Director, Experimental Architecture Group


Title: Living Technology and the Expanded Field of Nature.**

This talk examines the design implications of an expanded portfolio of technologies on the augmentation of landscape, which enables us to imagine and design with the natural world at scales and to a degree of understanding that have previously not been accessible. In an age of advanced biotechnologies and the transitioning of biological ideas towards the concept of metabolism, our relationship with design blurs boundaries between artificial and natural landscapes in new ways. Drawing together the traditional technology of the humble brick with metabolic design, the ‘living brick’ will be explored as a case study. The first prototype of the EU funded Living Architecture project, the ‘living brick’ mediates between interior and exterior landscapes to process the side-effects and wastes of our daily acts of living. The technical and material configurations of such a simple instrument are brought into the 21st century through the Living Architecture project through a series of designs and installations. With the capacity to transform substances and possessing an inner life, these units of design have the capability of not only altering our environmental impacts through our domestic choices but also developing new relationships between humans and nonhumans. Landscapes may not only be augmented as programmable, functional spaces capable of developing new languages and poetics for the portfolio of human inhabitation but also start new kinds of conversations between people, the material realm and nature.


Rachel Armstrong is Professor of Experimental Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University. She is Director of the Experimental Architecture Group, a Rising Waters II Fellow with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (April-May 2016), a 2010 Senior TED Fellow and a sustainability innovator who investigates a new approach to building materials called ‘living architecture', exploring how our buildings may share some of the properties of living systems. She is coordinator for the €3.2m Living Architecture project, which is an ongoing collaboration of experts from the universities of Newcastle, UK, the West of England (UWE Bristol), Trento, Italy, the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, LIQUIFER Systems Group, Vienna, Austria and EXPLORA, Venice, Italy that began in April 2016 and runs to April 2019. It is envisioned as a next-generation, selectively, programmable bioreactor that is capable of extracting valuable resources from sunlight, wastewater and air and in turn, generating oxygen, proteins and biomass. Conceived as a freestanding partition it is composed of bioreactor building blocks (microbial fuel cell, algae bioreactor and a genetically modified processor), which are being developed as standardized building segments, or bricks. Her publications include: Living Architecture: How Synthetic Biology Can Remake Our Cities and Reshape our Lives (TED Books), Vibrant Architecture (DeGruyter Open), Soft Living Architecture: An Alternative View of Bio-informed Practice (Bloomsbury) and Liquid Life: On Non-Linear Materiality.