Sandcastles Solidified Into Permanent Housing, With The Help Of Bacteria

By repurposing a process developed for construction, a team of designers discovered how to build a sandcastle that won’t wash away.

It was always so deflating. Your tiny child hand would spend the afternoon digging moats and shaping turrets. Then, one particularly large wave would make its way to your fortress. The water filled the moat–maybe you’d stop the rush this time!–before it soaked into the castle walls and washed away everything you’d built.


If only you’d had the Memorabilia Factory, by French studio Bold-design, your castle might still be standing today. It’s a working concept kit that includes a mold, a bacteria solution and a calcifying agent. You mold your sand as you’d like, stir in the bacteria (Sporosarcina pasteurii), then add the calcifying agent. What you get is the product of biological calcification–a sandstone sculpture that’s rock-hard and waterproof, reinforced by a microscopic lattice of calcium carbonate crystals.

The process itself was an idea that occurred to Bold-design when, at the Design Exquis Exhibition, they were challenged to think of the role of bacteria on beaches. Faced with other concepts that seemed to fear the bacteria–ideas included metal-detector like wands parents could use to spot unsafe zones–the team recalled their own experiences eating sand while growing up. They wanted to embrace this (admittedly gross) childhood impulse rather than thwart it.

Meanwhile, they were familiar with the Stromatolites around the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand, and they wondered if they could package this natural phenomenon as a consumer good to make permanent sand castles.

Research brought them to a construction firm, Soletanche Bachy, who’d already developed a bacteria calcification process (Biocalcis®) to do just that. Soletanche Bachy used bacteria to harden sand to make beachfront construction sites more stable, and they agreed to share their technology with Bold-design. The result was the Memorabilia Factory, realized.

As of today, the Memorabilia Factory is a touring art installation, enabling people to create and take home their own sand souvenirs. But it would make a fantastic consumer product, wouldn’t it? I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t want to take a piece of their vacation back home with them. Then again, a coastline littered with the permanent, calcified architecture of 5-year-olds isn’t necessarily the beach vacation experience that most of us are after.

See more here.


[Hat tip: dezeen]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.