Bioreceptive Design

A matter of correspondences

The ongoing doctoral research partially documented through this website focuses on material scenarios based on regenerative processes, including living materials and life-enabling materials. Among the latter, a fundamental material feature is bioreceptivity, defined as the "aptitude of a material to be colonized by one or several groups of living organism" (Guillitte, 1995). The concept of bioreceptive design was first addressed in architecture (Cruz & Beckett, 2016), referring to the development of bioreceptive facades to greener the urban environment with the benefit of biofilm air purification and low maintenance costs. However, during the case studies collection of my overall PhD research, I found that different biodesign cases stand out for the possibility of being associated with the original Gullitte's concept of bioreceptivity. Therefore, in a recent study, we proposed a wider definition of Bioreceptive Design, occurring “every time materials or artifacts are intentionally designed to be colonized by life forms” (Pollini & Rognoli, 2021). This virtual space shares part of a research through design path on bioreceptive design, especially focused on fostering lichens and mosses for biomonitoring. 

Pollini B., Contardo T., Paciotti D., Rognoli V. (2023). Bioreceptive
interfaces for biophilic urban resilience. Nature positive/Design for transformation,
Cumulus Antwerp 2023
Pollini, B., Contardo, T., & Paciotti, D. (2022). Designing Bioreceptivity. 34th Conference of the Italian Lichenological Society (SLI), Pavia.
Pollini, B., & Rognoli, V. (2021, October 12). Enhancing living/non-living relationships through designed materials. CEES 2021, International Conference Construction, Energy, Environment & Sustainability - Responsible Biotechnologies And Biodesign For The Built Environment, Coimbra, Portugal.
Contardo, T., Giordani, P., Paoli, L., Vannini, A., & Loppi, S. (2018). May lichen biomonitoring of air pollution be used for environmental justice assessment? A case study from an area of N Italy with a municipal solid waste incinerator. Environmental Forensics, 19, 1–12. 

(Pollini & Rognoli, 2021)

Bioreceptive design for biomonitoring

How can bioreceptive design improve biomonitoring with lichens?

We started this project focusing on creating bioreceptive materials for lichens and mosses aimed at biomonitoring activities. Lichen biomonitoring is a pool of techniques that use lichens as bioindicators of air quality. Lichens are very sensitive organisms to air pollution, thus when atmospheric composition changes they provide responses in terms of physiological and morphological alterations and biodiversity changes. Moreover, they are great bioaccumulators of toxic trace elements, providing a reliable information about the presence of pollutants in the atmosphere. Combining these capacities, lichens offer an overview about air quality in a given environment. This projects, at the intersection between design and biology, aims to improve the supply and exposure of lichens in urban areas (for their use as air quality biosensors), using bioreceptive materials and artifacts. The early phases of this study carries several research questions about the best integration model between biology and design, in particular focusing on the creation of physical samples idoneous for lichen colonization, by answering to these questions: How bio-inspired shapes might better fit the requirement of a certain organisms? How can the microgrooves, derived by the "layer-by-layer" 3D printing texture, influence biofilm growth, increasing water flow on the material's surface? to what extent the composition and color of the materials influence the biofilm growth? Thanks to this transdisciplinary collaboration, the possible outcomes of the project can be wide, positively affecting design, architecture, lichenology and participatory science. The projects started in 2021 with the first goal to develop multiple bioreceptive surface to serve as support for lichens growth, the RQ in this phase are oriented to understand which materials and texture are more pleasant for the lichens and mosses to proliferate on. The first set of samples has already been realized and expose for colonization at the Botanical Garden of Siena (Italy) for further testing.

Bioreceptive interfaces for biophilic urban resilience

How can bioreceptive design improve urban areas and depleted environments?

The study soon highlighted the possibility of developing bioreceptive interfaces for mosses and lichens also to respond to biophilic and sustainability needs in urban contexts. Lichens and mosses have contributed as pioneers in the formation and regulation of soil and atmosphere on our planet. Bioreceptive Design can enhance a design of mutual interest, aiming at responding to the host needs and preferable environmental conditions, serving multiple species that can act as co-authors of an open-ended design, increasing urban biodiversity, and providing resilient, restorative, and regenerative environments. Bioreceptive Design can range from material design to biomimicry, designing for not-only-human users, adopting a multispecies design approach while suggesting new relationships among biotic and abiotic agents. Ultimately, this ongoing study highlights how this approach can provide sustainable, low-maintenance, and regenerative solutions to foster resilient urban environments.


Designing for and with other organisms requires transdisciplinary. For this project, I am collaborating with a lichenologist and a researcher in the field of digital fabrication; we contaminate each other with our respective experiences and knowledge to improve the outcomes of this project and the research in the field. 

Barbara Pollini | is a PhD candidate in Design at the Polytechnic University of Milan. With a master in Ecodesign and Eco-innovation and a MA in Computational Design, since 2010 she's dealing with sustainable design and materials, as a designer, educator and researcher. Since 2014 she has been investigating sustainable materials, focusing on the relationship between materials and design for sustainability from different perspectives (circular/biobased/made in waste/DIY/biofabricated materials). For her doctoral research, she is addressing biodesign, an approach arising from the intersection between design, biology and technology; her study lies at the intersection between the constantly evolving concept of sustainability, the material design discipline, and biodesign, aiming at defining biofabricated materials' abilities in restorative and regenerative processes, focusing on living materials and life-enabling materials (e.g. bioreceptive ones).


Tania Contardo | is a researcher at the University of Brescia, Brescia (UNIBS). In 2013 she graduated in Natural Sciences in Milan, where she met the fascinating world of lichenology, an interest that led her to move to Siena to study Ecotoxicology and Environmental Sustainability and to deepen the methods of biomonitoring of air quality through lichens. On this research topic, in 2021, she obtained a PhD at the Department of Life Sciences (University of Siena) with a thesis entitled "Lichen biomonitoring technique for Environmental Justice Assessment and Risk perception assessment in a typical European city, Milan (Italy) ". She has been part of the Italian Lichenological Society since 2016, where she collaborates in the working group on Lichen Biomonitoring.


Davide Paciotti | PhD in Innovative Technologies and Industrial Design, and Researcher at the University School of Architecture and Design of Unicam, in which he hold a course in Digital Manufacturing in the Master's Degree course in Design for digital innovation since 2016. He coordinates the Integrated Shared Laboratories Center of SAADLAB, of the University School of Architecture and Design, where he carries out his research on the topics of rapid production technologies and computational design. His research activity is focused on the evolution that the industrial product could take through new additive manufacturing processes combined with generative parametric modeling.


LaborA | After a call for projects of doctoral research in October 2021, the first prototypes of the project were made at LaborA. Special thanks go to Cecilia Bolognesi and Renato Aiminio for starting the project, and to Filippo Oppimitti for his precious help in the laboratory.