Charlett Wenig and Johanna Hehemeyer-Cürten

The Bark Project: Sustainable objects made from tree bark by combining science and design


Our work involves experiments based on material-focused analyses using scientific and design methods. Through an interplay of design and basic scientific research, sustainable design concepts are developed. Studying the material characteristics of tree bark is the starting point for this work. By developing design prototypes, this research and the innovation potential of tree bark becomes visible to a broad audience. The Bark Sphere was designed in 2020. It is a walk-in exhibition object that makes our research visually, and allows to experience the material properties such as climate and scent.
Bark comprises about 10%-20% of the entire tree and is a waste product of the traditional wood industry . About 4 million m³ of waste bark are produced in German sawmills every year . However, due to its complex chemical and structural composition tree bark in comparison to wood, has few design applications in today’s industry. The combination of specific techniques with knowledge of chemical and mechanical properties of various types of bark makes bark a relevant material for future design applications. The “Bark Sphere” is a suggestion on how this can be done. Bark has good tensile strength in the fiber direction. This can be maximized by certain weaving techniques which we used for the development of the Bark Sphere.
Working at the interface of science and design while considering relevance in relation to society is very important to us. The underlying idea behind the Bark Sphere is therefore to highlight the urgency of environmentally sustainable and fair alternatives in design and, consequently, to the current linear economy, and to make them accessible to a broad public. We want to contribute to a rethinking of industry and society through interdisciplinary projects and develop concepts that initiate a holistic experience and transport dreams and visions.

¹ Harkin, John M. 1971. Bark and its possible uses. Vol. 91: Forest Products Laboratory, US Forest Service.
² Wollenberg, Ing Ralf, and Dipl-Ing Christian Warnecke. 2005. Neue Einsatzgebiete für Rinden durch Produktentwicklung.

The project was realized in the context of the PhD project of Charlett Wenig at the Max-Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces.