MATRES. From a microscope to a prototype for a resilient architecture

MATRES is an installation presented at the 17th International Architectural Exhibition Biennale di Venezia. MatRes is a living laboratory of resilient materials, with a biological, organic, sustainable, recycled origin, which has a voice and the freedom to grow and transform over time. The installation aims to evoke the metaphor of a tree, experiencing its resilient forms and materials that compose it.

MaTres tells the resilient behavior of the wood fibers, of the longitudinal and transverse vessels, of the central pith and the bark,  through the use of materials that come from the culture of architecture, interior spaces, fashion. From natural composite materials (mycelium, coffee waste, cellulose) to 4D printing, from plants that produce energy to fabrics with optical, acoustic, or thermosensitive properties to natural or recycled fibers, reacting virtuously to stressful stimulations.

A trunk of a tree with its fibrous structure is made up of cells linked to each other by a network of macromolecules that regulate their proliferation, development, and differentiation constitutes a resilient micro-architecture par excellence. An immobile organism like a plant generates over time a system of strategies capable of transforming adversity into vital advantages. Learning from these resilience models allows us to develop advanced construction systems (material resiliency).

The environments in which we live, and the materials that make up the scenarios of the near future, must have high resilience to the increasingly unpredictable and extreme conditions of climate and weather. Materials must protect ecosystems from exogenous attacks, must be able to absorb the impact of radical transformations and change irreversible paradigms into new forms of life. From resilient materials, the subsequent transformation of spaces, places, and relations between the natural and built environment will begin.

A new architecture will start from the chemistry and biology of materials, give them voice and body, follow their performance, reversing their functional and ancillary relationship which are now exhausted. Designing with resilient materials means assuming them as actors and protagonists with their forms, behaviors, qualities, temporality, intentionality, and not vice versa.

The origin, the study under the microscope, the computational design, the life cycle of the materials used for the installation, start a resilient design model to be made available for a conscious and responsible future. In this politics of the matter, the choices will be guided by the environment, nature, and life, which will cross in a new continuum, creating an increasingly integrated and resilient system.

The research of the Material Balance Research group concerns the development of these new responsible materials on an environmental, architectural, and technological scale. Through the definition of a new design paradigm, we intend to promote a homeostatic relationship with the environment that preserves resources and at the same time reduces waste. Some experiments carried out by the group are exhibited within the installation set up in the Italian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale.


Designer: Giovanni Maria Conti, Martina Motta, Patrizio Terzi (PoliMI, Dip. Design)
Producer: Lanificio dell’Olivo
Source: Biobased material
Performance: antibacterial and biodegradable

The external layer of textiles that represents the bark of a tree trunk is entirely made from organic cotton. This sustainable yarn is defined by smoothness, versatility, and easy workability and can be implemented with antibacterial properties. Being produced with respect to the environment, it is sustainable and totally biodegradable.


Designer and producer: Aimi Berton, Fatima Abenova, Valeria Marsaglia (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Source: Biobased material
Performance: Acoustic and thermal insulation

Mycelium was found in the ground, it’s a natural recycler of matter. Everything that humans call waste is a nutrient for it to grow stronger. Grown into form, it acquires acoustic and thermal insulation, good compressive strength, fire resistance. Combined with rattan, mycelium is reinforced like concrete is reinforced by steel.

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Designer: Maria Anishchenko (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Producer: Artemaglia, Sesia
Source: natural raw material, Rare Earth metals
Performance: photoluminescent

Constant research leads us to discover the most incredible peculiarities of the planet. Where the still unexplored nature inspires technology and innovation, we discover new and still little-known materials with interesting applications. Inorganic materials with extraordinary properties, capable of generating photoluminescence by accumulating light and returning it in dark conditions. Magnificent Rare Earths, natural elements that evoke through their properties an almost enchanted universe, a source of pure energy without artifice.
Manifattura Sesia was inspired by the extraordinary nature of the Rare Earths, developing LUNAR, a highly innovative yarn born from the fusion of photoluminescence and high textile technology. Impalpable Rare Earth powders gently coat the noblest fibers, depositing on the fibers thanks to the use of resins. Thus an intelligent and long-lasting yarn comes to life, capable of transforming the energy of the absorbed light to change its color and return a persistent and intense green-blue luminescence.

The tubular textiles are produced on demand by Artemaglia company.  An Artisan Italian company equipped with the latest generation of Stoll electronic knitting machines produces high quality knitted textiles with passion, respect to the environment and ethics.


Designer : Maria Anishchenko (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Producer: Artemaglia, Sesia
Source: natural raw material
Performance: high tensile strength, hygroscopic properties, light, photoluminescent, hardening at low temperature

Dozen of textiles pipes are suspended from the top of the installation interpreting the vessels of a tree trunk that bring the vital minerals and water from the roots to the leaves of a tree establishing a sustainable and resilient system.

