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Rising Stars: Meet Garrett and Paul Sutherlin Santo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Garrett and Paul Sutherlin Santo.

We’re a design firm that started from two very different personal histories: Garrett’s background is in ceramics and architecture, Paul previously worked in film and television. However, we were able to connect on a personal level where those diverse backgrounds overlapped. It’s a little silly, but we shared a mutual affection for science-fiction movies like Alien, Bladerunner, and Star Trek, and we spent hours discussing what we thought of those visions of the future from a cultural, architectural, and design perspective. What became clear to us as friends, then as a married couple, and then as collaborators was that this love of popcorn sci-fi actually translated into a strong desire to explore speculative design and to ask questions about the role of design in the future. We asked ourselves what kind of changes in design – major or minor – can have a beneficial impact on our culture? What kind of products do we envision being useful in the present to carry us forward into a more appealing future? We started our design firm, Sutherlin Santo, to answer those questions by leveraging our different backgrounds and our common interests and exploring speculative design and its capacity to stimulate change. While the sci-fi movies we both love are centered on sterile, mechanical futures, we believe that design and technology of the future will actually embrace natural materials that help repair the environment. With that in mind, for the past two years a major focus of our work has been on the development of plant-based, biodegradable, 3D-printed furniture. Through a grant from the Lexus Design Award, we developed Biocraft – a collection of furniture made entirely from natural materials that scrub the air of excess CO2 and return that CO2 to the soil when the products are thrown away. These products were designed in the computer, utilizing artificial intelligence, and fabricated through the use of a robotically controlled 3D printer, mixing high technology with low-tech, naturally derived materials.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Developing a brand new material and deploying it through complex digital and technological processes hasn’t been easy. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into making products that balance characteristics that are seemingly at odds – Biocraft is high-tech and low-tech, digital and natural, part science project and part art project. On top of that, mid-way through developing these products to showcase them at Milan Design Week 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit, lockdowns instituted, and a lot of our work was shifted from a studio workspace to the kitchen in our apartment. However, obstacles and limitations breed invention, and being forced to literally live with our work helped focus our attention on our products and improved them. The delays resulting from the pandemic have given us the opportunity to work on other projects in other mediums and then return to Biocraft with new skills to apply to additional prototypes which we’ll display at Milan Design Week next year.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
At our heart, we’re a research-based design studio so we’re as interested in exploring new methods of fabrication as we are new designs themselves. In most cases, we try to find contemporary ways of updating traditional techniques with new digital technologies. Can robots build in clay? Can artificial intelligence guide furniture design by studying nature? These are things we find ourselves asking at the start of each of our projects. With Biocraft we wanted to explore how 3D printing could help balance the technological world with the natural one. As we said before, Biocraft is a collection of speculative consumer products that we believe can benefit our environment by being made from natural, biodegradable materials that remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere and reduce waste in our landfills and oceans. The versatility of the plant-based material that makes up these products means that there are many potential applications but we’ve produced two prototypes: Carbon Stool – a CO2-capturing stool – and Bio Tiles – overlapping, decorative tiles meant to aggregate in unused wall or ceiling space that act as natural air filters. As far as we know, Biocraft’s combination of digital processes and natural materials is unique, but we hope to demonstrate that designers can use similar methods to make products that help repair our environment. As we move forward, we want to cross paths with other designers and even industries that would benefit from developing these materials with us.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
We’ve done our best to learn to find opportunity in obstacles and see differences in opinion as a means to make our work better. As the pandemic continues to take the lives and livelihoods of so many, we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to continue our work together despite current challenges.

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Image Credits
All images courtesy of Sutherlin Santo and Lexus Design Awards

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