Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of discussing issues including nature in lockdown, Earth's firey future, solar storms, and more Earth meet Human systems issues past, present, and possible with Fakhar Raza in my second interview in the Scholars in the Spotlight podcast series, available to hear open access here.
A member of the society since its inauguration, last month I had the pleasure to share insights on my work and thoughts on the field with the Secretariat of the International Society of Bionic Engineering. Published in the Volume 9, Issue 2 of the society's member publication, those interested can read the interview here.
ISBE. "How do you see Bionics influencing business and industry in the future?
MS. Market leaders in industries such as manufacturing, utilities, transport, healthcare, defence, and ICT are typically aware that bionics is one of the research disciplines most-likely to produce effective means of making a measurable difference to addressing the issues that really count. Both the rate of bionics-led innovation, and with that, the caliber of the innovation produced, is highly variable across business and industry as a whole. Hence, the outlook for bionics within business and industry is a mixed one. More generally, tomorrow, as today, current developments strongly suggest that bionics will continue to grow in influence and impact in the heavier and more technical industries – essentially all those under-pinned by expertise in the STEM fields."
An collaborative initiative launched by the International Design Awards [IDAs] and the European Product Design Awards [ePDAs], the Covid-19 Design Innovation Grant was created to encourage the global design community to utilise its talents and skills the make a positive impact in tackling the problems the pandemic presents. Open to both professional and amateur designers and architects worldwide, its criteria was that all entries must be original and have met technical standards approved by a qualified medical professional or team.
As a long-standing member of the IDA jury, I had the pleasure of selecting the winning entrant in the category for Architecture and Interior Design, for which the brief was to design a “simple, practical, innovative solution for an in-home isolation pod that would allow those with Covid-19 symptoms and others to safely co-habit without transmitting the virus”. A category populated by wide-ranging concepts submitted from both architects and designers, and both individuals and collectives, the overall standard was a testament to the creativity within these professions. Awarded a grant of $5,000 to develop her concept ‘Safe Shed’, category-winner, Denver-based architect Sarah Goldblatt, impressed judges with her exceptionally well-researched entry, which integrated many features known to improve the survival rates of they that contract the virus, such as an adjustable sleeping platform that allows for the positional changes currently recommended by the medical community to improve an occupant’s oxygenation. Additional features of her Safe Shed concept include a safe food and medicine delivery system; connectivity to hospital or clinic monitoring; integration of UV lights and power; an integral fan/duct which creates a negative pressure system to remove dangerous aerosolized particles; natural light infiltration; and sound attenuation. Thinking beyond the pandemic, Goldblatt designed the isolation unit so that it could easily be disassembled when no longer required, thereon adapted to become a playhouse, in-home office, or guest space. Alternatively, the scalable unit could be used in an external capacity as a homeless shelter to help prevent infection among shelter residents.
Notable entries to the Architecture and Interior Design category included CO-habitat Independent Diving-Bell, pictured below, which was submitted by Taiwanese guerrilla design team 2146T, led by Chic Kang Hsu. Their name derived from the fact that they all entered mandatory military service at the same time in class 2146, the CYCU architecture school graduates, who have worked closely together for over a decade, work across fields including film making, fine arts, product design, architecture, and branding and graphic design. Mobilising to offer novel solutions to challenge including human rights and environmental protection, the team work across continents, working with international partners to explore alternative ways of living. Having all experienced 14-days of self-quarantine period, varying from residential home to negative pressure isolation ward, theirs was hands-on experience of both the physical and psychological impact and severity of COVID-19.
2146T's aim to find a medically sound isolation solution, yet give “the patient a way of living with minimal deviation” from their pre-pandemic life, they look to the natural world for inspiration, believing “COVID19 is a message sent to us by nature to remind how ignorant human beings have been in the past 100 years” and that this may be “the last chance for us to reshape the form of our civilization”. Their entry, CO-habitat Independent Diving-Bell [COID] is “a play on words on the name of novel Coronavirus COVID- 19, while the removal of V (virus) from the name signifies the essence of this proposed design”. Inspired by the Diving-Bell Spider (Argyroneta aquatica), pictured above, which creates an oxygen chamber in ponds and freshwater bodies, allowing the aquatic creature to live both above and below water, the concept was designed with both the psychological, as well as physical challenges of Covid-19 in mind. In addition to the unit itself, 2146T also created ‘CO-suit’, which like the air that gets trapped in the dense layer of hydrophobic hairs on the Diving-Bell spider’s abdomen and legs, provides a self-isolated oxygen unit for the wearer when moving outside of the COID unit. An exceptionally creative biomimetic concepts, COID and CO-Suit evidenced 2146T recognise that many of the answers to the world’s most complex problems can be found in the form and function of the world’s flora, fauna, and the ecosystems they form.
