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Beyond greenwashing, building in collaboration with nature

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.

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