Built to Grow – Blending Architecture and Biology

Eds. Barbara Imhof, Petra Gruber Foreword by Rachel Armstrong


inside the book - video


Released NOVEMBER 2015

Birkhäuser, Edition: ‘Angewandte


The book explores different pathways of experimenting with biology and architecture in the new field of Living Architecture. It takes architectural visions of a self-growing house and looks at growth patterns and dynamics from nature to apply them to architectural visions.


The book presents ideas, approaches and concepts for grown structures developed by an interdisciplinary team from the fields of architecture, art, biology, robotics and mechatronics. The core part of the book establishes the relevance of the two and a half years artistic research work conducted under the project name GrAB – Growing As Building. This includes hands-on experiments in a biolab with biological role models such as the pathfinding slime mould, mycelium structures and metabolic systems around a novel 3D mobile printer. Excerpts from conversations with different experts about agency, emergence and resilience, and a discussion about the immanent values and ethical aspects of this research are reflected to contextualise the work within our world of change.


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The interviewees Petra Gruber, Angelo Vermeulen, Thomas Speck and Julian Vincent circle around the following questions:


*Why do we need to look at nature in architecture and engineering?
This presents and introduction to both biomimetics and the GrAB project. It also clarifies why this research was conducted in the first place.
*Your view on agency, emergence, resilience?
A bit of a broader (and somewhat philosophical) perspective on growing architecture.
*How can this attitude contribute to a better world?
Implicitly we all believe it's important to do this kind of research. Here we voice why we think it's important. Beyond mere practical reasons, this is not such an easy question. But that makes it even more interesting.
*How will the future look like and what are the obstacles you envision?



images from the exhibtion - enjoy!

all photos credit: Bruno Stubenrauch










Built to Grow - Blending architecture and biology

Opening 12 October, 2015, 6 pm
Exhibition 13 October –7 November 2015

Imagine a house that grows through biological and technological processes: a house that finds its site through self organisation, that can be used while it is growing, and is able to adapt to the climate; a house that continues to grow when more space or a stronger structure are needed, a house that doesn’t produce any waste, and can decompose itself once it has reached the end of its life cycle. The research project GrAB – Growing As Building explores this idea through an interdisciplinary team involving the fields of architecture, biology, art, mechatronics, and robotics. The aim of the project is to bridge the differences between biological and technological growth principles and to create proto-architectonic examples of a new living architecture. Starting from architectural visions, role models from nature were strategically investigated. A Biolab served as research platform for experimentation with organisms such as slime mould, mushroom mycelium and algae, and for implementation of biological paradigms into architectural solutions. Principles from biology such as self organisation, hierarchical order of material at different scales, and cyclic metabolic systems were transferred to specific architectural concepts. Moreover, in order to produce this new kind of differentiated and adaptive structures, technologies for 3D printing were used and developed further. Excerpts from a conversation among different experts about agency, emergence and resilience, and a discussion about the immanent values and ethical aspects of this research are presented to contextualize the work within our world of change.


Panel discussion
12 October, 2015, 6 pm
Moderation: Barbara Imhof

Rachel Armstrong, experimental architecture, Newcastle University, School of Architecture, UK

Petra Gruber, biomimetics, architecture, Ethiopian Institute of
Architecture, Building Construction and City Development, Addis Ababa University, ET

Angelo Vermeulen, art, ecology, Delft University of Technology, Participatory Systems Initiative, NL

Thomas Speck, biology, University of Freiburg,, Botanischer Garten, Plant Biomechanics Group, DE

Project leads: Barbara Imhof, Petra Gruber, Waltraut Hoheneder 

Researchers: Viktor Gudenus, Damjan Minovski, Angelo Vermeulen, Tanja Oberwinkler 

Student researchers: Ceren Yönetim, Rafael Sanchez, Laura Mesa, Andreas Körner, Mohammedneja Shikur, Mariya Korolova, Atanas Zhelev, Ioana Binica, Alexander Nanu 

Expert advisors: Thomas Speck, Julian Vincent 

We would further like to extend our gratitude to the following people who supported the project GrAB:

Rector of the Angewandte: Gerald Bast 

Project coordination at Angewandte: Alexander Damianisch, Angelika Zelisko, Wiebke Miljes 

Studio Greg Lynn, University of Applied Arts: Greg Lynn, Bence Bap, Parsa Khalili, Maja Ozvadic 

Institute of Architecture: Klaus Bollinger, Roswitha Janowski-Fritsch, Sabine Perternell 

Angewandte Innovation Laboratory: Alexandra Graupner 

Blending architecture and biology


We are getting close to the final events of the project. The exhibition opens on the 12th of October at the Angewandte Innovation Laboratory in the centre of Vienna. Our panel guests are confirmed and we are happy to welcome the esteemed speakers; Prof. Rachel Armstrong, Prof. Thomas Speck, Prof. Petra Gruber and Angelo Vermeulen. They will all participate in a final discussion about the project. Currently we are working on wrapping up the project - working hard on the book publication, tuning the mobile cable driven printers, growing mycelium membranes for a small pavilion that will be presented in the exhibition, and keeping fingers crossed that our Magnet Resonance Imaging of the slime mould will come out well…. All this will be presented at the finisage of the exhibition, on 6th November 2015. Furthermore, a book comprising all essential information about the project regarding; aspects of life, the GrAB methodology, our novel approach with the QFD (Quality Function Deployment) and the hands-on Biolab. The core article within the publication titled „Plan not to plan anymore“ contextualizes GrAB within architecture and offers perspectives on where architecture and biology blend. The chapter “Experimentation” reads like a cookbook with recipes on how to grow mycelium, co-design with a slime mould, experiment with hydrogels and analyse trees such as the Euphorbia. Towards the end of the book, one can read the symposium transcripts from the March 2014 event “Biological growth into technology - Between fiction and fact” – a discussion between panellists regarding the ethical values of projects such as GrAB where biology, architecture and technology converge. A manifesto closes the book and can be considered a visionary outlook of what we imagine to become a promising future in our ever-changing world. Please consider yourself invited to our presentation of the project including a discussion 12. October 2014 at 18.00 hrs at the Angewandte Innovation Laboratory.


by Barbara Imhof, 22. August 2015


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