Design in the Age of Biology

I have been re-reading a superb paper by Hugh Dubberly about the future of design as we (which I mean in the grandest sense) move into an age of biology. Every time I read it through something new sticks out at me. The paper is an excellent review of a whole range of different ideas of change, transition and sometimes tension.

Throughout the paper there are a series of tables summarizing these ideas. This one below is a personal favourite:

Source: Hugh Dubberly -

Source: Hugh Dubberly – Principles of Organization

What stands out to me are the discussions about control, the shifting relationships and the “stopping condition”. Biology suggests a concept of good enough – optimizing over time – which is outside of the scope for human design when the solution being generated is fixed. I’m personally fascinated by what this implies for ideas being more “malleable”, which is easy to understand when it comes to software and coding, but a little more abstract when it comes to tangible design. But what if architecture begins to become organic?

Source: Dezeen - by Gilles Retsin of Softkill Design

Source: Dezeen – by Gilles Retsin of Softkill Design

If you’re as tired as I am about the hyperbole of 3D printing at the moment, try not to roll your eyes at the example above, because it is a really great experiment. I’m assuming that the furniture is generic designer fodder in order to contextualize the space, but what is really fun is the idea of structure being a process. When I see this image, I see a structure that is malleable, that you can melt and reshape, or cut out sections to be replaced by reprinted panels.

A structure with this level of complexity can never be perfect. Therefore it will only succeed if the occupants can engage with it on some level. As Dubberly defined above, it would be the difference between making a “final decision”, as opposed to “building agreement” around a desired performance that can be expanded and challenged. I think it is how my brain is wired that I don’t see this structure being solid, so I am a little disappointed to see the proof of concept examples being produced from concrete:


Source: Dezeen – the Radiolaria pavilion by Andrea Morgante of Shiro Studio was printed on Enrico Dini’s D-Shape printer in 2009.

Concrete is so heavy and limiting. In this format it implies a geological time that is slow, almost permanent, and lacks in the complexity and chaos that deeply intrigues me. If the concrete was vascular, with an internal complexity that we could modify and morph, now that would be interesting!

So, I really recommend reading through Dubberly’s full paper. I would love to sit down with someone and find a bunch of tangible case studies that capture some of the transitions being observed. It could be the easiest way to define a good design thesis project. Hmm… I think I just gave myself an idea…


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