Save Venice with BioArchitecture

MOXIE COSMOS SAYS…

This book you’ve got to read, and it won’t take long. It is a TED book (under 20,000 words). It will amaze you to discover how our grandchildren’s world will look — and BREATHE.

TITLE: LIVING ARCHITECTURE: HOW SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY CAN REMAKE OUR CITIES AND RESHAPE OUR LIVES

Rachel Armstrong

TED Books, 2012

A reader who got a D in biology might think this is science fiction, but in fact there are biologists and chemists working with architects to create creepy-crawly materials that will be positive improvements for our built environment. The most extreme scenario in this author’s vision is a network of growing tendrils and pods wherein supplies can be stored and a child can find safety in a storm.

That is a very sketchy approximation of what British architect Rachel Armstrong predicts in her short book introducing a world-changing idea: “living architecture.” She describes other plans in the works that are easier to envision in our lifetime. One is to save Venice from sinking by growing a coral reef under its deteriorating foundations. Another is to apply substances with biological qualities to building exteriors to absorb toxins or simply mediate the environmental challenges of heat, damp, and light. The “hows” and “whys” are spelled out in this fast-paced and uplifting read.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE: HOW SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY CAN REMAKE OUR CITIES AND RESHAPE OUR LIVES shows that our design and build industry is way behind the curve of what is possible with its current definition of “sustainability.” Armstrong foresees giving up familiar inert building materials as soon as it becomes feasible to use “living” (though engineered) materials such as protocells. The current research and potential applications she discusses not only address the worldwide issues of natural disasters, but they are humane. Our daily living, even in megacities, could be experienced inside “gardens.” Furthermore, there are possibilities for retrofitting much of what exists, and what will be built in the future will be capable of evolving without disrupting communities.

Rachel Armstrong is co-director of AVATAR, specializing in Architecture and Synthetic Biology at the School of Architecture & Construction, University of Greenwich, London. She also is a visiting researcher in the Department of Physics and Chemistry, University of Southern Denmark.

Synthetic biology is a fairly new branch of science. Armstrong presents her fascinating work-in-progress in a TED e-book. On the TED web site, there is a link to a video of her TED Talk (“Architecture that repairs itself?”), a brief and crisp presentation of what synthetic biology is. I found this helpful. I had more trouble with the scientific illustrations to which there are links in her e-book. That could be a shortcoming of my behind-the-curve, second generation Kindle.

TED is a nonprofit organization that started as a conference to bring novel thinkers together from the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design (hence TED). It is, appropriately, a growing community of people with big ideas from other areas as well. For example, educator Sugata Mitra (inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire) argues for self-directed learning. Other topics in the list include: improving the media, the complexity of the smile, and “dangerism.” TED ebooks, all 20,000 words or less, sell for $2.99 (at present). They are available from Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble.

I reviewed this book for bookpleasures.com, and you can see all my reviews there along with those of 40 other members of the bookpleasures.com reading community.

 

 

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