printer.
• The Ethos Vegan Suites hotels, designed by Kapsimalis Architects, included converting a 20th-century house in Santorini, Greece, into a hotel. Renovations used entirely vegan materials and fittings, and care was taken to create spaces that played with natural light using ‘perforated walls made by diverse types of ceramic claustra, creating different kinds of private or semi-private areas’. Interior walls and ceilings were lined with rough plaster containing hemp, sand, and cobs. The hotel also has a kitchen that serves vegan food for guests.
• Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) is an open-source and community-based platform driving invocation in Ghana and Africa. Although not a specific material, it’s an exciting project that helps grassroots makers in resource-poor environments to access resources and tools, learn new skills, create better products, earn more income and share their knowledge, with an emphasis on recycling, increasing environmental ‘know-how’ and improving health and safety.
• Earthships, conceived in the 1970s by Michael Reynolds, employ innovative techniques to be self-sufficient and enable occupants to live ‘off-grid’: collect rainwater, generate electricity by harnessing solar methods, and regulate temperature naturally by using the design of the structure to be cool in the heat and warm in the cold. Earthships incorporate their natural surroundings and are constructed with recycled or raw building materials - some are made using glass, aluminium cans or bottles, adobe, dirt, recycled tires, or plaster. Brighton’s Earthship was created by the Low Carbon Trust, and if you’re in the area, you can book a tour.
Repurposing slaughterhouses into hope and healing
Reusability is a heartbeat of sustainability, but what happens when a space of pain is repurposed into something positive? Visitors of Alcova discovered that an ex-slaughterhouse turned gallery gave them the feelings of ‘hope and healing’. Award-winning British industrial designer, Giles-Mitchell, visited and noted, “When I got inside and saw the rusty hooks and blood drains on the floors, to my surprise, it wasn’t so much sadness, but optimism that hit me.” Giles-Mitchell poetically observes:
“This phenomenon was almost like a beautiful metaphor, a place that has witnessed so much darkness, violence, and death now becoming a place for light, life, and creativity. Call me a dreamer, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve glimpsed the future, where all slaughterhouses will be converted into galleries and museums.”
Designing banana futures
Designers explore imagined futures through conceptual installations to highlight how climate change will impact habitats. Vegan designer Erez Nevi Pana imagines a future Milan where the climate is tropical, and inhabitants take refuge in ‘cocoons’ made from banana fibres. These malleable sack-like structures and hammocks conceive a space where humans can rest harmoniously within nature’s tropics. The installations ask us to consider architectural possibilities away from dense concrete builds and encroaching tarmac.
Nevi Pana is also concerned with the importance of the provenance of materials and decided that “to be 100% pure vegan, I have to be responsible for their full-cycle and growth”. Nevi Pana grows materials, including bananas, for Tropical Milan. Nevi Pana is a vegan activist and is currently researching the topic of Vegan Design as a doctoral candidate at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria - a designer to watch!
It's worth noting that climate change isn’t just a future issue, it already contributes to communities becoming displaced, and this is likely to increase as weather patterns change and political turmoil persists. The IKEA Foundation’s Better Shelter is a modular emergency shelter made from recyclable plastic that can be assembled in four hours and has a solar panel, a lamp, and a phone charger. In February 2023, 5,000 emergency shelters were provided in response to the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. The foundation has, so far, granted 1.8 billion euros for ‘people and the planet’.
Sacred geometry in vegan design
Vegan design architecture using sacred geometry refers to minimising the use of animal products and maximising the use of natural patterns, symmetries, shapes, universal symbols and ratios. Here are a couple of examples of vegan design architecture using sacred geometry:
• Heinz Pahl Kaupp is an eco-architect who has designed several buildings based on sacred geometry principles, such as the Flower of Life and the Fibonacci Sequence. He believes buildings can enhance the health and well-being of the occupants and the environment, as “Wellness and feeling comfortable is a resonance of a harmonious environment, architecture and landscape design. Health benefits are the results of balance and harmony”. Pahl Kaupp designed the iconic Floating Zeppelin.
• Micheal Rice, an award-winning bio-architect, has designed over 400 buildings based on sacred geometry and bio-architecture principles. He uses natural and recycled materials, such as wood, stone, metal, and glass, and avoids leather, wool, silk, or feathers. His projects include Dreamfield (a family home in Ireland), various meditation huts, homes and community spaces worldwide.
By engaging in environmental speculation and exploring innovative solutions through art and design, we can draw attention to what a harmonious coexistence with nature may look like. And by integrating vegan design principles, vegan architecture represents a promising path towards a more ethical and environmentally conscious future.