Here is a video produced by Stage 3 architecture students from Newcastle University exploring biological materials – specifically a material called Bacilla Subtilis partly made with bacterial spores which responds to humidity by expending or contracting.
We have tried to exploit this feature in order to create an actuated facade with the ability to open and close dependent on the humidity conditions of the environment surrounding the structure.
As part of the project the students went into the University Biology Labs to make and experiment with the material before designing their own prototype building panels which would be actuated by this biological material.
This project offers a unique opportunity for an architectural student. One to explore an area of the profession often saved for qualified research architects; the chance to integrate scientific knowledge with human designed systems. The advances in synthetic biology have yet to been combined with those in architecture.
This may not appear ground breaking at first glance but when we think that for centuries our architecture has had the purpose to protect from the outside elements, to be a barrier to the harsh environment that surrounds us, proposing that we can remove that boundary and in fact have a facade that will work with nature through nature itself is something that is very current in thinking.
We must remember that due to the technology being in its incubation period, we may not see the results that we wish for. However it is important to realise that through experimentation and failure, we will always be learning from these mistakes.
This innovative and unusual teaching studio is informed by cutting edge research in the field of experimental architecture.
Experimental Architecture is the name given to a new generation of living technologies, their application on architecture and environmental design and the examination of the point at which life and technology converge.
Dr Martyn Dade-Robertson (Degree Programme Director of the MSc Experimental Architecture) is Principal Investigator of Computational Colluids, a research project which investigates how Civil Engineering may be integrated with the emerging field of Synthetic Biology. Combining these fields has potentially transformative implications for both and may generate a new field of Engineering Design.
Professor Rachel Armstrong is leading on a Horizon 2020 funded project Living Architecture. This project plans to develop a programmable bioreactor able to extract valuable resources from waste water and air and to generate oxygen, proteins and fibre. Its possible installation in domestic, public and office settings will significantly improve the environmental performance of our living spaces with undeniable benefits for health, productivity and ecosystems.