Natural Material Studio: Fusing science, design and art

April 20th, 2023
Written by:
Nikolai Kotlarczyk

Brick Textiles by Natural Material Studio and Zuzanna Skurka at Alcova, Milan Design Week 2023. Photo Credit: Natural Material Studio.

Operating at the unique point where science, biology, chemistry, design and art collide, Natural Material Studio has been both growing and refining their materials, objects and installations since their foundation in 2019. Led by founder – material and interaction designer Bonnie Hvillum, Natural Material Studio is helping to usher in a new language for materiality, one constructed from and with the environment firmly front and centre. We chatted with Hvillum about how adaptability is leading to an increased adoption and appreciation of bio-materials today and into the future, and their latest installation as part of ALCOVA at this year’s Milan Design Week.

Located in the small, cultural heritage village of Tømmerup, south of Copenhagen, Bonnie Hvillum operates Natural Material Studio with the same circular values in which her materials are born. Situated within an area known for farming of vegetables and fruits, it is a matching hands-on approach that Hvillum has brought into her studio. Having studied material and interaction design at Aarhus University, it was a masterclass on systemic thinking in Amsterdam back in 2016 that sparked the approach that has come to define Natural Material Studio.

Bonnie Hvillum, founder of Natural Material Studio. Photo credit: Rebecca Norberg.

The holistic nature of systemic thinking led Hvillum to establish her research base as a mixture of science and art, engineering and design, in an open and ever evolving way. In four short years since founding her studio, Hvillum has built relationships and collaborations with the likes of Leeds University, Noma, Frama, Calvin Klein and many more. The key aspect of the wide-ranging applications of her collaborative projects is the adaptability of her material solutions – from bio-foams to natural leathers, algae based solutions and the studio’s mostly widely adopted PROCEL material.

Over the last years we have been developing a process and crafted technique for the handheld production of our bio-textiles. We call this PROCEL, created from a mix of protein based bio-polymer, a natural softener and water as a solvent. The designed production technique makes it possible for us to create large and custom sized sheets of material. From these base processes and components we can incorporate and use different types of fibres, particles, and pigments – transforming the property and quality of the material.”

Natural Material Studio’s PROCEL material featured within their installation at Frama. Photo credit: Paolo Galgani.
Natural Material Studio’s lighting installation within Noma’s Kyoto pop-up, 2023. Photo credit: OEO Studio.
Natural Material Studio developed hanging kelp forests for Noma’s Kyoto interior. Photo crredit: OEO Studio.

PROCEL has provided Natural Material Studio with the ability to match material with location – grounding their projects within a context of place and time. Their most recent collaboration, the Noma pop-up restaurant in Kyoto, Japan is a perfect example of this. Working closely with the Noma team and interior designers OEO Studio, Hvillum and her team incorporated shells, sand, algae and kelp to create intricate feature lighting installations and floating kelp forests.

Re-useable and compostable packaging developed by Natural Material Studio for Calvin Klein. Photo credit: Peter Vinther.

While PROCEL was used in a more decorative way for the applications within Noma’s pop-up, the materials qualities also lends itself perfectly for more physical applications where strength and durability are key. One such project was a collaboration with fashion brand Calvin Klein, with the studio developing a collection of re-useable and completely compostable packaging solutions for their customers. At this years Milan Design Week – in collaboration with Polish material translator Zuzanna Skurka, Natural Material Studio will present ‘Brick Textiles’, an immersive installation that plays on our pre-conceived notions of the humble brick, as Hvillum explains;

“With the installation ‘Brick Textiles’ we want to re-think the symbolic, tectonic and semiotics around bricks to create an expanded understanding for architecture today and for the future. When we look at the brick, it is almost a synonym with solid, structural, protective, shielding walls. But what if bricks could also represent the opposite qualities and properties – soft, flexible, tactile, transparent? With the installation we want to explore a new materiality based on leftovers from the brick-industry, one that can open up for a more fluid, organic and tactile use.”

Brick Textiles by Natural Material Studio and Zuzanna Skurka at Alcova, Milan Design Week 2023. Photo Credit: Natural Material Studio.

Presented within the experimental hub ALCOVA during Milan Design Week, the ‘Brick Textiles’ installation is a testament to Natural Material Studio’s ability to shine a light on a different material sources and the aspects of her collaborators that help bring a unique character to each project. While these projects are taking Hvillum around the world and have provided her the ability to collaborate with industry leading individuals and organisations, her focus remains grounded and resolute – with a humbleness she attributes to the aforementioned study in systemic thinking, as she details;

My studies into systemic thinking brought with it a great sense of appreciation and a humble outlook, providing me with an understanding that we are all part of a situational whole operating within a highly complex system. With this as a core philosophy personally and professionally, this was the ground point for, what was in the start, open ended material research. I guess it still is very much open ended in many ways.”

Building on the last four years of research, experiments, projects and collaborations, Natural Material Studio will present its largest presentation to date during 3daysofdesign in Copenhagen this June. Situated within Copenhagen Contemporary’s large gallery space, the solo installation will incorporate talks, dinners and events – alongside material studies and lighting installations. The immersive, community based approach is a testament to Hvillum’s systemic approach to her work – grounded by community and the environment.