Living Architecture: Altering the Environmental Impacts of Human Development

Sourced from The Ecologist

Le Corbusier - the Swiss-French architect, designer, painter and urban planner - imagined houses as ‘machines for living’ which provide support for the daily activities of modern lifestyles.

Yet today the negative legacy of industrialisation’s global-scale consumption of fossil fuels and natural resources requires alternative technologies incorporated into our living spaces that are capable of meeting our needs, but that also have qualitatively different environmental impacts.

The Living Architecture project is an example of a convergent technological platform that combines traditional building approaches, with ‘living’ systems and digital technology.

Organic catalysts

The first Living Architecture prototype – the 'living brick' – was launched during the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016.

For the first time, it brought together the structural integrity of a traditional building block and material and conferred it with the metabolic capacity of a microbial fuel cell, which can turn waste organic material into electricity, water and oxygen.

This prototype prompts the next steps for an integrated bioreactor design and raises broader questions about units of design for the 21st century that are capable of exceeding the impacts of traditional design and construction methods.

Subsequent iterations were presented at the Venice Art Biennale (2017), the Tallinn Architecture Biennale (2017) and as part of a “Living Brick” exhibition at the Great North Museum, Newcastle, March – June 2018.

The long-term vision is to provide a means of performing biological and mechanical work within buildings by replacing the ‘dead’ metabolisms of fossil fuels - which lack natural organic catalysts like enzymes and therefore have high activation thresholds to release energy.

Biological control

They will be replaced with the ‘living’ metabolisms of active microorganisms - which are rich in assistive biomolecules.

Currently, this takes the form of a freestanding, next-generation, selectively programmable series of bioreactors that are installed in an interior space of a building - such as an office - as a ‘living wall’.

This wall is composed of three different kinds of ‘living’ building blocks - microbial fuel cell, algae bioreactor and genetically modified processors. These are separated by semi permeable membranes.

The whole structure is ‘fed’ with grey water which carries as a supply of nutrients, and also provides a growth medium for the respective microbial consortia that produce a range of substrates such as biomass.

The outputs of these consortia are orchestrated by digital and biological control systems.

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