Gabe Tavas
Biodesigner, Explorer, Activist
Gabe Tavas works full-time as the founder and CEO of Symmetry Wood, an early-stage biotech company that is the first to ever create solid wood from bacterial cellulose waste (sourced especially from the kombucha industry). The wood, Pyrus™, is geared as a replacement for tropical hardwoods.

Gabe graduated recently as part of the first class of the Master in Design for Distributed Innovation (MDDI), which focuses on enabling localized circular economies around the world and is tied closely to the Fab City Initiative and Maker Movement. He is also one of the first graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Design from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Click for more info: Tree conservation, food biodiversity, and river restoration
Before starting college, where Gabe was set to study industrial design, he spent 7 weeks living in the mountains of Ecuador with an indigenous host family as part of an immersion program of non-profit Amigos de Las Americas. He grew enormously as a person during that time, but also became deeply worried and restless over environmental problems. He and his host siblings -- no older than 7 at the time -- were often forced to inhale toxic fumes from firepits burning plastic garbage that had nowhere else to go. Now determined to avoid petroleum-based materials in his own design practice, Gabe used free time outside of class to research and tinker with more sustainable materials. Over time, he made promising prototypes and attracted team members at his university. Eventually, the project gained international recognition and became the growing company that it is today. Symmetry remains Gabe's primary focus.
Biobased Wetlands (2023 - Present)
Rivers are truly essential to life on Earth and key pillars of biodiversity. Of the 500+ cities with populations numbering over a million people, at least 60% of them exist along a river. However, these same rivers have been subjected to severe pollution and habitat degradation. To help reverse the damage, Gabe created a final project in his graduate studies at IAAC that proposes the installation of biobased wetlands. Essentially, plants are grown in floating mycelium platforms -- formed from organic or construction waste -- and staked with willow branches grafted and weaved underwater to hold freshwater mussels. The floating plants get water and nutrients, the mycelium acts as an effective substrate for algae, and the mussels receive shelter and food that enable them to filter contaminated water. It is a neat example of "symbiotic design", where each component has a positive, interchanging effect on the others.
In October 2022, Gabe helped bring together a group of artists and scientists at ChiTownBio, Chicago's first inner-city community biology lab, to win the non-student category of the 2022 Biodesign Sprint competition. The team's dream: convert neglected city lots into edible food forests teeming with native plants for the local community and ecosystem! Gabe's work focused on creating architectural diagrams of reimagined lots. The whole project continues as part of a decentralized organization called Sylvanhold.
A crowdfunded robot that the public can use to collect floating trash in city waterways. It was essentially an attempt to gamify the experience of environmental cleanup: people could login to a website to remotely control the robot and gather floating debris. More software development is needed to make this kind of project viable in the long-run. In the meantime, however, it is partially open-sourced on Wikifactory. Gabe built much of the hardware, helped demo the robot in Melbourne, Australia, and wrote the description posted on Wikifactory.
Gabe excels at the brainstorming for projects, finding overlooked resources, and pitching his ideas confidently to different stakeholders. Most of all, when he truly believes in something, he works and learns relentlessly for it.
Endlessly curious about other cultures and worlds, Gabe has lived near the mountains of Chimborazo, Ecuador with an indigenous community for 7 weeks, trekked 11 miles of Zion National Park's Narrows in winter, and joined an international design sprint in Bali.
This is Gabe's main concentration. He is deeply unsatisfied with how much designers rely on petroleum plastics and other harmful materials and actively looks for way to disrupt that status quo. Symmetry Wood started with 2+ years of his biomaterial tinkering.
Learning in makerspaces like Chicago's Pumping Station One and mHub since his early years in high school and is very familiar with the dynamics involved in them. He was one of the first staff members managing the makerspace in the Siebel Center for Design.
Spent time in community biology labs like Genspace, which taught him how to use basic biotech tools, and did field work with National Geographic explorers searching for new species of life in the Potentino Valley of Italy
Digital Fabrication
5+ years of experience using 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as intensive work with large CNC machines like the Shopbot.
Food System Design
Gabe has been steadily growing his knowledge of regenerative agriculture, landscape design, and fermentation. Some of his forays include sauerkraut, black pears, koji, and mango kombucha. He also led a foraging group that made elderberry wine with berries from along the Chicago River.
Get in touch
If you have a project that aligns with my mission and skills, feel free to reach me at:
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