Thinking across boundaries
excerpt from an interview with co-project lead Barbara Imhof about the
Project “Growing As Building”
The foundations for developments such as SHEE are laid by basic research, a case in point being the FWF-funded PEEK project Growing As Building (GrAB), which Imhof and her team will continue to pursue until early 2016. They are investigating growth principles in nature in order to translate them into architectural concepts and create living architecture. The three main fields of investigation in this project: principles of growth, material systems and closed-loop systems. Sometimes such projects give rise to technological applications such as 3D-printed objects. The project team around Imhof is very interdisciplinary, involving architecture, microbiology, art, bionics and robotics.
Slime moulds as co-designers
In order to examine the growth principles used by nature, Imhof’s team had to apply new scientific methods. For that purpose they installed a bio-lab at the project’s home site, the Vienna University of Applied Arts. In the lab, the researchers investigate slime mould, a single-cell organism which forms an optimised network from one food source to the next. To test this concept, the scientists used a vacant site on the British coast which had served as a defence post to face the Germans in the Second World War. The bridges linking the individual platforms had decayed in the course of time. The team built a scale model of this installation on site and placed food sources on it. The slime grew through the model from one oat flake to the next. The connections it grew served as the basis for an architectural concept. “The slime mould acted as our co-designer”, Imhof says with a smile.
Mycelia make construction material grow
In the context of material systems, Imhof is working on developing new construction material with the help of mycelia. These string-like fungus cells feed on cellulose contained, for instance, in wood chips or newspapers. In this way, one can use the mycelia to grow construction material exhibiting the properties of soft wood. It was important for Imhof to go beyond the simple shape of a brick. “With building-kit models we developed free-form structures that grew with mycelia and cellulosic material. The inner cellulose core served as template”, explains Imhof, who also wants to go one step beyond what is considered as “state of the art” in her work. The great idea behind this work is a house that can grow. “The houses we build right now become functional only once they are finished. Our vision is to develop houses that can already be used during the construction time”, notes Imhof.
by Margit Schwarz-Stiglbauer, FWF scilog 1 December 2015