page 04 - 11
Interview with biomimicry expert, Ilaria Mazzoleni
page 12 - 13
Nature built by robots
Michael Wihart's soft machines
page 15 - 18
Best of Bio-design
page 19 - 29
Bio-cities of tomorrow
Microbial Home by Philips Design
page 31 - 33
page 34 - 38
Johanna Schmeer's interactive, edible products
Philip Beesley's "living" environments
page 40 - 42
Mushroom materials by Ecovative Design
Gothic soft architecture updated
page 44 - 48
Against hard inert buildings
page 49 - 50
page 51 - 54
XVIII. Dawn of the Planet of the Grapes
uncube's editors are Sophie Lovell (Art Director, Editor-in-Chief), Florian Heilmeyer, Rob Wilson and Elvia Wilk; editorial assistance: Susie S. Lee and Leigh Theodore Vlassis; graphic design: Lena Giovanazzi; graphics assistance: Madalena Guerra. uncube is based in Berlin and is published by BauNetz, Germany's most-read online magazine covering architecture in a thoughtful way since 1996.
In this, our most speculative issue yet, we dip into the world of biohacking and wetlabs and consider the idea of the “soft machine” in terms of biomimetic architecture and synthetic biology – humans either mimicking or reverse-engineering nature.
Forget any Burroughs-esque ideas of soft machines as singular entities (that’s so twentieth century) or Man vs. Nature (so Hemingway). Tomorrow’s world will see humans merged with nature and ecosystem integration. That, say our featured experts, implies increased complexity, interdisciplinarity – and total system restructure.
Get back to nature.
The uncube team
For many people the idea of biomimicry is an aesthetic, something “skin deep” or decorative. Biomorphic architecture in this sense has been around for millennia. What makes the relatively new field of biomimetic architecture different?
Design has a strong formal component, so when architects look at nature the formal aspect has often been the driving force, with function questioned less. This is where the opportunities are for biomimetic design – really tapping into the functional and performative aspects of architecture. But we’re still at a very early stage in this field.
Is this also because we’re only just beginning to develop the technology allowing us to do this?
Yes, certainly technological progress is a component, but so too is the way we perceive technology and engineering, which is so twentieth century still. I don’t see biomimicry as high- or low-tech; it is part of a balance, just like nature. Using either technology, or very passive systems as and when necessary, is where our intelligence can really mediate and work.
Your main topic of research is the extrapolation of architectural principles from nature. The counterpoint, which we’re also discussing in this issue, is synthetic biology, or how to reverse-engineer nature according to human design. Are these the flipsides of the same issue? Do they reinforce each other?
I hope they will reinforce each other. But I would also see them as just parallel beautiful actions, be it the development of new substances used for medicine or of synthetic construction materials inspired by nature that are biocompatible and extremely useful. It is all about how we can improve our impact.
Both synthetic biology and biomimicry seem to be very “hot” fields at the moment, but many of the projects shown and cited, including those in your recent book, are still at the conceptual stage, or what you call “proto-architectural”. It all sounds great in theory, but how realistic are all these future visions of biotic/abiotic fusion?
Yes, I agree, but that’s the nature of research, right? Think of computing and the promises made a century ago, and how fast it’s evolving now. It’s the incubation part – the research – that takes time. When I started teaching biomimicry in 2005, I spent half my time explaining to students what it might be. And now everybody knows what it is. So there is a change happening in the way we see and understand the world. But it takes time to have a good project. I don’t like generating fast solutions and applying labels to things that are not quite ready.
The biomimetic focus in your book is on “skin”. Could you describe the importance of the analogy between skin and building envelopes?
There are several reasons. Skin is quite a complex organ with a multitude of very important functions. We know intuitively that it’s something very important for our bodies. Similarly in architecture: the building envelops us. Skin is the same as a building envelope both formally and functionally – a filter between outside and inside. So this analogy is a clear entry point for understanding biomimicry.
You suggest the goal of biomimicry is a symbiotic relationship between architecture and nature, but isn’t it just another form of manipulation or intervention? Is it not just as parasitic and invasive a relationship as ever?
Hopefully not. The risk is there of course, but everything that surrounds building, including the economy, is based on traditional parameters. Economics means money and it’s a very narrow way of managing everything. This is why I would plead for being slower. We should take our time to really understand how we can work with nature, rather than exploit it. Of course we are always modifying and intervening in our environment, but if we see ourselves as part of nature, then I think our interventions can be different. It’s not about taking no action, but more careful action.
Why do we have to be careful?
Because ecosystems are very complex things. Science is very young, and we know so little about the world. It’s amazing that we are still finding new species of mammals and we don’t even know how many kinds of insects there are on earth. We haven’t classified them, let alone studied them and their importance.
There is so much we can learn from science, through researching further with people in different fields. The danger is to rush solutions – saying we understand something as architects, without seeing how it works in relationship to other stuff – and so become shortsighted or generate abstract solutions.
