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.
On November 13th – 14th Connected Places Catapult, part of the Future Cities Catapult, gathered city, industry, academic and thought leaders to share insights and ideas at their inaugural ‘Cityx: The Future of Connected Places’ business expo. Held at their offices in Clerkenwell, London, the event explored how businesses may harness emerging technologies and unlock radical new solutions, while encouraging the relationships and collaboration needed to “drive-forward connected places for everyone”.
Featuring an exhibition, pitch sessions, workshops, awards, several talks, and a networking and drinks reception, the event focused on the future of housing [day one] and mobility [day two]. Joining the keynote line-up, I was delighted to close day one by delivering ‘Human Dot to Non-Human Dot: Connecting Human Places to Abiotic and Biotic Systemic Spaces’, in which I presented aspects of my several-year study into building resilience to wildfire at the wildland urban interface, including a cross comparison of the Great Fire of London with contemporaneous wildfires in the high-severity fire regimes of the western United States, together with a discussion of how leading-edge satellite, ariel, and terrestrial communications, both electronic and biological, together with new material systems present radical new architectural and urban opportunities both near and far. Facets of the talk will be further discussed in forthcoming publications for Connected Places Catapult.
Amongst the many pioneering start-ups and SME’s that exhibited at the expo were the outstanding Biohm [pictured below], which presented a suite of their bio-based materials for insultation, interior architectures, and furnishing, including several mycelium and plant-based biocompounds produced from food waste, all of which are synthetic additive and chemical free, thus 100% natural, biodegradable, and vegan. Biohm are currently working on a swathe of stand-out research projects, including plant-based concrete in development as a low-energy alternative to traditional concrete; biologically self-assembling materials for the macro construction market; and Triagomy, which, an interlocking construction system that does not require permanent binders or fasteners, could potentially enable high-quality buildings that can be deconstructed and reconstructed at any stage of their material life.
Read more about Cityx here.
Connected Places Catapult: its mission is to “help British businesses address the grand challenges of today in order to created connected places fit for the future”, while acknowledging, “the complexity of the systems which must be navigated to introduce new products and services in this space, coupled with strict regulatory environments… conservative commissioning cultures and constrained public budgets”.
Melissa Sterry [right] with Biohm's Business Innovation Manager, Oksana Bondar at Cityx: The Future of Connected Places.
Perhaps best described as speleology through a kaleidoscope, earlier this month I visited Dylan Gebbia-Richards outstanding Kinesthesia exhibition at Unit London. Comprised canvas and wax works formed from a unique chemical reaction, the exhibition pieces, which Gebbia-Richards describes as, microcosms "of the natural world", appeared like scenes from a synthetic cave system. Organic yet artificial, inspired by Jungian philosophy, each piece evolved to "become something greater beyond" its "physical and visible parts". The exhibition's name come from the instinctive, "uncorrupted" creative process by which Gebbia-Richards created the works, "kinaesthetic sense".
See above a selection of images from Kinesthesia, including the works 'Omni' , 'Phoenix' , and 'Home in the Fire' . Read more about Gebbia-Richards here.
Celebrating exceptional talent and visionary ideas from they established and emerging in architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture and design, product design, furniture design, lightening design, transport design, fashion design, and graphic design, the International Design Awards 13th edition are open for entries. Inaugurated in 2007, the jury include Professor Severin Filek, Managing Director of Australia’s national representative body for professional designers DesignAustralia; Lynn Wang, Head of Overseas Affairs Dept, Asia Pacific Design Centre; Kahi Lee, host ‘Design on a Dime’, amongst other shows; Professor Murat Soygenis FAIA, Founding Partner at S+ Architecture; Hans Fonk, Editor-in-Chief, OBJEKT International, and I, amongst others.
View past winners and entry details at https://idesignawards.com
Save the Date :: November 13th-14th 2019 :: Cityx: The Future of Connected Places Business Expo 2019
A two-day expo organised by Connected Places Catapult taking place at the Urban Innovation Centre in London from 13 – 14 November 2019, Cityx will bring together leading thinkers, city leaders, academics and businesses to explore today’s foremost city and mobility challenges. Focused on how embedded intelligent connections integrated laterally across social infrastructure can make places work holistically for the wellbeing of people and planet, day-1 will focus on housing, and day-2 on mobility.
I’m delighted to be joining Cityx to deliver the Closing Keynote on the Future of Housing on day-1, of which further speakers include Nicola Yates OBE, CEO Connected Places Catapult; Sophie White, General Manager Infrastructure & Complex Projects at Homes England; and Alan Somerville, Executive Director / Head of Building Performance Group at BRE. Further activities taking place at the event include exhibitor pitch sessions, workshops, and networking.
To find out more visit https://cityxpo.org.uk
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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