In addition to the Architecture and Interior Design grant, two further grants of $2,000 each were awarded to the best entries in graphic design and fashion design, to help the winners develop their concepts in public health awareness visualisation, and protective attire. For more information on the Covid-19 Design Innovation Grant winners, read here.
Hosted by author of FuturREstorative (RIBA, 2016) and cofounder and advisor to the Living Future Institute Europe, Martin Brown, Regenerative Zoom engages a growing online community in a conversation around themes as diverse as landscaping to energy, biophilia to rewilding, BIM to economics, and more.
Featuring an array of guests across its weekly editions, I’m delighted to be joining the line-up for the fifth edition, taking place at 20:00 BST on May 12th 2020 to discuss proposal for the reconciliation of human and non-human systems at the wildland-urban interface, Panarchistic Architecture. Also joining us will be Anthropocene Architecture School’s Scott McAulay, discussing educating future climate leaders. A free-to-join session on Zoom, which lasts around 60-minutes, do register to join us if yours is an interest in the general domain of architecture and urban design at the interface of climate and Earth systems.
Register to join here.
The product of an extensive transdisciplinary programme researching the potential for building resilience to wildfires through the mimicry of the biochemistries, behaviours, relationships and systems of fire-adapted species, and the assemblages the form, Panarchistic Architecture posits a radical new architectural and urban design paradigm for the wildland-urban-interface. The thesis, ongoing publishing works, including a podcast and an interview series, together with updates on research collaborations, lectures, and more, are available open access at www.panarchiccodex.com.
Extract: "Situated in a yet to be “established” field (Smith et al, 2016), this site and the works it hosts explore one of the most complex and contentious challenges or our time - the problem of living with wildfire on an “inherently” flammable planet” (Bowman et al, 2011). Residing at the apex of Earth systems, wildfire has been integral to the development of much terrestrial plant and animal life on Earth. But, its role in the evolution of our own lineage - Primates, and latterly Humans - is arguably the most compelling, curious, and currently, crucial of all. Multiple factors signalling the advent of a new “fire age” (Pyne, 2016), the paradigm presented here takes the task of living with wildfire back to the design drawing board, asking not how we, humans, would solve the problem, but how fire-adapted flora already have."
Read more here.
Adapting to these fast shape-shifting times, earlier this week I had the pleasure to virtually join peers Prof. Claudia Pasquero, Dr. Marco Poletto, and Maria Kuptsova at the Synthetic Landscape Lab at the Faculty of Architecture at University of Innsbruck to critique the final diploma presentations of students Lisa Brunner and Stefan Fuchs. Brunner presented a concept for a peri-urban algae lab which, integrating scientific research with public communications, posits the possibility of buildings that 'breath', as inflatable algae-filled transparent exterior panels expand and contract with the changing seasons, thus passively control the buildings' internal climates. Whereas Brunner's presentation explored the idea of apiary being scaled to architectural proportions, wherein the architect bio-morphically configures an architectural ruin to house several hives, a honey-extractor, and a shop [one of Brunner's developmental models is pictured above]. Their presentations shared via a Zoom meeting, watched by over 60 of their fellow students, and others with an interest in biodesign and synthetic ecologies, both did well to transform works that were originally intended for an exhibition and in-person critique, to an online audience. Well done to both, and to their professor, Claudia, and their tutors, and to the lab for putting such dynamic diploma course together.
Earlier this month I shared a few thoughts with The Times journalist Mikaela Aitken for the Raconteur's special report 'The Future Workplace', including how innovation in fields including biomaterials, recycling, and on-site resource harvesting are enabling a paradigmatic shift that turns workplaces into resource givers not takers. An open access report, you can read the article here.
Image: Algae Platform London biomaterials production exhibit at the Royal Academy, February 2020.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure to join Sherborne Girls for their ‘Back to Nature’ day, which a cross-curricula activity, explored humanity’s “artistic response to nature and our impact on the planet”. A testament to weeks of endeavour on the part of pupils and staff, including workshops and copious research, the event featured debates, concerts, art exhibitions, and scientific discussions interrogating "how our relationship with nature has changed and evolved" over time.
The day started with a junior debate asking, 'in this era of climate change, should people have more than two children', in which both debating teams presented compelling arguments that exhibited an impressive depth of research, maturity, and understanding of this contentious and complex topic. The debate was followed by a flawlessly delivered junior concert (pictured below) comprising musical pieces including solo and duet piano concertos; solo, duet, and quartet wind and string compositions; poetry and readings; and choral and orchestral pieces, and all to a backdrop of nature-themed images, films, and citations. Guests then enjoyed art exhibits displayed in the school gallery, which spanning multiple media included the wax-work piece pictured above. I then delivered an hour lecture in the school hall, which titled 'Nature 360°: Back to Our Nature Future' discussed how our understanding of nature has changed over time; how we viewed nature in the past, how we view it now, and how we may view it in the future; how new science, design, engineering, and technology may play a part in changing our intellectual, emotional, and physical relationship with nature; and the array of jobs, industries and opportunities that may emerge in the years and decades ahead. The day was rounded up by the senior concert, which presented yet more thoughtful, inspiring, and beautiful musical compositions.
