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  • Studio Prelude

Sound Pods

Designed for Deconstructing Patterns exhibition at the Francis Crick Institute these sound pods are made with integrated speakers to produce an immersive audio experience for the recital of ‘A New Music’, a poem by Sarah Howe in response to research by Advanced Sequencing at the Crick.


Howe’s poem is inspired by the ‘bases’ (A, T, C and G) that make a strand of DNA which encodes the all-important genetic information. To echo the simplicity of the form and the repetitive yet rich textual variations in the poem, a sculptural sound dome developed from honeycomb grid structure is proposed.

scale model of sound pod design

The site constraints mean that these sound pods need to be moved out of the way on a weekly basis. A simple hanging system using existing structures is devised to enable raising and lowering of these pods and to facilitate other hanging elements in the future. A very-lightweight and soundproof material is needed to ensure the ease of operation and to achieve a high-quality listening experience. The decision to make the final version in Plastazote was obvious: it is odourless, flexible, strong, lightweight, good insulation, water and chemical resistant, fireproof and little affected when exposed to UV light. It is easy to cut, mould and bond. It is also inexpensive compared to many other materials. Having explored various soundproofing materials it was clear that there is nothing quite like it that would meet our specific requirements.

However, when disposed, plastazote becomes part of a huge amount of low-density polyethylene (PELD) waste– packaging, craft kits, shoe insoles – that ends up in landfills instead of industrial recycling facilities. Using a material like this is increasingly unappealing for us on projects with a relatively short lifespan. The most feasible and immediate solution for designers in these situations is not to use the material at all, and work with alternative materials instead to reduce consumption and increase demand for alternatives. Designing differently means we need to invest time in learning more about the current state of material production and lifecycle while making designs impactful.


Recycled or upcycled materials often come up in searches when we look at alternatives. Recycled foam is more available now although the problem with recycled materials is often to do with their afterlife – in theory, the material should be recycled again and again, but manufacturers do not currently offer the option to take materials back. Seeing materials through this lens, most suppliers offering recycled materials are greenwashing unless there is a real closed-loop material life cycle. Even this comes with a caveat and one ought to ask the question: where does the recycling take place? Does it involve outsourcing recycling? The fact is, the current production system simply do not support recycling due to economic and technical feasibility (‘The Fraud of Recycling’), hence the daunting task and confusion most of us face when we try to separate materials for recycling.


Among the material alternatives we most look forward to use are biomaterials such as seaweed and cellulose fibre. The rapid development of biobased fibres is incentivised by the textile and clothing industries which contribute nearly 10% of world GHG emissions (UNFCC, 2018). Packaging is benefiting from this development, too, with lightweight, foam-like biobased materials becoming more common. New materials present a very different set of constraints and that’s an exciting territory to be exploring. What is important for us to remember is that, while design can adapt and respond to material constraints, when a material is brought to life, it opens up a world of possibilities. It is only through design and experimentation we start to be able to iterate and gain insight in material futures.


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