Find products

Use our product finder to search for products and materials

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive news about events and exhibitions, innovation and materials on the latest building product innovations, case studies and more.
I have read and agree to the terms and conditions of usage and The Building Centre's Privacy Policy.

Materials crafted from unusual products

22 Aug 2019
By Anna Marks

Six materials that have been crafted from unusal waste materials: human hair, spider silk, plant roots, urine, cow dung and dust. 


Human hair


Sanne Visser collects discarded human hair from salons in London and transforms it into a spectrum of utilitarian products, each varying in scale and application.


Human hair has a tremendous tensile strength and a single human hair can hold up to 100 grams of weight. The material is also flexible, insulating and absorbs oil.


Visser’s project, The New Age of Trichology, illustrates how the 6.5 million kilograms of human hair collected annually in the UK can become a valuable raw material for multiple industries whilst preventing it from clogging up natural environments.


Visser first spins the hair into yarn of varying grades (based on hair type) then turns the yarn into rope.


The material can be used for: shoulder straps, bungee cords, water bottle holders and large bags.


Spider silk


California-based company Bolt Threads uses the proteins found in spider silk by placing spider genetics (which enable the spider to produce silk) into yeast.


The spider silk proteins are produced via fermentation. Once the fermented silk protein is spun, the fibre is knitted and woven into a silky material which is durable, elastic, and has a steel-like strength.


The material can be used for: clothing and textiles. 


Plant roots


Diana Scherer explores the relationship between humankind and the desire to control the natural world.


In her project, Interwoven, Scherer manipulates plant root systems and turns them into a textile-like material. Using templates as moulds, the roots conform to the patterns and braid themselves into Scherer's chosen form.


The material can be used for: interior textiles.




Designed by Sinae Kim, This is Urine explores the potential use of urine as a glazing material.


Society's perception of urine is that of a waste product but the material contains valuable components such as water, ammonia, urea and minerals. By focusing on the material benefits, Kim explores the potential of the inorganic components in urine as an alternative glazing material. 


Kim’s material can be used for: ceramics.




Lucie Libotte’s Dust Matter project challenges the idea of ‘unwanted objects’ by giving domestic dust a new material use and meaning.


Collecting dust from homes and buildings, Libotte combines the dust with ceramic materials.


When placed in the kiln, the dust chemically reacts to the ceramic glaze and undergoes a purification process, changing the material's chemical state. The result is a range of bespoke earth-coloured vessels which reflect their sampled environments.


The material can be used for: ceramics.


Cow dung 


Agricultural entrepreneur and founder of the Museum of Shit, Gianantonio Locatelli, constructs ceramic objects out of cow dung. Merdacotta, is translated as ‘baked shit’ and is a terracotta-like material crafted from combining cow manure, Tuscan clay and straw. 


After the manure is collected, it undergoes a purification process where the urea and methane are extracted, transforming it into an odourless material. Once the odourless manure, clay and straw are combined, the material is fashioned into Locatelli’s chosen design.


Merdacotta is lighter than industrial terracotta, more resilient to the cold weather, and is increasingly resistant to cracking. Locatelli’s tableware is covered in glaze then baked again, and can be used to eat and drink from.


The material can be used for:  bricks, plaster, floor tiles, toilets and tableware.


To learn about 5 biomaterials that have grown themselves, click here.