Soft, light, and fresh, with a pleasantly rustic look. Linen fiber for textile use has very ancient and distant origins and today it tells us a story of SUSTAINABILITY that comes from afar. Linen boasts a high resistance to traction and elongation, is extraordinarily bright and silky compared to other natural textile fibers, and has high hygroscopic properties. Its peculiar characteristics have made it a valuable and noble material, so much so that it was even used in ancient times as a bargaining chip. At the same time linen requires significantly less water to be grown up in respect to cotton.
Manifattura Sesia interprets this fiber with extreme attention to its natural appearance, enhancing its characteristics in the transformation into a 100% organic product. Thus was born BIO LINO 14, a very light and delicately raw yarn, a wonderful combination of organic cotton and linen.

The tubular textiles are produced on demand by Artemaglia company.  An Artisan Italian company equipped with the latest generation of Stoll electronic knitting machines produces high-quality knitted textiles with passion, respect to the environment, and ethics.


Designer: Maria Anishchenko (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Producer: Artemaglia, Sinterama
Source: recycled material
Performance: hardening at low temperature

The low-melt textiles were produced on demand on digital knitting machines by an advanced knitted textiles manufacturer Artemaglia. Thanks to a special component added to the fibers that melt at low temperatures, after heating up the textiles become semi-rigid and significantly decrease in size increasing the density.

Recycled polyester called Newlife®, produced starting from 100% polymer obtained from post-consumer bottles. The Newlife® platform, an example of Eco sustainability, is a continuous laboratory of ideas, where Italian company Sinterama introduces innovative ideas for the world of fashion, product design, and construction. Among the innovative ideas are antibacterial threads with copper and silver ions, fibers with ceramic components that allows effective self-heating with reflection of IR rays, fibers with anti UV component which increases the mechanical resistance of the wire exposed to bad weather and other atmospheric agents. For the MATRES installation were used the Newlife Heatofit yarns integrated with low melting temperature components to obtain semi-rigid dense textiles.


Designer: Andrea Giglio (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Producer: Shima Seiki Italia spa, Aquafil spa, Iafil spa, Sinterama spa, Politecnico of Milan (Lab Knitwear, Saperlab)
Source: recycled material
Performance: sound insulation, sound sensing through light

“Spacing Spacers” project aims at exploring the potentialities of the manufacturing and material systems knowledge of the textile sector for interactive architectural purposes thanks to a computational approach. A smart spacer textile explores three dimensional structure of the spacer fabric by embedding technological features to set up a circuit on the outer layer.

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2.1 K

Designer: Luigi De Nardo (PoliMI, Chemistry Dep.)
Producer: Directa-Plus, in the framework of a cooperation with Politecnico di Milano, under “GRATA” PoR-FESR Regione Lombardia Project.
Source: technical material
Performance: thermal and electrical conductivities

Plants are inherently resilient systems, that hold the ability to actively adapting to a variety of environmental modifications by tuning their physiological activities, growth behaviors, and architectural morphology. 

The global mean annual temperatures are predicted to increase by 0.3–4.8°C by 2100, resulting in extensive effects on plant growth and developmental processes, altering the phenology, physiological performance, and productivity of plants.

 The installation uses a G+ graphene nanoplatelets-based thermal circuit printed on polyamide fabric, reproducing a pattern of plant cells to simulate the effect of an increase in temperature on their physiology.

Fabric, graphene ink, and printing is kindly provided by DirectaPlus, in the framework of a cooperation with Politecnico di Milano, under “GRATA” PoR-FESR Regione Lombardia Project.


Designer: Anna Barbara (PoliMI, Design Dep.) with Simone Bodo
Producer: AlessandroSimoni
Source: composite material
Performance: electromagnetic protection

In the installation, the hollow cylinders in pure virgin wool woven with amorphous microfilament protect from electromagnetic waves based on the principle of energy absorption of a «skin effect». Being micro, the metal filament can be knitted with natural or synthetic fibers without changing the original properties of the fibers.

ALESSANDROSIMONI line is born, created exclusively with fine, natural yarns, such as cashmere, linen, silk, merino wool. ALESSANDROSIMONI, in addition to having opted for totally electric vehicles for the transport of its goods, is actively involved in the fight for the eco-compatible support of the environment, reusing, in continuous circulation, its own water from its artesian well and limiting as much as possible the use of chemicals. A large photovoltaic system ensures that the Manufacture will supply most of the electricity needed and to complete the requirement, only energy from renewable sources (solar and wind) is purchased.
The production process is done in full respect of the environment, following all the precautions to make each production phase efficient and sustainable.


Designer: Anna Barbara (PoliMI, Design Dep.) with Massimo Gatelli

Producer: Milleforma
Source: recycled material
Performance: sound absorption

Cotton cellulose modules based on cotton linters mixed with high quality clays and colored with natural earth pigments, composing a column, showcase high sound absorption performance in the face of extremely reduced thicknesses. Designed for indoor acoustic comfort, the material will be fully reused after the installation, being formed into acoustic panels.