So interdisciplinary collaborations are essential from this standpoint…
Interdisciplinary collaboration is a must. We spent many centuries specialising and have diverged so much that we need to put our knowledge back together through sharing and cross-pollinating, facilitated now by digital information exchange. But data is not information. Just because something is available online doesn’t mean we understand it. Interdisciplinary collaboration means: I do my work, you do your work and together we share and understand. It’s not me becoming many; it’s me working with many.
But actually making this happen, creating change, is easier said than done isn’t it?
We always talk about future generations, but that’s a very abstract way of thinking. As humans we’re not hardwired to survive for the long term; we are hardwired to survive until dinner. For aeons, evolution has prompted us to find food for tonight and now in the past 50 years or so we’ve started worrying about future generations. It’s a shift in our behaviour that is not as simple as being prodded into change.
Ilaria Mazzoleni is an architect and founder of IM Studio Milano/Los Angeles. Her conceptual work has been published internationally, and her built work can be found in Italy, California, and Ghana. Her professional and academic investigation focuses upon sustainable architecture on all scales of design with a research focus on biomimicry: where innovation in architecture and design is inspired by the processes and functions of nature. Since 2005 she has been a full-time faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles.
All images featured here are from the book Architecture Follows Nature, in which Mazzoleni and her colleagues propose ways to adapt the qualities of specific animals for potential architectural projects. Animal and architecture diagrams were made by the respective project teams who worked on each case study: Ochre Sea Star: Paul Mecomber, Adrian Ariosa; Polar Bear: im studio mi/la, Ilaria Mazzoleni, Alessandro Colli, Richard Molina; Tree Pangolin: Ross Ferrari, Thomas Carpentier; Urania Moth: Benedetta Frati, Nir Zarfaty.
Architecture Follows Nature: Biomimetic Principles for Innovative Design
CRC Press, 2013
If in nature everything is interconnected in a vastly subtle and complex system, wouldn’t shifting architecture to a more biomimetic approach suggest we have to change everything – our education systems, our commercial systems, our political systems?
Yes, in that architecture is not just building per se. Whilst we can’t do everything as architects, we should definitely be part of this change. One thing can’t evolve while the rest remains static. The big lesson from nature is to aim for balance. Everything needs to push and pull, evolve or adapt, or even disappear. It’s pretty simple to understand, but very complex to achieve. One way of achieving this, in a democracy, is slowness – slowing processes down, getting people to accept things over time. I used to be more pessimistic, but now I think things are actually happening – you just need to look at them in the right timescale.
Well, evolution has had a few million years to get it right...
Yes, and in that respect it might be too late. We are quick at destroying things and very slow at generating good actions. I
The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) headed by Prof. Achim Menges and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) headed by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Knippers are faculties of the University of Stuttgart, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning. Their collaboration includes a series of temporary research pavilions that are focused on biomimetic design strategies for performative morphology in architecture.
The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart have been conceptualising and constructing an ongoing series of research pavilions. These structures are products of collaborations between a multitude of disciplines – including biologists, paleontologists, architects and engineers from a broad spectrum of educational institutions throughout Germany.
The aim is to research and analyse natural fibre composite shells within biological organisms.
Technologies modelled on these natural design strategies are then used to generate innovative robotic fabrication methods for fibre-reinforced polymer structures – the best of which are constructed as pavilions each year. The most recent building came out of a biomimetic investigation of beetle wing cases, known as elytrons. By analysing the composition of these tiny naturally-engineered structures, the team was able to decipher and identify a geometric doubled-layered system and translate it into an otherworldly piece of architecture. I (ltv)
Michael Wihart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1975. He holds a Masters in Architectural Design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he has been running Diploma Unit 24 and is currently completing his design-led doctoral research. Besides practicing and teaching architecture, Michael has researched the architectural relevance of soft machines through theory, design and experimentation. Michael’s works and writings have been published and presented internationally in reviewed and edited literature, conferences and exhibitions. He has been based in London since 2004.
Architect Michael Wihart’s research speculates on softening architecture through machines and revising architecture’s relationship with the human body. He cites key influences as Nicholas Negroponte’s groundbreaking work Soft Architecture Machines (1975), William S. Burroughs’ proto-cyborgian novel The Soft Machine (1961) and Georges Teyssot’s essay Hybrid Architecture (2005). Wihart’s most recent series of soft mechanical and silicone hybrids, driven by embedded pneumatics, derives from studies of soft organisms, such as molluscs. Departing from traditional assembly-driven mechanical conceptions, his soft machine designs draw on the “relational, embedded and embodied”, which represent for him “the idea of architecture as a partially transformable, compliant, sensitive and sensual body”, one that is conditioned by and conditions its own constituent systems, materials, morphologies and behaviours. I (sl)
Edited by Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy
Hardcover, 368 pages
The MIT Press, 2014
Project funded by the NSF and EPSRC and run by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University.
