Growth Spurt

by William Myers, The Architect's Newspaper

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As building technology races ahead, science propels it to help meet new and ever-changing standards. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the breakneck tempo of progress was fueled largely by physics and chemistry, delivering a host of tools to the architect, from reinforced concrete and steel frame construction to PVC and low-emissivity glass. Today, it’s biology, as promising technologies are emerging from nature and involve stepping beyond mimicry to literally harnessing living organisms and systems to build ecologically. Le Corbusier’s steel and glass “machine for living in” may soon give way to a “living machine” or, as Salvador Dalí wrote of the future of architecture in 1933, “It will be soft and hairy.”

The increased urgency to lower the negative environmental impact of architecture is difficult to overstate. The life cycle of buildings is responsible for roughly half of CO2 emissions worldwide, a proportion that grows as urbanization intensifies, with the majority of the world living in cities since 2008. The resulting natural resource scarcity, pollution, and decreasing biodiversity threaten both social stability and long-term environmental health. In short, current practices pose tremendous risks for the future, and approaches once thought impractical or radical may illuminate the way forward.

The research among academics and practitioners into biology-driven design is farther along than one would expect. And the issues raised are challenging and range far—from radically rethinking the time frame it requires to grow structure to acknowledging that architects and scientists do not even use the same language and may need to invent a new one to communicate...."

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by William Myers, The Architect's Newspaper