The amazing image above shows how much can happen in a city over 26 years. We know cities are growing at amazing rates, but these images are poor at capturing any tensions of over stretched infrastructure that struggles to keep pace. Slow development is never desirable in urban growth, but it is hard not to see dystopic visuals of urban decay as the cities struggle to pay their own environmental bills.
Conversations about ecosystem development as a strategy for solving human environmental crises are clearly not new. In a paper from 1969 recently sent to me by Bruce Hinds there is a rich account of the previous thinking and inspiration that has as of yet translated into human innovation. Some of the language and concepts in the paper are clearly out of date, as most of the resilience theory work and C.S. Hollings was not yet integrated, but at the core there are some really key concepts.
Core Trends of Ecosystem Succession
Above is an excellent lecture, but prepare some pop-corn, it is a long one…
It is incredibly inspiring, and intimidating when you come across someone who is exploring similar train of thought you may have been dabbling in for years. Inspiring as you get validation and stimulation from their work, and intimidating when they are executing it at a quantity and quality of output that is staggering. Tom Wiscombe, who I am embarrassed to have only recently discovered is exactly one of those amazing applied thinkers.
I also need to admit I have not spent nearly enough time processing all of the content, so apologies in advance if the following is a little fragmented – there are a lot of rabbit holes to explore.
Deconstructing the Built Environment
In class we deconstruct design territories into broad concepts in order to approach them through a variety of lenses. As discussed previously, we challenge the concept of a wall by questioning it as a membrane or a shell, using language to unlock low-associative thoughts. Tom Wiscombe, it turns out has been doing this to great depth with some excellent insights into deconstructing labels in order to disrupt preconceived concepts. I hope you enjoy the quote below as much as I did when I first read it:
“It’s time to replace outmoded terms like “building services” and “mechanical systems“ once and for all… The notion of the “mechanical” brings us back to the industrial paradigm, rooted in a pre‐networked world. And lighting design has become little more than a fixture‐shopping experience. For now, maybe we can refer to these marginalized techno‐systems in a more refreshing way as airflow, fluid flow, and glow.”
Tom Wiscombe, Extreme Integration, Published in AD: Exuberance (ed. by Marjan Coletti), March, 2010
Airflow, fluid flow and glow, are just the tip of the technological, structural and formal concepts that Tom is extracting in order to functionally integrate technological mash-ups.
Let me share a couple of his projects that give context to what might be sounding a bit abstract right now:
I just returned from the Biomimicry Education Summit in Cleveland, which was fantastic, and explains a little lull (breather) in the blog postings. I will warn you that if I get a spare moment there will be a torrent of ideas bouncing around that have been stirred up over the last few days.
Remember the discussion about the future of materials? Biodegradability as a scenario of sustainability? On Monday morning John Warner, the godfather of green chemistry, gave a talk about his journey and the true story of how stuff could and should be made in the future.
He also shared the secrets of the future of hair dye, but you’ll have to ask him directly for that.
For those of you who haven’t had the luxury of seeing an industrial chemist spin an incredible, compelling tale about the reality of the profession, I have included one of John’s lectures below. It is an incredibly important story, because to most of us Industrial Chemistry is a pretty frightening partnership of concepts. It is a black box of science that shapes everything we do, and yet is poorly understood by most. It turns out that it is even poorly understood by the chemists, who have traditionally had absolutely no formal education in toxicology, and therefore an extremely limited understanding of the impact of the synthetic chemicals produced.
So I invite you to explore John Warner’s story, which includes connections between music composition and chemistry (which is an incredible concept). I’ll be diving into this area for more resources and ideas, there is a lot of emerging information to be explored.
John Warner runs the Warner Babcock Institute, which will, I hope, shape everything in the future.
Science fiction may be getting closer to reality in the future of materials.
The WYSS Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard is an interdisciplinary “alliance” between the internally diverse schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences, as well as a broad array of Universities and Research Centres. Their focus is the development of new materials using the deep, micro scale principles of self assembling natural materials, and the vision of their research is pretty wild.
The deceptively simple mission statement of the WYSS Institute reveals incredible goals:
The Wyss Institute aims to discover the engineering principles that Nature uses to build living things, and harnesses these insights to create biologically inspired materials and devices that will revolutionize healthcare and create a more sustainable world… Understanding of how living systems build, recycle, and control is also guiding efforts focused on development of entirely new approaches for constructing buildings, converting energy, controlling manufacturing, and improving our environment.
The self assembled future
This is an interesting proposal, with all the compulsory sexy imagery, for a structure that is grown from salt. The proposal is for a structure that grows as sea water is sprayed onto some sort of infrastructure… kind of a fun image, no matter what kind of fantasy it may be. Here is a piece of their project description, and a link to their site.
Born from unique environmental conditions, GEOtube is a new kind of urban sculptural tower. Gravity-sprayed with adjacent Persion Gulf waters, its building skin is entirely grown rather than constructed; is in continual formation rather than fully completed; and is created locally rather than imported.
Scenarios of Sustainability
Warning: the following will include an excessive use of question marks, as answers are far beyond me in the current scenario.
What if the world of the manufactured became the world of the grown? How literal should this future be?
Do we want our indoors to be the same as the outdoors? What if hardwood floors and stark white walls were replaced by soft grass and flaking bark? How do we deal with the germ-o-phobia and fear of creepy crawlies inherent in the wild? Predators are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, would a healthy urban ecology be able to support larger predators, when we already struggle with accommodating pigeons and raccoons?
I’m very curious to know if these questions are currently being pursued by the true visionaries of sustainability, biomimicry, ecological design and any other label for innovation inspired by nature. There may well be some of us that wish to return to a life connected to nature and who want to see nature physically integrated into our daily lives. But the vast majority are likely happy with this inclusion being limited to the tame confines of a green wall, internal garden or meditational pond, and would like their desk free of dirt, and with blinds over the windows to prevent glare on their computer screens.