“Luffa Lab by Mauricio Affonso will be exhibited during the London Design Festival at the SustainRCA Show & Awards 2013 from 20 September â 4 October, 2013. Luffa Lab is an award winning project lead by Brazilian born designer Mauricio Affonso, a recent graduate from the Design Products program at the Royal College of Art.
Luffa Lab explores new applications for luffa material. Although usually associated with scrubbing your back in the shower and being constantly mistaken by a sea cucumber, luffa is actually a fast growing tropical vine plant from the same plant family as the cucumbers, pumpkins and courgettes.
Working in collaboration with a luffa community in Bonfim a city in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Mauricio learned about the origins of luffa from farming communities, artisans and trading experts. Concerned with the environmental sustainability of materials, and with the lack of connection most designers have with the development of materials, Mauricio has even been growing his own luffa.
Little explored beyond its conventional use as a bath sponge, Luffa is natural smart material. ‘I was inspired by the astonishing properties of Luffa’ he says. ‘Luffa fibres form a complex network of cellulose that act like an open cell foam material that is both extremely strong and lightweight’. Its vast range of properties also include being highly absorbent and antimicrobial â features that Mauricio discovered make it a viable material for applications such packaging, filters, low cost splints and acoustic insulator.
The Luffa splints for example, are made by stretching the luffa fibres when wet and compressing them into a mould. Since little process is involved in creating these devices they can be made at a very low cost, providing an affordable solution for people living in countries with limited or no access to health care. The benefits of Luffa splints is that they can perform better than synthetic splints using expensive materials. The Luffa splints are also strong, light weight, breathable and completely biodegradable.
Mauricio also demonstrates how Luffa can be used to soak up toxic dye waste from the denim industry. The resulting coloured luffa can then be moulded to form luffa acoustic wall tiles for home and commercial interiors.
‘It is not often that a designer will stumble upon a material that can offer so many possibilities’, Mauricio explains, ‘The goal of Luffa Lab is to combine innovative designs that advance sustainable materials and practices that will entice a positive social and environmental outcome.’
As the recipient of the Deutsche Bank Awards for Creative Enterprises, Mauricio will focus on developing and commercializing the luffa splints, as a low-cost and biodegradable alternative to synthetic ones, as well as helping communities that grow luffa in Brazil to refine their range of products. He also hopes to continue his research into the luffa fibres with the goal of finding a new wide range of applications for this material while helping develop the community economies that are build around luffa.”