Biodesign NYC


Rhode Island School of Design  |  New York City
Wintersession RISD Global Travel Course  | Jan 6-26, 2023
Peter Yeadon, Professor  |  | 917-628-1258
Arvind Bhallamudi, Teaching Assistant  |
Elective  |  3.0 Credits


In many ways, biodesign presents a whole new paradigm for our Age. It’s design with biology. It transcends the limits of biomimicry, seeking to capture not only the variety of ways in which the natural world can inform projects, but it also promotes an understanding of the principles and processes that result in the myriad materials, forms, patterns, and relationships we see in the living world. The products and outcomes of biodesign feature ways of making that parallel nature’s strategies for yielding design and material solutions, and systems of production and engagement, that work with the natural world to promote conditions that are conducive to life on this diverse planet.

As such, biodesign involves an approach to design and production that replaces conventional mechanized systems of industry with biological processes. Its design tenets are biological principles that are observable in nature. Things grow and evolve, so its products are not thought of as ends in themselves; they’re part of a system, an ecology that design hopefully enhances. Therefore, biodesign projects are often complex, taking many factors into consideration, and are usually the result of a collaborative process that involves many specialists and generalists from a variety of fields, including artists and designers.

At RISD, the biodesign studies that we have undertaken have supported RISD’s strategic plan, NEXT: by introducing our students to new, collaborative ways of making and knowing; by engaging sustainability through a variety of means that can help decarbonize and detoxify our communities; and, by pursuing accessible projects, resources, and opportunities that can contribute positively to diverse peoples, and our planet. But RISD is not a hub for the study and practice of biodesign, so we need to continue our work while finding new ways to engage biodesign communities elsewhere, both distant and near. Fortunately, just down the tracks, there’s a global center where biodesign has been flourishing for many years: New York City. Therefore, located in NYC, this travel course will provide you with an opportunity to learn about biodesign, and create meaningful contributions to the study and practice of biodesign, by directly engaging a selection of topics and projects with some of its pioneers and influencers.


You will be meeting a lot of people who are members of the biodesign/bioart and bioscience community in NYC. They’ll be sharing their work and interests with you, and we’ll be discussing the broad range of issues it raises and engages. Their participation in the course will provide you with an intensive introduction to biodesign, and will support the diverse conditions that are needed for the creation of original ideas. During the course, you’ll be working with biomaterials, researching projects and precedents, experimenting with CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically edit organisms, making presentations and leading discussions, and conceiving of new works of biodesign that respond to a number of prompts that guests will introduce when we meet with them.

The biodesign community in NYC is diverse and is globally connected. It includes many people who frequently visit from around the world to collaborate on projects, and attend exhibitions, conferences, and events. So we will have opportunities to rigorously examine a number of issues that are local and global. Students are expected to attend all lab/studio tours, meet guests, participate in group discussions, execute biolab experiments, complete assigned readings and undertake independent research, participate in all class meetings, and create original works of biodesign that improve or enhance the ecology and community that your biodesign work might be a part of. You will be provided information, through presentations, discussions, readings, experiments, tours, and other resources, to allow you to focus on the following learning objectives:

  • to develop an appreciation of biology, and an understanding of ways in which the natural world can inform projects;
  • to establish design tenets that are informed by biological principles;
  • to think of design works/projects as part of a system, an ecology that your design hopefully enhances, not as an end in and of itself;
  • to develop an appreciation of the broad implications of biodesign, by learning about, and from, artists and designers who work with biology;
  • to learn about biomaterials, and to directly work with them to understand their properties, behaviors, and potential advantages and disadvantages over other materials and industrial processes;
  • to learn about CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in the design of organisms;
  • to contemplate new design applications for biological materials and processes, applications that might capitalize on their unique properties and systems, and at the same time, might help us address important problems;
  • to develop reasonable and credible opinions or claims, based on research and evidence;
  • to develop innovative works that elegantly, and appropriately, integrate biological functionality;
  • to develop an independent sense of experimentation and scrutiny, yet participate in critical discourse;
  • to work well with others through collaboration, and to meet professionals in other fields;
  • and to have fun exploring New York City.

Finally, while some modes of representation, such as drawings, models, and photographic imagery, have privileged static materials and lifeless artifacts, the active and reactive nature of biodesign may require a new approach to visualization and communication. It may need to depart from the limitations of fixed images and stationary objects, and instead become a means to aptly demonstrate the dynamic organisms and systems that enable biodesign. Therefore, throughout the course, you will need to consider how you might best represent your ideas and your design work, in terms of visual communication for presentations, to effectively demonstrate that biology is an integral part of your future vision for biodesign. It’s vital to any understanding of the work.


All students are expected to attend all required class sessions and tours, as these are invaluable and essential opportunities for learning. No other required meeting times will be arranged outside of our official class schedule. Class sessions must begin on time and will not be recorded. Therefore, do not be late for class or you will miss important information, and be deemed absent (see Absences and Academic Integrity, below).

Project assignments will be issued on the dates listed below. You are expected to complete all assignments as specified in each assignment handout that’s issued. Each completed assignment is due before class begins on its due date, or it will be considered late (see Late Work, below). The semester is arranged as follows, but is subject to change, so reload this page frequently:

Fr 01/06
3:00 pm
@ The Crowne Plaza Times Square (W 48th & Broadway)
Students arrive and check into their rooms. Must collect hotel room keys and MTA Metrocards from Arvind.

