PBL Spotlight - When Art & Chemistry Collide



We are SO thrilled to share this amazing project concept that emerged from a collaboration between Will Baber, Bill Baber and Bob Huffman at a recent one-day Intro to PBL workshop we facilitated at The Bush School in Seattle, WA!!

Title: The Art of Decomposition

Subject Areas: This project is intended to be a collaboration between the visual arts and any science class.

Grades: 9-12

Group size: 2

Type of Project: Design Challenge

Context: What is art? This question has led us to create with every type of medium known. Sometimes the things we create are meant to disappear or last forever.

Driving Question: Can we create art out of materials that return to the natural composition of the earth over time and leave no trace?

Learning Outcomes:

  • Use of natural materials that we find around us everyday that are produced by the earth

  • Study different types of materials, their chemical and structural makeup, lifespan, volume, density, mass

  • How does the weather around us affect the erosion and decomposition of different materials?

  • Creating a scientific model projection based on the study of decomposition rates

  • Have answer the question, What is art?

  • How to design and compose a three dimensional sculpture that is visually compelling

  • The nature of individual materials and how to connect them

  • Learn how to use tools to manipulate those materials

  • Photoshop

  • Distance themselves from the idea that art is permanence

  • Learn to present as an artist and a scientist​​

Tangible Outcomes:

  • Natural beautiful sculpture garden on campus in various state of decay

  • A work of art

  • Permanent spiritual garden to observe and contemplate erosion and entropy

Adult world connections:

  • Facilities

  • Artists / Scientists

  • Landscape designer


Text for the class: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart presented an integration of design and science that provides enduring benefits for society from safe materials, water and energy in circular economies and eliminates the concept of waste.

Video for the class: Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Tim


  • No larger than a file box in any one direction

  • All of your parts must fit inside the file box

  • You may only use natural materials that are found from the earth

  • Your work of art must return completely to the earth

  • All project must remain outdoors in a specific designated location.

  • Documentation

  • You must document the decomposition of your art piece throughout the year and create scientific model which will provide a projection of when your art will completely return to the earth

  • You must keep detailed photographic documentation of materials used - mass / volume / density / structural / chemical makeup / lifespan

  • You must create visual model of how it will decompose over time

  • You must present your findings to the class


STEP ONE: What professionals might do this type of work in the adult world?

  • Waste management

  • Artist

  • Environmental Scientist

  • Landscape design

STEP TWO: What types of artifacts would those real world professionals create in their jobs?

  • Scientific mode

  • Works of Art

  • Catalogue of materials

  • World wide live feed of art in the act of decomposition

STEP THREE: To whom could students present their work in meaningful ways?

  • Invite professional artists who work with natural materials to critique work

  • Present findings to classmates and teachers

  • People from the greater community will visit the entropy art garden and be able to watch the decomposition live via a webcam.

This project concept was authored collaboratively by Bill Baber, Will Baber and Bob Huffman at The Bush School in Seattle, WA.

For more information, please feel free to contact them at:

Will Baber -

Bill Baber -

Bob Huffman -

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