Well done to all pupils and staff for their exceptional and timely work, which did more than justice to their ambitious brief. If giving them a grade for the day, I would give them an A++ and a gold star!
On show at the Royal Academy, London from November 2019 to February 2020, Eco-Visionaries examined humanity's impact on the planet through the lenses of film, installation, speculative design, and photography from international practitioners including Unknown Fields, Daisy Ginsberg, and Rimini Protokoll. A small, but compelling exhibition, created to confront "a planet in a state of emergency", the event ran in parallel to an architectural studio, which led by Samuel IIiffe in partnership with Atelier Luma [the design research programme of Luma Arles] presented potentialities in algae as a bio-sourced material, together with some of its applications for architectural design. Further activities included several talks and workshops on topics including 'oceans in crisis', 'designing for a depleted world', 'air pollution in cities', and 'back to nature'.
Stand-out exhibits included HeHe's 'Domestic catastrophe No.3: La Planete Laboratoire' (2018), which, a mixed-media piece, "makes reference to how human-made pollution is devastating our home, planet Earth" through a globe "suspended in an aquarium filled with water" that "turns slowly on its axis, gradually becoming wrapped in a murky haze that evokes the natural gases and human-made emissions surrounding the planet" (see slides); Nerea Calvillo/In the Air's "Madrid In the Air: 24 Hours" (2019), which, a long-term collaborative research project led by Calvillo, "highlights the contamination of air in cities caused by vehicle engines, industry, factories, and farming"; Pinar Yoldas' P-Plastocepter: Organ for Sensing Plastics (2014) in mixed media, which from the series 'An Ecosystem of Excess' reimagines "a biological future made possible by human-made consumer waste and petrochemical pollution" inspired by the primordial soup theory, that hypothesises life originated from an organic solution in Earth's early oceans (see slides); Daisy Ginsberg's 'The Substitute' (2019), which a colour video projection with surround sound is a haunting installation that highlights the "pre-occupation with creating new life forms and neglecting existing ones" using "rare zoological archive footage as well as experimental data from artificial intelligence company DeepMind to produce a life-size projection" of the last male White Northern rhino, Sudan, who died in 2018 (see slides); Unknown Field's 'The Breast Milk of the Volcano' (2017), which a glass, lithium brine, graphite, and aluminium speculative design shown in tandem with a colour short film and stereo sound, drew on the Inca Origin myth of Salar de Uyuni, in which "the salt flats were formed by the breast milk and tears of a mother volcano mourning the loss of her child" to examine how the "cleanest energy utopias can have dramatic consequences in material, resource and economic exploration"; and Rimini Protokoll's 'win > < win' (2017), which a theatrical installation featuring Moon Jellyfish "presents a dramatic narrative where species compete against each other fro the planet's ecosystem", and in the process highlights how one of the oldest and simplest life-forms on Earth shows greater capacity for resilience to global environmental change than do more complex and recent species, including humans (see slides).
The Algae Platform London, which showed at the Royal Academy's architecture studio, featured experiments and prototypes from Atelier Luma's collection, including material interrogations into the range of textures and colours which algae-based materials present; explorations of how the London sewer system's 39 million tonnes of raw sewage contains chemicals and compounds, such as Potassium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus, which algae thrive on, and can be refined to produce products including fertilisers, fuels, and pharmaceuticals; and biomaterial production, aesthetics and applications, together with a range of 3D-printed prototypes of household objects including a range of vases, cups, and assorted containers (see slides below).
Save the Date :: Wednesday April 15th 20:00 - 21:30 in the Auditorium at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
I'm delighted to be joining the Edinburgh Science festival line-up again, which this year takes on an elementary theme. Programme and booking details will be live soon, but in the interim, if you're planning to attend the festival and are interested in joining me as I discuss the potential for building urban resilience to wildfires through the creation of complex adaptive architectural systems, which mimic the biochemistries, behaviours, and relationships of fire-adapted flora and fauna in fire-adapted biomes, followed by a fire-side chat with science journalist Kate Ravilious, bookmark the above date and place in your diary.
Find out more here.
Melissa Sterry, PhD, design scientist, systems theorist, biofuturist, and serial founder inc. Bionic City®.
Asking the question "how would nature design a city" since 2010.
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