The MIT Press
This book sums up an “experimental, international research project between synthetic biology, art, design and social science”. The team behind the project gathers some of the foremost pioneers of synthetic biology and biodesign, from biologists such as Drew Endy to designers like Daisy Ginsberg and social scientists like Jane Calvert. It not only touches on some of the milestones of this new form of collaborative design field, but also attempts to set some parameters and benchmarks for its future development.
Each individual Organ-On-Chip is composed of a clear flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined with living human cells. Because the microdevices are translucent, they provide a window into the inner workings of human organs. The Wyss Institute team is working to build ten different human Organs-On-Chips and link them together on an automated instrument to mimic whole-body physiology. The instrument will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time observation of the cultured tissues and analysis of complex biochemical functions. This instrumented “human-on-a-chip” will be used to rapidly assess responses to developing pharmaceuticals, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.
Testing new compounds and medicines on humans is extremely labourious, expensive, risky and time-consuming. Organs-on-Chips can help speed up and streamline the process by offering simulations of the behaviour of different organs when exposed to the new molecules. As the institute’s website explains, Organs-on-Chips are engineered “microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine”. For a design curator, discovering the gracefulness in the architecture of these elegant objects is an added, awesome bonus.
The Silk Pavilion’s primary structure consists of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Inspired by a single silkworm’s ability to generate a 3D cocoon out of a single silk thread up to a kilometer in length, the overall geometry of the pavilion was created using an algorithm that assigns a continuous thread across patches providing various degrees of density informed by the silkworm itself. The structures generated by the silkworms were studied as a computational schema for determining shape and material optimisation of fibre-based surface structures. Research and design was done by the Mediated Matter Research Group at the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto (TUFTS University) and Dr. James Weaver (Wyss Institute, Harvard University).
Neri Oxman and the
Mediated Matter Group at MIT Media Lab
A breathtaking, arresting and effective demonstration of a new way of making and building, the Silk Pavilion is constructed by thousands of silkworms deployed on a basic structure devised after studying and digitally mapping their behaviour in response to different light, temperature and other environmental conditions. In this example of architecture, nature is actively engaged as the silkworms become the construction workers, or “biological 3D printers”. The pavilion speaks about a new balance between nature and artifice; about new and better approaches to our built environment; about innovative and sustainable materials and techniques; about the mindful way in which we will need to build and live in the future. p
Biomimicry and synthetic design is all about (eco)systems. uncube asked the directors of urban design studio ecoLogicStudio to explain how their work, which marries state-of-the-art digital computational technologies with ecology and the study of animal and plant colony behaviour, can aid mastering the complexity involved in planning global urban futures.
Cities and their morphologies are determined by the flows of matter, information and energy that fuel their metabolisms. In the contemporary globalised world, such flows span continents and connect points across the biosphere as part of a resource-driven industry that is both necessary to the survival of our urbanising society and detrimental to the wealth and well-being of its inhabitants.
The research of ecoLogicStudio in conjunction with the BIO-Urban Design Lab at the UCL in London is devoted to the re-conceptualisation and redesign of global industrial and post-industrial territories with the aim of envisioning the “bio-city” of the future. To this end, our research deploys biomimetic and biotechnological models of collective intelligence and develops resilient and adaptive urban protocols and morphologies.
If we look at the collective intelligence at work in biological systems, such as in ant colonies, we realise that activities like providing and transforming food, or designing and building nest morphologies, are achieved through mechanisms of communication that utilise the environment itself to transmit information (this process is termed stigmergic communication).
Ants communicate through the pheromone traces they leave, which respond to local environmental conditions like evaporation rates. The environment is internalised in these communication systems; no overall planning exists and there is no-top down communication strategy, only a continuous form of local adaptation and feedback mediated by the environment. This means that overall coordination and decision-making take place as an emergent property of the colony’s behaviour within a specific milieu and any transformation that affects the environment is automatically registered.
In our research at the BIO-UD Lab we have applied such behavioural logistics and related digital simulation codes to a series of case studies, among them agri-urban terrains in Tunisia – mainly devoted to the production and distribution of food, the harvest of renewable energy and the filtering of industrial waste – and large mining landscapes in Arizona. These vast “manufactured landscapes”, while often peripheral to city centres, are key nodes in the resource-driven network that fuels global industrialisation and urbanisation. Though often problematic in terms of environmental quality or safety and well hidden from public scrutiny, these terrains are a critical part of the footprint of contemporary cities on a transcontinental scale.
In our efforts to re-envision the relationship between the city and these industrial or post-industrial landscapes, we soon realised that the most fundamental obstacle is the logic of “zoning” that still dominates urban planning and territorial categorisation. When the modernists formulated the concept of urban zoning in the heyday of the Second Industrial Revolution, it was based on an idea of the city that followed the dominant mechanistic paradigm. Complexity as a fully developed theory and science had not yet been formulated and tested, and management was only dealt with by separating incompatible functions. Zoning was the chosen method for protecting urban dwellers from pollution and the ugly side of urbanisation.
