Dwindling energy resources, mounting waste, and environmental damage are all issues that designers are faced with in today’s modern world. They are also the main issues explored by the most recent Philips Design Probes project. Set up to explore future lifestyle scenarios, the Probes projects are intended to expand our understanding of future socio-cultural and technological shifts with a view to developing solutions that satisfy our needs without destroying the planet .

With the Microbial Home, which is currently being exhibited at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the Philips Design team has sought to achieve a drastic cut in the environmental impact of our homes by creating a domestic ecosystem that challenges conventional design solutions to energy, cleaning, food preservation, lighting, human waste and healthy lifestyle.

Designers have an obligation to understand the urgency of the situation, and translate humanity’s needs into solutions” says Clive van Heerden, Senior Director of Design-led Innovation at Philips Design. “Energy-saving light bulbs will only take us so far. We need to push ourselves to rethink domestic appliances entirely, to rethink how homes consume energy, and how entire communities can pool resources.”

By creating an integrated, cyclical ecosystem whereby the output of certain processes provides the input of others, the Microbial Home acts as a biological machine to filter, process and recycle what we conventionally think of as waste – sewage, effluent, garbage, and waste water.

At the heart of the Microbial Home system is the bio-digester kitchen island, which consists of a methane digester that converts bathroom waste solids and vegetable trimmings into methane gas that is used to power a series of functions in the home. The repositionable kitchen island includes a chopping surface with vegetable waste grinder, a gas cooking range, a glass tank that shows energy reserves, and glass elements showing pressure, volume and readiness of compost sludge.

The composted material and methane gas from the bio-digester can then be transported to a wall of glass cells which make up the bio-light. The fuel is used to feed a culture of bioluminescent bacteria, which in turn power the bio-light creating ambient green mood lighting.

The kitchen also features a larder, which is designed to use natural processes to keep ‘living food’ fresh. A twin-walled terra cotta evaporative cooler and vegetable storage system is built into the dining table. The compartments and chambers vary in wall thicknesses and volumes, and are designed to keep different types of food at different optimal temperatures. Above the table is a ceramic garden and larder where vegetable groups are grown and stored.

An unconventional urban beehive allows us to keep bees at home and harvest the honey that they produce. The hive consists of two parts: an entry passage and flower pot outside, and a glass vessel containing an array of honeycomb frames, inside. As global bee colonies are in decline, this design contributes to the preservation of the species and encourages the return of the urban bee.

Plastic packaging waste is a problem in most households, but the paternoster waste up-cycler allows families to utilize the powerful enzymes and decomposing power of funghi to break it down. Plastics are ground into small chips and mixed with a fungal starter culture in a glass canister, which is slotted into a compartment of the ‘paternoster’ system. Each week plastic grounds are mixed with mycelium. Provided the inks on the plastic did not contain toxic heavy metals, this mycelium could, in theory, generate edible mushrooms.

Designed to show the energy value in human waste and raise awareness about wasting water, the filtering squatting toilet filters effluent through charcoal, sand and ceramic filters while channelling excreta into the methane digester. The concept is sustainable and ecological as it uses no energy, saves water and causes no pollution.

By mimicking nature’s processes, the Microbial Home could allow us to enter a Biological Age, one where materials can repair themselves and where by-products are no longer waste, but fuel for other systems.