top of page

Incorporating living organisms within the architectural design process is a growing research concern for architects, biologists and designers, as the work of Rachel Armstrong demonstrates.

This goes beyond a widely used “green” image addition to buildings, that can sometimes appear as a marketing tool.

In this post I will present a few exemplary projects that relate to Rachel Armstrong’s work incorporating computational properties to nature, to draw possibilities on how we might be integrating ecologies into our built environment in the coming years.

Hosting life as a living ecosystem - Chartier Dalix Architects

Pavillion FAIRE, Chartier-Dalix architects, research on "Biodiversitary" walls.

Chartier Dalix is an award winning, well regarded french architectural firm. They have been including research to their work on the built environment, focussing on the integration of nature to architecture. In 2019 they published their projects reflecting on the relation between the vegetal, the animal, and the human, within the book “Hosting life as a living ecosystem”. There work in this field includes research on “living” walls, porous buildings that include spaces for nature to grow within.

Bio-Integrated Design (Bio-ID) MArch/MSc

Student research project at Bio-ID lab, The Bartlett School of Architecture

Since 2018, the Bartlett School of Architecture; UCL has decided to dedicate a postgraduate department to Bio-Integrated design, with the aim of researching new roads to sustainable architectures. They present their work as a radical approach to what could be shaping our future cities and societies. They don’t see nature as a separate subject that can be used as a model but as a core part of the design. Their view relies on nature as a “medium of a new multi-layered design approach that is biologically, materially and socially integrated.”

Mediated Matter - MIT Media Lab

Run by architect Neri Oxman, the research group at the Mediated Matter lab within MIT University aims to “augment the relationship between built, natural, and biological environments by employing design principles inspired and engineered by Nature, and implementing them in the invention of novel design technologies.” The projects of the team includes research on subjects such as 3D printing with living organisms (such as bacterias), designing wearables using synthetic microorganisms, or building a pavilion with silk worms.

Silk Pavilion construction, Mediated Matter lab MIT

Silk worms are placed on a structure, upon which they “build” a pavilion.

All of those examples that I briefly presented here have a significant point in common within their design process. They all leave a part of the design process to be built by non human living organisms. The control of the designer is not full, it is as if they would be programming a certain amount of parameters, and letting part of it evolve and grow. It is less random than we could first imagine, for the specific characteristics of the living organisms are closely studied, and can therefore be foreseen, close to the way generative art works.

Common research

Getting together with peers from different backgrounds, but common interests opened up fruitful discussions. Coming from an architectural and planning background, but with a strong interest in theater and stage set design, I am very excited about the collaboration with students from theater and performance backgrounds.

Our first conversations have let the subject open and in need of definition, but allowed us to start pointing to questions, and to exchange references and concepts.

Aqua Alta, Adrien M. Claire B, 2019

Just a tool?

As we saw in the weekly readings up until now, the tools that we are exposed to, that we design and use, are never “just tools”. This also applies to performances and the way they are delivered to an audience. Those implications can be political, and part of what forges perception on an individual and collective scale. In the case of using new technologies, this is particularly striking, for the device used, can become a core part of the performance. It is not only an interface, but it can itself be staged, to raise consciousness on the use of technologies in our everyday lives. The device and the subject are very closely intertwined.

Time and space redefined

Thinking about new technologies in performance, and in particular in theater, could lead to a necessity to define and possibly redefine them.

What is it that triggers a particular emotion in live performance, that differentiates it from other media? Is it solely the liveliness of it? Is it to see it with your own senses?

How could this be augmented with the use of new devices, triggering additional senses, and therefore interacting in more dimensions. What could be the minimal conditions to define a theatrical performance? Does it require an audience that is sharing a space? What is the relation between the performer and the audience? What does it mean to be participatory? Could new technologies allow performances to be more fluid regarding the spaces they take place in? Taking them to the urban space, possibly to the rural space?

What does it imply to interact with an audience? Should they become part of a narration, maybe direct it, or embody it in a certain way?

Performances, experiences are widely used with a commercial goal, using the fascination for gadgets as an efficient marketing tool. How can artists take back that space, making the vanishing of technologies in our daily lives visibles, and provoking the spectator to reflect upon it.

Those chaotic sets of questions (among many others) fed our preliminary discussions, that hopefully will crystallise in a more focused research topic.

  • chahaleden

Among the weekly readings we can easily point to the semantics as a common concern within the theoretical thinking of technologies.

In Yuk Hui’s article, the focus is on a command function. It isn't a place that we would imagine as a carrier of political weight, and more as what appears a functional technical tool.

It is not the first text that puts to light the fact that a tool is never “just a tool”, and the fact that it is considered as such makes it even more important to reflect and be critical upon it.

This abstract invites us to measure the social and political impact of the word “execution”, and the shift of the semantics with the democratisation of its use within the age of machine automation.

He develops hypotheses to answer “what does the change in semantics mean” and “how is one to understand “execution”in the age of machine automation?”

To open the paths of discussion around this term, he assimilates the semantic shift to different modes of thinking : linear and non linear one.

Linear thinking : the example of Descartes

Linear thinking is the one that corresponds to the mechanicanisation of the world, and that the author links to Descartes theories when analyzing in particular the automata.

The abstract of The Discourse on the Method is part of a text in which Descartes formulates a theory around the automata.

To reflect on what we would now consider a robot, he involves the animals, to identify what is human and what isn't. Deriving from this, what is or could be humanlike, or animal like and why.

It is striking to see how the text can be read today, holding astonishingly accurate reflections on our time, and in the same time, how much what is stated as an evident truth goes back and forth through time.

This appears in a clear way when talking about animals as having a reason, and as having a language and agency.

For him what distinguishes an animal from a human, is that the animal it is deprived of these characteristics. He states it as an absolute fact, in opposition to “ancient thinkers”:

“Neither must one imagine, as did ancient thinkers, that animals speak,although we do not understand their language. For if that were true, they would be able to make themselves understood by us, as well as by other members of their species, since they have many organs that correspond to ours”.

This would for the least create a debate nowadays, and in some parts, it could be scientifically proven wrong. Unless we are back at how “ancient thinkers” imagined the truth.

bottom of page