Parks provided an idealised idea of nature as a leisurely backdrop to residential zones, while industry was confined within dedicated areas; the zoned city operated like a large machine and each zone was occupied by smaller mechanisms with dedicated, specified goals.
However, we now have a notion of the machine that is radically evolved from mechanical machines. In the words of the English cyberneticist Gordon Pask, it is a “machine with an underspecified goal, a system that evolves” – a much more biological notion. One that is well exemplified by the mechanism of the stigmergic collective intelligence of ants described above. From this new perspective the programmatic and functional differentiation of urban terrains becomes an evolutionary and collective process that constantly feeds back from the scale of the individual agent or machine to the scale of the collective. Boundaries, like those between the urban and the wild, are re-described and blurred: they are fuzzy in the sense that they can only be established statistically and through time-based simulations.
Thus envisioning the city of the future could coincide with the morphological, material and social re-programming of the industry we have inherited from modernity into a new form of biospheric industry.
In instances of biological self-organisation there is no absolute or predetermined concept of waste or pollution. When the CO2 levels within the fungi gardens of the Leaf Cutter Ant’s nests becomes dangerously high, for example, the colony manipulates the morphology of the nest to increase natural ventilation. The way this feature is designed and constructed is based on local knowledge, that is, upon the subjective local reactions of millions of individual ants to the local levels of CO2. This mechanism utilises a potentially dangerous output of the ants’ farming industry – a pollutant – as a driving force to synthesise new morphological and microclimatic upgrades in the nest.
In order to apply these mechanisms to urban design scenarios, we have developed a series of wet models and living test beds, where digitally fabricated terrains derived from high-resolution survey maps are inoculated with living organisms that are in turn monitored in real-time.
In one of these experiments, a slime mould (Physarum polycephalum) is introduced onto a 3D-printed petri dish that reproduces the topography of the copper mining region near the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The slime mould is kept wet and food is dropped in the exact locations of present and future mining. The food is also coloured accordingly to the specific mineral content of the mine. As the mould expands to reach out for food it forms a network and begins dissolving and distributing the nutrients along it. A high-resolution webcam captures the mould’s behaviour, morphology and the colour nuances at any moment in time; the image is then translated via digital code into a set of animated drawings and large-scale plans.
Each node of the bio-network of the future must evolve a specific behaviour and related function of its own, while contributing to the emergent collective process. When it comes to the provision of energy from renewable sources and locally grown food, the cultivation of microalgae promises to become a key future urban biotechnology. This vision is about to become reality as part of a large biodigital canopy structure for the Future Food District at the Milan EXPO 2015.
Our biodigital canopy project augments micro-algal cultures with digital cultivation protocols to evolve a new energy-generating, food-producing architectural prototype. The flows of nutrients, water and CO2 within the canopy are regulated to respond and adjust to weather patterns and visitor movements. As the sun shines more intensely, algae will photosynthesise and grow, thus reducing the transparency of the canopy and increasing its shading potential. Furthermore, the behaviour of visitors is tracked to alter the speed of algal flow to the canopy, which becomes visible as patterns of colour and opacity.
At any moment in time the transparency, colour and shading potential of the canopy will be the product of a complex set of relationships between climate, microalgae, visitors and digital control systems. Once completed, the Urban Algae Canopy will produce the oxygen equivalent of four hectares of woodland and up to 150 kilogrammes of biomass per day, 60 percent of which are natural vegetal proteins.
Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto are co-founders of ecoLogicStudio, a London-based architectural and urban design studio. The studio has built up an international reputation for its innovative work on systemic design, computational design, bio-hacking and digital prototyping. It’s broadened approach to design – ranging from the micro to the macro and from nanotechnologies to urban networks – is embodied into an experimental practice, where projects and installations become laboratories of interactions. Locally activated design protocols synthesize a form of expanded hyper-reality hacking larger organisational systems. Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto are co-directors of the BIO-UD Research Cluster on the MArch UD Programme at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London.
The convergence of information and biological technologies conjures the possibility of a new industrial revolution that harvests the potential of emergent collective intelligence. Architects and urban designers have the opportunity to claim a pivotal role in deploying such technologies to specific environments where the notion of zoning has evidently failed – and where the opportunity for innovation is vast. p
The Microbial Home by Philips Design proposes a way to work with germs rather than against them. By treating the home like an ecosystem, the waste of each component provides fuel for the next – in the Bio-digester kitchen island, food leftovers are converted into methane gas, which is used to regulate the temperature of water pipes surrounding the larder. Thanks to several such circular processes, this speculative proposal challenges the way we treat our waste as something to be got rid of. Sadly, like so many current bio-design prototypes, there are no plans to bring the Microbial Home to the market. Instead, says Philips, “this concept is testing a possible future – not prescribing one”. I (ew)
Understanding the social, technical and environmental implications of building is essential in today’s networked world. And developing solutions to the problems we have both caused and inherited is the responsibility of all. The Zumtobel Group Award – Innovations for Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment encourages and promotes exactly that sense of responsibility and to reward innovative endeavour. In the run up to the announcement of the winners in September 2014, and in collaboration with Zumtobel AG, uncube is presenting, in series, the best of the shortlisted candidates in each of the award’s three categories: Initiatives and Applied Innovations, Buildings, and Urban Developments.
This network of diverse reconstruction activities constitutes an effective method for rebuilding the region, and also suggests new ways for architects to engage with society, sometimes as collaborators, sometimes as advisors, and sometimes as rebels.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, and ensuing tsunami, was a regional disaster affecting a 500-kilometre area in Northern Japan. It hit small communities along the coast, already dealing with the problems of weakening economic strength from depopulation and an aging population. A comprehensive reconstruction strategy was needed for the re-organisation of the region and the rebirth of industry. Moreover, the situation required an architectural approach based on the individual characteristics of each area, and offering comprehensive solutions to their problems. ArchiAid is a support network that connects architects employing autonomous, decentralised approaches to reconstruction. Some architects stepped into the region immediately after the earthquake disaster and assisted the local residents in expressing their ideas and future visions. They continue to work on proposals for urban development, which incorporate the local regional characteristics as well as a residential model with economic considerations.
Madrid’s Manzanares River crosses a great diversity of landscapes and biotopes, from snowy mountains to an arid plateau at the southern point of its basin, yet for many years the river was rendered almost inaccessible by urban access routes. In 2003, the Municipality of Madrid decided to bury part of the city ring road that runs along the river through six kilometres of its trajectory, recovering the connection between the city and the river, which had been isolated, inaccessible and invisible for the last 30 years. Madrid Río occupies 120 hectares of green areas and six of public facilities. The project was conceived as a consecutive set of “scales”.
The parameters of the territorial scale were set out in order to regenerate all the river margins as real areas of integration of nature and human activity as quickly as possible whilst attempting to overcome the implicit antagonism between the urban and rural. On the urban scale, the project integrates the river and configures a chain of green spaces that filter into the city and establishes new mobility and accessibility systems on the surface. It also increases the integration and the urban quality of the adjacent neighbourhoods. On the local scale, although the proposal is a completely artificial operation, its materialisation is executed with natural elements. Above the underground construction, the chosen solution was based on the use of vegetation as the main component.
In 2010, an 8.8 Richter scale magnitude earthquake hit Chile. The region resisted the earthquake well but almost 500 people died in the accompanying tsunami. After the natural catastrophe, Elemental were given 100 days to come up with a strategy to rebuild the city of Constitución, located 400 kilometres south of Santiago, which was almost completely destroyed. The design process was participatory: asking residents to precisely define their needs and focus on establishing priorities. It was important to the designers that the community felt empowered enough to exert pressure on the authorities during implementation. One critical question was how to best protect the city against future tsunamis. The strategy was to dissipate, rather than resist the energy of nature: a geographical answer to a geographical threat. Elemental proposed planting a forest to protect the city from future tsunamis. When the waves first hit Constitución, they were 12 metres tall; a forested island to the north of the city dissipated their energy and, by the time they reached the city centre, they were only 6 meters tall. The idea was therefore to protect the city by redeveloping the riverfront with trees. This alternative was the most challenging, politically and socially, because it required the city to expropriate private land.
This inclusive strategy for regional reconstruction and redevelopment following the 2011 tsunami in Japan responds to critical social and demographic needs. It preserves heritage and is an innovative collaboration model for architects and professionals in the industry.
A phased, long-term transformation involving multiple collaboration partnership reflecting a shift away from auto-driven urbanism and towards sustainable mobility, this project re-establishes the city’s connection to its river and green spaces.
A reconstruction masterplan creating resilience to a range of potential environmental disasters. The participatory design, using forests as an environmental infrastructure, secures successful implementation and project longevity.
This prototype project to improve the urban environment is sited in Kampung Cikini, a high density residential area located in the centre of Jakarta megacity.
Slums like this are very dense. There is little sunlight or space between buildings. The local government plan was to to widen the existing alleys by demolishing the facades of the houses. The Megacity Skeleton solution was to create a 500mm-wide void behind the housing. This way, interior spaces gain sunlight without losing the existing atmosphere of the alley. The design elements of the project are divided into a “Permanent Skeleton” and a “Flexible Skin”. Permanent Skeleton is the robust part ensuring the basic living environment, such as sunlight or ventilation, by restricting any future changes. Flexible Skin is the part, which can be changed freely by users.
Throughout the long-term community engagement process of this project, the residents’ sense of environmental value grew and they became aware that the future of their urban environment should, and could, be self-generated.
About the Jury
The expert jury panel for the Zumtobel Group Award 2014 includes:
Kunlé Adeyemi – Architect & Urbanist / Founder NLÉ, Amsterdam (NL)
Yung Ho Chang – Architect / Studio FCJZ, Beijing (CN)
Brian Cody – Chair of the Institute of Buildings and Energy, Graz University of Technology (AT)
Winy Maas – Architect / MVRDV, Rotterdam (NL)
Ulrich Schumacher – CEO Zumtobel Group
Kazuyo Sejima – Architect / SANAA, Tokyo (JP)
Rainer Walz – Head of the Competence Center Sustainability and Infrastructure Systems at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe
Category 3 – Urban Developments & Initiatives
The focus in the Urban Developments & Initiatives category is on projects and initiatives in an urban context: city development/planning strategies, masterplans, public space projects and ongoing research projects and social initiatives designed to enhance urban and social settings.
In this category the jury has nominated the following five offices and projects:
The green infrastructure design for this densely populated new city provides resilience against scarcity, contamination and flooding. It combines the preservation of multiple urban ecosystems and public space amenities with minimal construction and maintenance.
Megacity Skeleton is a housing prototype project to improve the living environment of a high-density residential areas, using long-term community engagement and empowerment.
Johanna Schmeer is a designer and researcher based in London and Berlin. Bioplastic Fantastic is her MA graduation project from the Design Interventions course at the Royal College of Art in London. Her practice involves the creation of future narratives about the social, ethical and cultural impact of new technologies on everyday life, described through designed objects and interactions. She also plans and runs workshops and events, as an alternative or complementary way to engage an audience in future scenarios.
Johanna Schmeer is a designer and researcher based in London and Berlin, who completed her MA in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London. Her practice involves the creation of future narratives about the social, ethical and cultural impact of new technologies on everyday life, described through designed objects and interactions. She also plans and organises workshops and events, as an alternative or complementary way to engage an audience in future scenarios.
Architect and artist Philip Beesley creates artificial environments that behave like natural ones. His installations such as Epiphyte Membrane from 2014, shown at the Opernwerkstätten in Berlin, are like ethereal forests of the future, with feathery appendages and bulbs hanging from a wire mesh canopy. An interactive sound score resounds from miniature speakers woven throughout the canopy, and an electric current generated from vinegar, copper and aluminum flows through microprocessors, triggered by motion sensors, that create a symphony of movement, light and sound. Beesley intends these installations to act as prototypes for architecture, forming responsive walls and roofs that are open and alive. I (ssl)
We’ve all heard of DIY, but what about GIY? The ability to “Grow It Yourself” is now being offered by a materials science company called Ecovative Design, with its sustainable biomaterial grown from a species of mushroom. The myco-material is a self-assembling matrix of super-strong polymers that naturally occur in mycelia. It is lightweight, durable and completely biodegradable. Since it grows into the shape of the moulds provided, it requires very little energy for production and, like 3D-printed plastics, can be moulded into any shape. This makes it a potential contender for replacing petrol-based materials such as polystyrene for packaging, building and industry.
Ecovative Design is a material science company founded by Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, developing home-compostable bioplastics based on mycelium that are high-performance, environmentally responsible alternatives to traditional plastic foam packaging, insulation, and other synthetic materials. It was developed from a university project they did at the Inventor’s Studio course at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. In an attempt to minimise styrofoam waste, The company has produced protective packaging for companies including Dell, Puma SE, and Steelcase. In 2013, Ecovative won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, and was awarded the institute’s highest design award for Socially Responsible Design.
The myco-material’s production process is surprisingly simple. Agricultural by-products like corn and seed husks are locally sourced, combined with the mycelium, and placed into plastic moulds. Left in the dark, the mycelium digests the seed husks and forms its fine, root-like network. After five days the mycelium has filled the mould and any undigested organic materials are incorporated into the structure. The resulting product is fire- and water-resistant, withstands high impact, and insulates against heat and sound.
Ecovative has already begun exploring a number of practical applications including packaging materials, building insulation, structural biocomposites called “Myco Board”, and even surfboards. In June 2014, David Benjamin from the architecture firm The Living composed a giant biodegradable tower installation at MoMA PS1 in New York from Ecovative’s custom-made “mushroom” bricks – demonstrating its potential applications for architecture. I (ssl)
In 1793, Scottish baronet Sir James Hall’s treatise on the “origin, history and principles of Gothic architecture” traced these to plant and tree forms. To demonstrate his ideas he built the “Willow Cathedral”, a neo-gothic creation made of structural ash posts entwined with living willow whips and rods, trained into shapes to sprout and mimic the pointed arches, ribbed groins and tracery of Gothic architecture. Fast forward to 1985, when German artist/architect group Sanfte Strukturen (“soft structures”) started building “living architecture”, bending and sculpting live willow boughs to create structures that fill out with greenery over time. In 2003, the group paid homage to Hall by building their own Weidendom (willow cathedral), based on his architectural drawings. I (ew)
Soft living architecture is an ecology for twenty-first
century inhabitants to thrive in. While conceptions of
nature have evolved since the Industrial Era,
architectural materials have until now remained
subdued and constrained by hard inert buildings
– or machines for living in.
In its approach to its environment,
soft living architecture finds kinship
with both the human and non-human realms.
Yet it does not hanker for an aestheticised
or romanticised notion of bucolic nature.
Nor does it seek a time before our chemical
industrial landscapes, plasticinating seas and
choking skies. Rather it regards them as new
sites of abundance from which primordial
chemical communities can spring into bloom
to synthesise living materials and artificial biologies.
Soft living architecture is part of a messy reality
where change is sudden, boundaries are real yet
transitory, and interfaces are sites for re-bonding,
not for further separation.
Vibrant architecture is a transformer that does
not find an adversary in the machine, but couples
horizontally with it and swallows it whole.
Soft living architecture refuses to be restrained behind
façades of polished stone or hide its wayward tissues
under tidy green lawns. Soft living architecture allies
with the natural world and all its exquisite excrements,
to emerge through strange new configurations caused
by material leakages. Harnessing the potential of
“waste” can change our conception of architecture
as strictly building-oriented. The emerging aesthetic
is not concerned with divisions like “dirty” and “clean”
but is alien, unfamiliar – other.
Soft living architecture resists the doom, gloom
and skinny corporate corset that is strangling urban
communities with the industrial sustainability agenda,
which demands material obedience, performance
standards and efficiency. It does not sing reassuring
Jolly Green sustainability songs - yet it is deeply entangled
with the natural world, finding the benefits of the
side effects of human existence.
In cities, natural processes can be mimicked to forge an
urban metabolism, both ecologically and economically.
Bioprocessing activities such as composting, food and
energy production generate material value within urban
communities through the transformation of resources.
Value re-adjustments within urban spaces may change
the density of resource distribution networks and
therefore influence the way that spaces are inhabited.
Rachel Armstrong is Professor of Experimental Architecture at the Department of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, University of Newcastle. She is a Black Sky Thinker and 2010 Senior TED Fellow who aims to establish a technical platform that works with the creativity of the natural world through natural computing processes that enable our buildings to share some of the properties of living systems. These soft living architectures raise questions about the potential for materials to become codesigners of our living spaces and are the heart of her experimental architectural practice.
There are no models of soft living architecture in the
same way that no one organism is a model of another.
Soft living architecture is fertile. Its progeny
proliferate as rhizomes of networks that transmute
industrial deserts into vast metabolic fabrics, blooming
with co-evolutionary transformations.
Soft living architecture seeks abrupt changes in
established power structures and forms of
social order, rather than assuming that change
happens gradually. Lively exchanges between
cooperating bodies become entangled with
our cultural, moral and ethical systems that
ripple through and interact with our living
spaces and urban fabrics, so that they not only
evolve alongside us – but also reciprocally
design this future. I
Since 2009, designer Rachel Armstrong, in collaboration with architects Neil Spiller and Christian Kerrigan and chemists Martin Hanczyc and Hans Toftlund, has been working on an ongoing project to grow a natural barrier to protect the buildings of Venice.
Venice is a site of entanglement between human settlement and the natural world. The city exists only through an intimate relationship with technology – from allying itself, a thousand years ago, to advanced agrarian techniques for digging canals, draining land and piling foundations, to the large-scale industrial engineering of projects like MOSE today, in which a series of 78 mechanically operated gates are being installed that intend to hold back the destructive high tides that increasingly chew at the city’s fabric.
Rachel Armstrong has been developing Future Venice since 2009 in collaboration with Neil Spiller, Martin Hanczyc and Hans Toftlund, with drawings produced in conjunction with Christian Kerrigan and GMJ. The project proposes how protocell technology could be deployed across different scales of operation. Ultimately this is not just a speculative proposition, but has been supported by early field tests.
The first series of experiments were conducted courtesy of Davide De Lucrezia at Biotech Explora in Marghera Science Park, Italy, in collaboration with Martin Hanczyc. The technological design principles and conditions for producing a mineral shell around an oil droplet using lagoon water were explored, and an oil droplet in a water system was selected as the vehicle for a mineralising metabolism. Further preparations of this experiment have also been prepared using olive and canola oils. Their efficacy has been tested in the field in tanks around the Venetian lagoonside with architecture students from the University of Venice, in collaboration with Red Bull.
Yet since the Industrial Revolution, machines have also heavily contributed to the pollution of Venice’s lagoon and the draining of its aquifers. Environmentalists are concerned that intermittent backlogging of water will cause irreversible damage to the lagoon’s ecology.
Armstrong and co.’s Future Venice project proposes a new tactic, using “protocell” technology that could enable the city to engage in a struggle for survival against the elements in a manner akin to a living organism, rather than through mechanical means. Protocells are not technically living organisms (they have no DNA), but possess strikingly life-like properties: self-directed movement, sensitivity, population-scale behaviour and the ability to synthesise materials.
The Future Venice model system uses protocells to grow barnacle-like accretion structures from the dissolved minerals and carbon dioxide of Venice’s lagoon water. This process, tested via laboratory and field work, would help spread the point load of the city by growing mineral islands under its woodpile foundations, slowing its sinking.
Rather than damming rising water with a machinic gate solution, implementing this type of technology around damaged buildings in Venice would structurally repair their foundations through an organised version of a process that already occurs naturally but haphazardly. It could even lead to the growth of an artificial limestone reef under the city, creating a new marine ecology.
Mineral accretion is not a complete solution to Venice’s many urban and environmental challenges, but it opens up new possibilities for co-designed and shared futures with the natural world. I
The focus of your talk is Poplar in East London, which you describe as “the most unequal landscape in Europe”.
Yes. Poplar is one of the poorest UK urban areas by any measure, yet it’s adjacent to the financial district of Canary Wharf – established by the Thatcher Government in the 1980s on the demolished docks. It’s an interesting spot: it was a very progressive area in terms of social reform and poor relief in the early 1920s, when a protest movement against unfair rates started there – known as Poplarism. It also has a great density of celebrated buildings and council housing schemes: the Lansbury housing estate – basically 3D socialist propaganda, the Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens and Ernö Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower. The whole area was an extreme prototyping statement in architectural terms. All those later concrete buildings: it’s lush! Gaze in awe at the Goldfinger building!
But now there is massive redevelopment. Canary Wharf, previously separated by a gigantic dual carriageway, has kind of spilled over into the area; Robin Hood Gardens is due to be demolished and the developers are quadrupling the housing density. Council housing is being replaced by so-called social or affordable units. But rents will increase, and there are questions as to whether these units are going to go to those who originally lived on the estate. The precedents for this suggests that they won’t: affordable now often just means studio flats – useless for most current residents. What is happening here is a classic case of class cleansing. No one is ever willing to say: we have council housing that works and it’s staying council owned, so fuck off.
You have been almost more critical of New Labour and Tony Blair’s continuation of the laissez-faire market-driven policies of Thatcherism, in creating the present situation, than of the Tories themselves.
Well, take Canary Wharf. When I moved to London in the late 1990s, it was a failure – great days! Just this one building, Thatcher’s cock, with this lone flashing light on top of it. Almost all of what is now Canary Wharf was built under Blair. London kind of had its chance in 1997 with New Labour. They weren’t socialists but they had a big mandate, and this idea that they would create a more socially democratic, more European, city.
There was Richard Rogers saying let’s have squares like they have in Stockholm or Barcelona. And this became policy for a while, under the first Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. This is what New Labour could have been like. Because Western European cities work – they do not have the divide between rich and poor, and people like living in them. They tried it and they fucked it up. But Blair really did not want to build Barcelona. He wanted to build Phoenix or Alberqueque.
Owen Hatherley is a writer and journalist based in London who writes on architecture, politics and culture.
His first book Militant Modernism (Zero Books, 2009), was a defense of the modernist movement, reclaiming its revolutionary credentials. Subsequent books have included A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010), Uncommon (Zero, 2011), a book on the pop group Pulp, A New Kind of Bleak (Verso, 2012), and Across the Plaza (Strelka, 2012). He writes regularly for Architects’ Journal, the Architectural Review, Icon, the Guardian and New Humanist, and has authored several blogs including Sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy (2005-2010).
He is currently working on a book on architecture and communism.
How do you compare the situation to that in Berlin?
In many ways London is a cautionary tale. Whenever I come to Germany I think: you have no idea how bad this can get. Take the proposed Media Spree development in Berlin. Compared to Canary Wharf it’s such small beer. But the Germans are much more willing to fight, which is why it stays piddling. If something on the scale of some of the schemes proposed in the UK was proposed, it would probably result in half of Berlin being burnt down.
Where do you see London in ten years?
Well, three years ago my guess would have been riots. And I remember thinking when there were riots in August 2011: this is going to be a thing, this is going to be a fixture, people are not going to take this. But since the riots, things have got worse. There was an explosion and then everyone lay down. People are willing to fight, but there is a long history of laissez-faire in the UK: basically the periods of higher State intervention after the First and Second World Wars were anomalies, blips.
And despite most of the UK economy being in a terrible state, London is seen as a safe place to put your money by people fleeing various crisis-ridden countries. So this can go on indefinitely: the only way to prove the bankruptcy of the whole system is people stopping it, making it stop. But the housing market keeps people scared. Fear is the security of the system. I