All posts by karenkuchel

Final – Bioplastics

I continued my experimentation with bioplastics, aiming to find something that imitated the material properties of kelp, creating a thin translucent sheet material, that I could use with light.

My most successful initial piece had used Trader Joe’s all purpose gluten-free flour, which is an unknown proportion of rice flour and tapioca and potato starches:

trader joe

From the initial pieces I had created, I could see that the brown color in this piece probably came from the rice flour, and they were not as durable nor interesting visually. After a few weeks they were brown and cracking.

I did a little research about these starches and the different roles of the vinegar, water and glycerin in the plastic-making process. I found that tapioca and arrowroot had higher starch contents than many of the other starches I had tried or seen used and decided to choose these to experiment with.  I also decided to try guar gum, as it’s a substance used in a lot of gluten-free cooking to create pliability and binding.

The vinegar helps in breaking down starch chains, so making them more usable and the glycerin helps the starch chains slip over each other, giving more pliability. Water helps to mix it all up and make the ingredients workable.

In this further stage of experimentation, I created plastics using only one starch, cooking the following recipe on the stove until it thickened, like gravy:

2 tablespoons starch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons glycerin


Arrowroot was very pliable and smooth to work with, and spread out readily, but it wasn’t very strong:


Tapioca was quite strong and “gummy”, but did not spread as easily into a sheet:


Guar gum was very hard to work with at all stages of the process, and made a very thick stiff ball of plastic:

guar gum

During this stage I was also experimenting with different ways to work with and dry the material. I found that air drying was not much different to drying in an oven at low heat (165 degrees Fahrenheit) for an hour or so. I also found a reliable way of making a sheet material was to place the hot cooked plastic between two sheets of baking paper on which I had spread a release agent (liquid castile soap), and then rolled it out immediately.






I decided to combine pliability and strength of the arrowroot and tapioca and the proportion (by volume) I found that worked best was one of 5:1 arrowroot:tapioca, with proportions of 8:4:2 of water, vinegar, glycerin:

5 teaspoons arrowroot starch
1 teaspoon tapioca starch
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 teaspoons glycerin

I tried some white vinegar in place of apple cider vinegar, and it seemed to only alter the appearance:


I also tried using little amounts of the guar gum together with the tapioca and arrowroot, and this wasn’t particularly successful, as it tends not to mix well.   



It does seem to add some extra strength to the material though so I was interested in finding a way that guar gum might work better. I tried combining it with vinegar before water, but this wasn’t successful once I added the water. I did finally manage to combine it successfully with a larger amount of water (1 cup to 1/4 tsp guar gum) and then mix that with the other ingredients, although this recipe didn’t seem to work out well in the oven, which wouldn’t be promising for working with light that emits any heat:



It is a very interesting texture however.

I also tried embedding other objects in the plastics to see if I could create some hybrid materials. This was somewhat successful, but it needed to be done before rolling the material out or applying any release agent – otherwise the material didn’t bind at all, and some materials still had no affinity – a fruit bag mesh just popped out of the plastic.


My most successful pieces of plastic came from the addition of black tea and coffee in place of some or all of the water.

With 2 tbsp black tea instead of water:


With 2 tbsp black coffee:


With coffee grounds and 1 tbsp water / 1 tbsp coffee:


The tea and coffee seemed to add some ingredient which made the plastic feel more substantial and pliable, even when working with them hot, and yet they didn’t shrink. My guess is that this has something to do with either oils or tannins.

I was able to laser cut a piece with tea, and it took a surprising amount of power to cut. The material had varying thickness, and at its weakest it didn’t stand up to being transported but it was generally quite resilient.


I tested the tea plastic with a 5W LED bulb which doesn’t emit much heat (it’s cool enough to touch after an hour), and the plastic was fine:


The coffee pieces were even more resilient, and the piece to which I added grounds was definitely the most successful piece in many respects, and was very interesting visually.

coffee grounds2

Many of the pieces I made had a lingering smell (even apart from the coffee which is very strong initially) and after seeing some other presentations, I wonder if my recipe could use less vinegar.

I would also like to continue further experiments with agar. Even though I was not initially trying to achieve a fully waterproof plastic, I feel it would be more useful to have a product which is a little more resistant to moisture. I soaked some of my tea plastics in boiling and cold water for a day, and while they weren’t completely destroyed, they did become very brittle once they dried out again. This however could be a useful property where the plastic life needs to be very short because it would break down much more readily.

