Please note! Course description is confirmed for two academic years, which means that in general, e.g. Learning outcomes, assessment methods and key content stays unchanged. However, via course syllabus, it is possible to specify or change the course execution in each realization of the course, such as how the contact sessions are organized, assessment methods weighted or materials used.


After successfully completing this course, students should be able to: (1) Understand how to use hands-on material exploration as a method for material research, and how to associate material research as a tool in a design process by applying research results to a new design concept; (2) Are familiar with varying concepts of biomaterials, especially the potential of biomaterials in the context of design for sustainability; (3) Have the skills to search information related to the research topic, make a plan based on a chosen research method, carry out the experiments individually or in small teams as well as record and present their process and discoveries; (4) Learn to challenge material values, aesthetics and new/old crafting methods to create unique material driven approach that can be utilized in their later work. (5) To contextualise design practice in a social context, the course aims to position it in the expanding field of design. Students may furthermore explore positions, practice forms and practitioners in the fields of design activism, inclusive design, transition design, open design, communities of practice, design thinking, participatory design, public and private space; (6) Apply theoretical, practical, activist and reflective methods of design in a social context in their own field of design.



Credits: 10

Schedule: 08.09.2020 - 15.10.2020

Teacher in charge (valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022): Julia Lohmann, Anna-Marie van der Lei

Teacher in charge (applies in this implementation): Anna-Marie van der Lei

Contact information for the course (valid 18.08.2020-21.12.2112):

Dear newly accepted Contemporary Design

First of all, congratulations for being accepted
on the Aalto MA.

We are excited to meet you here in Finland
shortly. All of you will join the first obligatory course ‘Material and Living
Systems’ which is run by us and will focus on the forest and funghi this year Please
enroll for the course now using weboodi. As we all know the situation is unusual
due to the pandemic and some of you might not be able to come to campus in
person in the first few weeks of the MA. Therefor we have developed our course
in the first teaching period (08.09.2020-15.10.2020) to be hybrid (online and in
person). If necessary, it can also be taken completely online, but please
inform us by email if this is the case. Please also note the current Aalto

Aalto University employees and
students are expected to work and study remotely for two weeks after working or
leisure trips abroad
.  Information on the effects of
coronavirus on activities at Aalto University:


We have selected two books as course
reading and you can already start reading the material before the course
commences as more readings will follow throughout the course. Both books are available
digitally from Aalto library:

 Here are the books:

The Mushroom at the End of the World On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

By Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing  (e-book Learning Center)

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (e-book Learning

We will soon get back to you
with a more detailed course timetable and are 
looking forward to starting the
course on the 8
th of September.

If you have any further
questions or comments please email both of us, Anna van der Lei
and Julia Lohmann so that we can
answer your queries quicker.

Greetings from the Finnish
summer, Anna  and Julia


CEFR level (applies in this implementation):

Language of instruction and studies (valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022):

Teaching language: English

Languages of study attainment: English


  • Valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022:

    As biomaterial is a broad and currently widely used term, the students learn to explore and discover new perspectives to biomaterials within their systems and understand how to create their own creative approach towards these materials.  In the course we explore, understand and work with bio-materials and their systemic contexts: natural / social / lifecycle. Depending of the annual topic, the course may be executed in collaboration with a company or organization. The core of the course is to design an innovative concept in the given context, and to execute process-driven, hands-on material experimentation that aims to use material exploration as a source for practice-based design research. The background research, process documentation and final presentation/exhibition are an important part of the learning process. 

    2020 the course will focus on funghi and forests

    2021 the course will focus on algae and the ocean

Assessment Methods and Criteria
  • Valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022:

    Assessment Methods and Criteria (valid 01.08.2018-31.07.2020): 

    Documentation and content of background research, material design process and hands-on experimentations; quality of personal learning diary; visual and verbal communication skills. Passing the course requires attending 80% of the contact sessions (lectures, excursions, group meetings and feedback discussions) and personal learning diary kept throughout the course.

    Evaluation criteria: activity during the course, the creative process, quality of the final artefact and learning diary.

  • Valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022:

    270 h

    Contact teaching: lectures, site visits, group discussions, assignments and final presentation 90 h

    Independent work: literature study, writing assignments, studio work in groups and individually 160 h

    Personal reflection 30 h


Study Material
  • Valid 01.08.2020-31.07.2022:


SDG: Sustainable Development Goals

    9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

    11 Sustainable Cities and Communities

    12 Responsible Production and Consumption

    13 Climate Action

    14 Life Below Water

    15 Life on Land