bio-based materials on a bed of hay
Components of PROWL’s prototype Peel chair, made out of bio-based and biodegradable plastics derived from hemp. Photo by Noah Webb

Exploring the Past and Future of Bio-based Materials

METROPOLIS editors round up our most compelling coverage on healthier materials and bio-based product alternatives for the building industry.

In a world conscious of sustainability and environmental impact, the realm of materials science has seen a shift towards innovative solutions that prioritize renewable resources and reduced ecological footprints. Bio-based materials, derived from renewable sources such as plant matter and biological waste, help reduce dependency on finite fossil fuels and mitigate carbon emissions. Here, METROPOLIS highlights how we’ve approached covering bio-based materials over the years. From new approaches to textiles and alternatives to PVC products, the following designers and practices show the building industry how we can design with the planet in mind.


A New Approach to Textiles

Pioneering People

The Search for Bio-based Alternatives

The Next Generation of Bio-based Materials


A New Approach to Textiles

Every year, almost 16 billion pounds of synthetic textiles are sent to landfills in the United States. Synthetic textiles, unlike natural fibers, can’t biodegrade. With this in mind, manufacturers have started creating textiles that are more beneficial for the environment. For example, Duvaltex’s Clean Impact Textiles uses recycled, biodegradable polyester while Carnegie released Biobased Xorel, a PVC-free textile uses sugarcane as its raw material. Meanwhile, brands like Rilsan and Cathay Industrial Biotech have created nylon alternatives that reduce the amount of nitrous oxide emitted from products. Finally, some brands are turning to unconventional plant-based textiles, like Ananas Anam Ltd with their natural textile Piñatex, made from pineapple leaves or Desserto, a plant-based vegan textile made of the Nopal cactus in Mexico.

Discover a new approach to bio-based textiles in the stories below:

Bio-Based Textiles

Pioneering People

As we continue the discussion of biobased materials and products, we look back at some pioneering architects and designers who advocate for sustainable building material. Assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and director of Columbia’s Natural Materials Lab, Lola Ben-Alon studies earth- and biobased materials, their life cycles and fabrication techniques in hopes of changing the field of 3D printing. Architect Vinu Daniel is also committed to creating low-cost and eco-sensitive buildings made of earth-based materials.

Learn more about these pioneering architects and how they use bio-based materials:

Bio-based Pioneers

The Search for Bio-Based Alternatives

While polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyester make up much of the material used in building and construction, they are also extremely hazardous, as they contain dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, and cadmium, which are toxic to the human and environmental health. Meanwhile, sustainability-focused architects, interior designers, and researchers have been battling to phase out PVC and polyester to find alternative materials and products. For example, healthier alternatives to conventional PVC products include linoleum made with natural materials such as wood and cork flour and linseed oil. Other alternatives includepower cords made from recycled polypropylene sourced from ocean and shore waste. As for polyester alternatives, some polyethylene terephthalate, or the resin of the polyester family used for fibers and containers, can be used as recyclable materials to make up molded furniture like the Emeco 111 Navy Chair.

Explore more options for alternative bio-based materials here:

Bio-based Alternatives

The Next Generation of Bio-based Materials

As interior designers, architects, and manufacturers continue to create biobased products from materials such as rice straw, students have also created projects using biodegradable materials. From the annual Role Models contest put on by the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design comes the project Rethinking Contact Lens Packaging, which reconciles human rituals for living with the product’s afterlife, or Myco-Electronics for the Circular Economy, which demonstrates how mycelium’s natural properties can help reduce the global e-waste problem. Meanwhile, for the WantedDesign’s Conscious Design Awards, students at the Monterrey Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture, Art and Design devised solar lamps with materials indigenous to Mexico’s many biomes. Finally, from METROPOLIS’ own Planet Positive Awards comes Dappled Light, a PVC-free resilient flooring marrying eco-conscious innovation and calming aesthetics.

Check out the next generation of bio-based materials below:

Next Generation


As society continues to prioritize sustainability and environmental stewardship, the significance of bio-based materials will only grow. By harnessing the power of nature’s building blocks, we can create a more resilient and regenerative economy, where materials not only serve their intended purpose but also contribute to a healthier planet for future generations. In this fascinating world of bio-based materials, innovation meets sustainability to shape a brighter tomorrow.

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