Bioplastics – progress 23 April 2014


I chose to look at bioplastics made from a starch basis. I looked at several different “recipes” for contents and proportions and established some basic ingredients of a starch, vinegar, water and glycerin.

other ingredients


For starches, I looked at different things I had in my cupboard which might produce an interesting result. I had seen a video for corn starch, so I tried that, plus some different gluten free flours I have. I also tried some chia seeds and coconut, as these are things I have used in gluten-free cooking and I thought they might create something.


process presentation 23 April 2014.indd


Some of the materials created a firm plastic-like material very quickly (20-40 minutes after cooking), but others were still very unworkable. The corn starch was the quickest, and then the three flours. After three days, I assessed the results.

process presentation 23 April 2014.indd

In assessing the results, I used criteria partly based on ease of production, but also the resulting material and its workability, strength and translucency. This is based on some kelp lampshades I have seen by Julia Lohmann, where she uses kelp in sheet form and laser cuts the dried strips to form her art.

dezeen_Kelp-hats-and-lampshades-by-Julia-Lohmann_13 dezeen_Kelp-hats-and-lampshades-by-Julia-Lohmann_sq_5


At this stage the most promising starch looks to be the all-purpose gluten free flour from Trader Joe’s. As I don’t know the exact proportions of the flours in this, I will need to experiment further. I have already experimented with the rice, and from my experience in cooking with tapioca starch, it creates good pliability and translucency, so I think this may explain part of this flour’s success.

I also want to better understand the interaction of other ingredients and manipulate the proportions, as none of the materials I produced is yet strong enough to withstand even gentle wear and tear.

Intimate Science

I found so many things about this exhibition interesting.

As an architecture student, I found the mycelium construction materials intriguing. Phil Ross calls it mycotecture. I was curious about the properties of the bricks, especially in relation to longevity and their conductive/insulative properties, and also whether they have similar structural strength to regular bricks.


I went to his web page to find more (, but it seems this experiment is in the very early stages so he doesn’t have any of this information.

The other exhibit I found most interesting was by Alison Kudla. I’m not sure I fully understood, but it seemed that this printer deposited biological material onto a square substrate using an algorithm related to the Eden growth model. While it wasn’t working when I visited, I was intrigued by the idea of printing something living.


She had also created these beautiful tiled patterns in petri dishes of organic material, and the color change comes from the decay and decomposition.

004 005

The book which accompanies the exhibition can be downloaded for free here:

Midterm – Karen Kuchel – Light


The final product:





And in makerware (files can be found here:



I modified my design significantly from the first idea, partly due to limitations of 3D printing, not the least of which was the material build limit. My initial concept was for something much bigger and with much thicker walls. This didn’t prove to be feasible on a bed size of 5x5x7.

A factor that played into this was building a cylindrical object with a 3D printer makes much more sense from the bottom up,  but it is also the longest dimension.

The design then evolved into an intersection of pipes extruded, copied and rotated from the twisted wireframe form I had developed. I could successfully export an STL file of this form, but it froze the makerbot software each time I tried to export and make it. There was also some concern about its fragility (the walls being only 1-5mm thick in order to allow light transmission), and the way the shape bowed out, and that this might fail.

In order to simply the design but retain some of the concept, I created a solid cylinder with differing wall thickness. The wall thickness varies in relation to the location of the original wireframe, where some isocurves were much closer together than others, and this was an indication of how the original sphere had been digitally twisted.

This change in dimension also meant a different choice of light bulb. I chose an LED bulb in order to make sure the temperature stayed low, and it had to be a lot smaller than a regular A19 form, but it did retain the medium base socket.
version 1 - small version 2 wireframe - small version 3-small  

Karen Kuchel – Midterm concept





This is an initial sketch I drew for my midterm. The idea I have is to create some kind of spherical light shade that uses irregular perforations which would be difficult to make by traditional fabrication methods, but are much more feasible with 3D printing.

I’d like to make it so that the angle of the perforations is intentionally sloping to direct light, but narrow enough so that the light source isn’t visible.

I’ve started experimenting with perforations by cutting parallel hyperbolic paraboloid planes through a sphere. I’m not sure these are quite the right size or even the right shape to be working with. I would like more perforations and smaller, so it might be that I need smaller planes which are arrayed in three dimensions.

001 small capture 1 capture 2 capture 3

Karen Kuchel

I’m in my third year of the dual masters in architecture and lighting design. My undergraduate degrees are in mathematics, economics and music.

My interest in this class is for a few reasons:

- everything I do is constructed from materials of some kind, and I want to understand more about the nature of different materials

- I want to study the appearance of materials and the interconnection with light in my thesis

- I really like the intersection of fabrication and technology that Aisen and Conor bring to materials

Here are some different materials that inspire me: