Synthetic biology, a revolution in biotechnology, induces a more direct relationship between biology and the built environment, in which architecture makes use of materials and structures that are, in part, living.
This research aims to examine living matter in architecture to realise a living architectural membrane. This is conducted by exploring bacterial cellulose produced by bacterial synthesis, utilising novel digital fabrication systems to produce geometrically complex objects and structures. The study works towards in-vivo self-growing material assembly in guided growth control of bacteria cells.
In nature, cells are alive and environmentally responsive and are able to produce structural materials such as cellulose. Cellulose is the basic primordial material that forms the basis of organisms and plant systems. All natural materials have multifunctionally graded material properties within a single structure by combining cellulose with various materials that have different properties, including softness, hardness, permeability, and transparency.
Bacterial cellulose, which is a non-fuel and biodegradable material, indicates a higher strength through hardness than cellulose found in nature due to the higher density. The high water-retention level of bacterial cellulose and its mechanical properties enable its utilisation in a wide variety of fields such as biomedical devices, electronics, tissue engineering, and furniture and fabrics on multiple scales from nano to macro.
Unlike the life cycle of typical non-permanent building materials, bacterial cellulose, as a living architectural material, can be utilised to architectural building materials by continuously providing nutrition for bacterial synthesis. It can also be combined with multiple materials such as chitin to control its stiffness, flexibility, and transparency. This can be applied to membrane structures, building cladding, and possibly even structural building materials.
In order to manipulate the complex geometry of bacterial cellulose, bacteria cells and nutrition will be provided computationally at certain points on bacterial cellulose surfaces continuously utilising a robotic arm to regulate the precisely guided growth of the bacterial cellulose.
Keywords: Bacterial Cellulose, Guided Growth control, Bio-computation, Multi-Functionally Graded Biomaterial, Bio-fabrication
Abstract from Sunbin Lee, PhD. student at Newcastle University at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape investigating applications of bacterial cellulose for architectural material systems and design.