As the resident mycophile on our team, it was a foregone conclusion I was going to have to write about these headphones. For if you look closer, these designer cans aren’t made with the usual materials list of plastic, metal, and leather. Instead, the Korvaa is constructed with microbially grown bio-materials, each piece concocted by the minute workings of nature’s own workshops: fungus, bacteria, and yeast.
A collaboration between the Finnish design firm Aivan in coordinated efforts with the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and Aalto University, the experimental project illustrates the burgeoning industry of biosynthetic industrial design and manufacturing.
The same yeast responsible for the delicious magic behind bread and winemaking, Saccharomyces cerevisiae was tapped to produce biodegradable polylactic acid to be 3D printed into the headband. Those soft looking ear pads aren’t filled with foam, but are the product of Trichoderma reesei, the crust fungus often found on decomposing logs, while the mycelium of Phanerochaete chrysosporium produced a soft material in lieu of leather typically used for ear pads. And those with serious arachnophobia might want to cover their ears and eyes, noting themesh material covering the speakers are made with biosynthetic spider silk.
Don’t expect Beats by Dre to be offering anything as materially progressive as these cans any time soon. But with companies increasingly looking to breach the increasingly narrowing limitations of a fossil-based economy, it should not come as a surprise when the day arrives a wide variety of personal-size products – like headphones – will be grown, assembled, sold, and eventually easily recycled.
The Korvaa will be on display during this year’s Helsinki Design Week, September 5th thru 15th.