Programmable water-based composites for digital design and fabrication

Aguahoja, a project by researchers at MIT’s Mediated Matter Group, is a collection of objects digitally design and robotically fabricated from the molecular components found in tree branches, insect exoskeletons and our own bones.

Rather than lean on artificial materials like concrete, glass, plastic and other materials that litter our landfills, the Aguahoja project looks at nature’s own building blocks, using the world’s most abundant materials: cellulose, chitosan and pectin.

These three materials are combined and compounded to create biodegradable composites. The robotic disposition of cellulose and chitosan allows for the creation of a generative surface pattern that alters the stiffness and colour of panels in response to environmental parameters such as heat and humidity. The water-shaped skin-like structures are designed and manufactured without the need for assembly.

Using the biocomposite, the team created a five-metre-tall pavilion. The structure, which somewhat resembles a cocoon, is designed with varying degrees of stiffness, flexibility and opacity. At the end of its use, the biocomposite skin can degrade when exposed to water.

The composite is highly susceptible to changes in appearance and behaviour, as even small alterations in the molecular composition of the material has an impact on it. The research team developed a material library containing a collection of biocomposites all made of the same three materials, yet each with their own appearance.

Photos: Mediated Matter Group