Dripping surface: Exploring degradation mechanism of bio-based plastic polylactide with focus on Jerszy Seymours Living Systems (2007)

Patricia Hanimann
Hochschule der Künste, Bern, Switzerland

The furniture group Living Systems (2007) by Jerszy Seymour, made of bio-plastic polylactide (PLA), is part of the Vitra Design Museum Collection in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Given significant material changes that occurred on the surface during the past years, Living Systems came in focus of a MA thesis written at the University of Applied Sciences Bern. The bio-based plastic PLA is made by fermentation of renewable resources like corn starch, sugar cane or beets. Increasingly popular as material in Art and Design, this plastic is not designed for its longevity and raises new questions regarding its preservation. Only nine years after the creation of Living Systems, the plastic shows significant degradation phenomena, such as high brittleness, drop formation on the materials surface, and the emission of a strong odour.
Exploring different degradation pathways and mechanism that could be responsible for these degradation phenomena, the unknown fluid degradation product was determined by using Infrared Spectroscopy on micros samples (μFTIR). In addition, experiments with acid-detecting (A-D Strips) and the use of emission test chamber methods (HPLC-UV and GC-MS) provide a deeper understanding of Living Systems’ gaseous emissions. Results of the material analysis indicate that the drop formation and odour is related to hydrolytic degradation of PLA.
The results contribute to a better understanding of degradation phenomena of the furniture group Living Systems and give an insight into possible degradation phenomena and mechanism of PLA.