How do we create living architecture?


With the growing urbanization of our world, it is becoming ever more visible that the city will be the biosphere of humanity. Ever more attempts are being made to integrate nature in our built environment and the paradigm of biology invades our building culture. Smart building shells, which react to, and interact with, their environment and inhabitants are already part of today’s building scenarios. Concepts such as intelligent control systems, alternative concepts of mobility and moving building parts inform our future vision of urban architecture.

By 2050 two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities where also most of the world’s pollution is produced. Already today, we are faced with metropolitan areas approaching the limit of 40 million inhabitants. As a consequence we are faced with a problematic decrease in elementary resources such as clean air, water, the challenges of massive waste production, while at the same time urbanisation contributes to climate change. In this situation, sustainability, renewable energy, alternative building techniques, refined materials and interacting digital systems all play an important role.

The project GrAB, Growing As Building, takes on these challenges with the idea of a living architecture, focusing on dynamically growing architecture which can adapt to the environment and the needs of users in a process of constant evolution. 

Specifically, the team is looking at material systems like the ones generated by mycelium, and growth principles found in the self-organizing, ‘explorative’ growth nature of slime mould. Furthermore, metabolic systems are developed, in which organisms like algae and bacteria are integrated into semi-closed loops generating, depositing and recycling building materials.

Oyster Mushroom Mycelium elment dried, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, photo: Rafael Sanchez

The mycelium experiments target the creation of solid building material and/or building elements, produced directly from waste products (wood or other organic material), which serves as nourishment for the organism. As mycelium grows, it solidifies the fragmented and shapeless matter by creating connective tissue. Different models are used for defining the form and boundaries of its growth, such as organic shells, cotton membranes, 3D printed forms, and cardboard structures. The mycelium experiments are not form generating, but matter-generating processes. Growth is used here only in a specific timeframe, and the final product is no longer living.


Future Mycelium City, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, rendering: Rafael Sanchez

The slime mould experiments are intended to research the explorative capacity of the organism. There is currently a widespread interest in different academic fields into the agency of organisms and approaching nature from a less anthropocentric view. The GrAB team uses the slime mould as “co-designer” to tackle design problems such as spatial configuration and circulation. Through growth, slime moulds explore their environment and are capable of “knowing” their surroundings, capable of efficient path finding and the identification of suitable environments for producing fruiting bodies. Some aspects of this capacity, like the sensing of past presence by chemical tracers, have been described and could be mimicked in technical systems. The experiments were extended into a 3D space grid. The slime mould experiments deliver spatial pathways and differentiate space into conditional areas related to the needs of the organism.
Slime Mould in glove box, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, photo: Ceren yönetim

Slime Mould in glove box, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, photo: Ceren Yönetim

Slime Mould growth as 3D point cloud in computer programme, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, photo: Ceren Yönetim

3D Slime Mould point cloud super imposed on Maunsell Fort, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, photo: Ceren Yönetim

CC BY-SA 3.0, August 20, 2011

The Red Sands Maunsell sea fort in the Thames estuary, off the north coast of Kent. The new landing stage, ladder and antenna on the foreground fort, and the catwalk linking it to its neighbour, appear to date from the period 2007-8, when the fort was used for legal broadcasts by Red Sands Radio, before being declared unsafe for occupation. CC BY-SA 3.0, August 20, 2011

The metabolic system integrates a newly developed local 3D printer that takes on current rapid prototyping technology, liberates it from its limiting frame - allowing free locomotion of the print head, and integrates calcium carbonate as print material. Accuracy and precision are two main aspects for any kind of fabrication, and in nature, growth has low accuracy, but extremely high precision. For example, each tree looks different, but on a small scale every element down to the molecular level is precisely where it has to be to keep the tree alive. This principle is transferred to the local printer by defining a reference coordinate system based on the built part itself. This feedback loop creates self-organized behaviour, capacitating the printer to cope with any change and delivering a form of resilience to the system.

3D cable printer concept, credit: Growing As Building, 2015, images and photos: Damjan Minovski

Other role models from nature and transfer ideas have been explored during the project, and the transfer methodology refined. With exhibitions and public panels, the project also generates a platform for a critical discussion of the approach.

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