A special issue of Cambridge University Press’s ARQ (Architectural Research Quarterly) on Biotechnology and the Built Environment has just come out. Edited by Martyn Dade-Robertson and Rachel Armstrong and with contributions from International Designers and Researchers. The editorial is as follows:
Advances in the biological sciences have, we are told, brought about a biotechnology
revolution. Architecture has a long-standing relationship with both biophilia, finding
inspirations in natural forms and structures, and biomimicry, imagining nature in terms
of biological systems to inspire design. A revolution in biotechnology may, however,
precipitate a more direct relationship between biology and the built environment, where
architecture makes use of materials and structures that are, in part, living. This special issue
of arq, curated by Martyn Dade-Robertson and Rachel Armstrong, examines the potential of
biotechnology to inform architectural design. It addresses a deeper engagement with
biotechnology as a material and construction method, examining how nature is being
imagined as a technology. It includes theoretical and practical perspectives addressing a
range of philosophies and approaches.
Dade-Robertson and Armstrong provide contrasting but intersecting papers.
Dade-Robertson’s ‘perspective’ (pp. 5–8) argues for a shift in our understanding of ‘building
science’, engaging architectural research in more fundamental science and engineering led
by speculation and informed by emerging scientific fields such as synthetic biology.
Armstrong (pp. 29–38) reflects on how synthetic biology might inform design paradigms
that challenge conceptions of engineering and scientific insight in an age of living matter.
Contributors to this arq come from a broad field of disciplines and approaches to the
design of bioreceptive materials. EcoLogic Studio consider the use of slime mould as a
bio-computational design tool (pp. 51–64). AStudio offer an ecological approach to the built
environment through the application of microorganisms such as algae (pp. 10–19). Authors
from ARUP discuss the use of photobioreactors in their pioneering BIQ house (pp. 73–79).
Additionally, Marin Sawa provides an auto-ethnography as a designer working within a
biological laboratory setting as part of a long-term collaboration (pp. 65–71). Andrew
Ballantyne takes a broader philosophical perspective that stands against the unitary
thinking which underpins modern design paradigms (pp. 39–44). Experimental anatomist
Jamie Davies, meanwhile, contrasts design and construction in biological systems with the
current prevailing conception of design architecture (pp. 45–50).
An ecology of thinking emerges from these articles which offers exciting opportunities
for architectural design research and embodies the possibilities of biotechnology – not only
to provide material and technology to construct new design experiences but also to change
the way that we see, and therefore relate to, the natural and built environments.