5:30 pm
Students meet Arvind at the hotel lobby and walk to HMA2 Penthouse.

6:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse (1239 Broadway @ W 30th)
Meet and Greet. Students give five-minute presentations on their own works/interests, using this shared Google Slides presentation file.
Course Introduction by Peter.
Assignment 1 Issued. Six teams research and prepare presentations/discussions on aspects of biodesign that they critically examined, considered, and discussed.

8:30 pm
Class Dinner @ miss KOREA BBQ (10 W 32nd St)


No Class Meetings. Student teams are working on Assignment 1.

If you want to have a free Handsome Rice lunch on Monday, January 9th, then look at their menu and email your order to Arvind BEFORE NOON on Saturday, January 7th. We will order and pay for it.

Mo 01/09
10:00 am
If you want to have a free MOMO Test Kitchen lunch on Tuesday, January 10th, then look at their menu and give your order to Arvind BEFORE 10AM on Monday, January 9th. We will order and pay for it.

12:30 pm
Handsome Rice Lunch (see Weekend note, above)

1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Assignment 1 Due. Student teams lead presentations/discussions on aspects of biodesign that they critically examined, considered, and discussed.

3:00 pm
Prepare questions for Wednesday’s meeting with Dan Grushkin.

4:00 pm
Peter presentation on biomaterials (30-40 minutes).  Arvind presentation on seaweed packaging and mycelium bioprinting (20-30 minutes).

Tu 01/10
9:00 am
Meet Peter at Hotel Lobby. Depart for Brooklyn.

10:30 am

@ BioBAT Labs + BioBAT Art Space
Meet with Elena Soterakis, Artist and Co-Founder of BioBAT Art Space

11:45 pm
MOMO Test Kitchen Lunch at BioBAT Art Space
12:15 pm
Depart for Genspace

1:00 pm
@ Genspace
Intro to Bioplastics with Aradhita Ajaykumar Parasrampuria

We 01/11
1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Prepare for Meeting with Daniel Grushkin.

2:00 pm
Meet with Dan Gruskin, Founder of the Biodesign Challenge

Th 01/12
12:15 pm
Meet Peter at Hotel Lobby. Depart for FiDi.

1:00 pm
@ Material ConneXion
Meet Andrew Dent, Chief Materials Scientist & Executive VP of Research

3:30 pm
@ School of Visual Arts (335 West 16 Street)
Meet with Suzanne Anker & Tarah Rhoda, SVA Bio Art Lab
Mask & Proof of Vaccination Required

Fr 01/13
8:45 am
Assignment 2 Issued. Six teams of two students/team research upcoming guests and prepare presentations to guide discussion on January 16th.

12:00 pm
Meet Peter at Hotel Lobby. Depart for Brooklyn.

1:00 pm
@ Genspace
Genome Editing With CRISPR-Cas9

No Class Meetings. Student teams are working on Assignment 2.

Mo 01/16
1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Assignment 2 Due. Student teams present the work of guests we’ll be meeting with this week and answer questions.

3:00 pm
Meet Aaron Nesser, Co-Founder & CTO of Keel Labs / AlgiKnit

4:30 pm
Meet Rachel Rosenkrantz, Founder of Atelier Rosenkrantz

Tu 01/17
1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Prepare to meet Suzanne Lee

1:30 pm
Meet Suzanne Lee, CEO and Co-Founder of Biofabricate

3:00 pm
Meet Grace Knight, Designer and Partner Specialist at Ecovative

5:30 pm
Assignment 3 Issued. Each student is to create a proposal for a work of biodesign. Envisioned work must consider weak signals that point to this future, and be plausible/credible, and map the context/ecosystem within which the work would exist.

We 01/18
10:54 am
@ E34th St Ferry Terminal
Depart for Brooklyn Navy Yard

11:30 am
@ Brooklyn Navy Yard
Meet Mitch Joachim, Co-Founder of Terreform ONE

1:30 pm
Lunch with Mitch at The Galley

2:30 pm
Meet Taras Kravtchouk, Founder of Tarform Motorcycles

4:00 pm
Meet Ross McBee, CSO and Uyen Tran, CEO of TômTex

Th 01/19
11:30 am
Meet Peter for lunch at Aahar restaurant in FiDi.

12:30 pm
Meet Ken Lewis, SOM Partner

3:30 pm
@ Genspace
Review results from CRISPR experiments (60 min)

Fr 01/20
1:00 pm
@ Cooper Hewitt Design Museum
Meet curators Andrea Lipps and Caitlin Condell to learn about Nature: Collaborations in Design.

No Class Meetings. Students are working on Assignment 3.

Mo 01/23
1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
One-on-One Meetings to work on Assignment 3.

Tu 01/24
1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
One-on-One Meetings to work on Assignment 3 with Alicia Tam Wei.

We 01/25
12:30 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Lunch from KazuNori

1:00 pm
@ HMA2 Penthouse
Assignment 3 Due. Present proposals for a work of biodesign. Guest Critics: Dan Grushkin & Alicia Tam Wei.

5:00 pm
@ The Smith NoMad (1150 Broadway)
Class Dinner. Course Ends.

Th 01/26
11:00 am
@ The Crowne Plaza Times Square (48th & Broadway)
Students must check out of their rooms before 11AM, or will be charged for an additional day at the current daily rate, not the group rate.

Link to Syllabus >