Designer and producer: Giulia Grassi and Xingxin He (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research)
Source: composite material
Performance: shape shifting

4D textiles consist of 2D printed (semi-rigid) structures on pre-stretched elastic fabrics. The hybrid printing technique combines additive manufacturing and tension-active mechanisms that cause planar distortion thus shape-shifting. Morphing textiles generate complex large-scale three-dimensional shapes starting from simple two-dimensional patterns


Designer and producer: Valeria Marsaglia (PoliMI, ABC Dep., Material Balance Research), Paolo Bombelli (University of Cambridge, Biochemistry Dep., Università di Milano, ESP)

Source: biobased material
Performance: cooling effect, acoustic insulation, CO2 absorption, oxygenation, biofiltering, energy producer

Scientific literature proves that vertical greening systems may provide many advantages to the environment. In the indoor spaces, they result in energy saving for cooling and for heating, improve air quality, provide acoustic insulation. In outdoor space, they absorb CO2 and release oxygen, create habitat for biodiversity, provide social and psychological comfort, improve the urban water management, contributing at mitigating the urban heat island effect.

Anyway, since they are expensive systems, their use is supposed to be worthwhile only in dense urban contest and it’s fundamental to select species that need low maintenance and curing.

MOSS can be a solution.

Mosses are small, they live everywhere except in the sea and are able to dry out completely in dry periods, quickly resuming their metabolism when rewetted. Moreover, they are totipotent: they can regenerate from fragments, or even single cells, making them great survivors. These two peculiarities makes them particularly resilient.

In the frame of  MatRes installation, designed by the invited Material Balance research group (Politecnico di Milano) in the Italian Pavilion at 17th International Architecture Exhibition – Biennale Architettura 2021, a 2 meter-height column exhibits living mosses as a novel material for architecture.

“Moss Column” has been developed in the framework of Valeria Marsaglia’s PhD research project at Politecnico di Milano (ABC department) with the collaboration of Paolo Bombelli and Chris Howe (University of Cambridge, Biochemistry department)


Designer and producer: Esra Kagitci Dede, Begüm Sardan, Nathaly Michelle Rodriguez Torres, Payam Norouzi, Saverio Spadafora, Valeria Marsaglia (Material Balance Research, ABC Dep., PoliMI)
Source: biobased material
Performance: interior design

The initial concept comes into being with taking an in-depth look into the rich Italian coffee culture of daily coffee drinking habits. All over the country, everywhere we walk in, either next to a shaded corner of piazza or along a fully crowded street we come through the Italian coffee bars serving locals and tourists. 

On the contrary, what has been missing for years could be a lack of a green and sustainable management toward SCG – spent coffee grounds -in order to recycle and upcycle coffee waste to make use of it as a nature-based material to prevent from ending up in landfills which indeed have negative impacts on ecosystem and soil due to its high numbers of chemical compounds. Based on statistics, around six million tons of Spent Coffee Grounds (SCG), what’s leftover when a coffee bean is grounded and discarded, taking into landfills around the world every year.

What we need to claim is to discover novel ways to change our mindset of waste and exploring possible design solutions through a circular economy lens. Offering design in combination with entrepreneurship is a way to add value without using more natural resources and materials.

The rammed coffee project accounts for designing pure organic materials like spent coffee grounds with other bio-agricultural materials, which are being wasted in large quantities through urban environments. The total height of the column is up to 2 meters as the diameter is around 24 centimeters. The coffee itself due to its highly porous surface works pretty well in compression and hemp will provide more tensile strength to have optimum performance in both. 

To sum up, regarding the ongoing coffee consumption in parallel with the global environmental crisis and waste management we need to acquire the capability of greenways to transform spent coffee grounds (SCG) to bio-materials by different applications into either architectural technology or food industry and furniture design markets.


Ingrid Paoletti (PoliMI, Dip. ABC, Material Balance Research)

Anna Barbara (PoliMI, Dip. Design)

Saverio Spadafora (PoliMI, Dip. ABC, SaperLab)

Valeria Marsaglia (PoliMI, Dip. ABC, Material Balance Research)

Maria Anishchenko (PoliMI, Dip. ABC, Material Balance Research)

In collaboratione con:

Federico Leoni (Università di Verona, Dip. Scienze Umane)

Stefano Gomarasca (Università degli Studi di Milano, Environmental Science and Policy Dep.)

Hanno collaborato: Aquafil spa, Directa-Plus, Iafil spa, Lanificio Dell’Olivo, Milleforma, Shima Seiki Italia spa, Alessandro Simoni, Sinterama spa, Sesia, Artemaglia

Per il video MatRes:

Fatima Abenova