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Lecture: Rachel Armstrong, "Soft Spaces: Designing with Metabolism"

Lecture: Rachel Armstrong, "Soft Spaces: Designing with Metabolism"

Soft spaces are manifold spaces that harbour consciousness, creativity, considered thought and dreaming. They are made possible through the 'living' metabolic networks that flow through and within human and non-human creatures. Flesh upon the bones of inert classical structures, 'soft' spaces move through interiors and exteriors rendering them selectively permeable to each other. In this way, they are responsible for the fabrics and infrastructures of 'living' processes, which in turn, enable change, adaptation and transformation. Soft spaces evolve alongside us. Our cells, our microbes, our breath, our genetic codes, our bodily communities contaminate soft living spaces, and in turn, they taint us too – we are composed of soft spaces all the way down. This talk explores how such mutable fabrics may be engaged by linking the cycles of life and death through a range of technologies and design tactics to generate living spaces with qualitatively different impacts than modern buildings. Using the Living Architecture project as a case study to exemplify these possibilities, the possibility of 'soft' homes and cities is presented.

Rachel Armstrong is Professor of Experimental Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University. She is a Rising Waters II Fellow with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (April-May 2016), TWOTY futurist 2015, Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, a 2010 Senior TED Fellow and profiled in the RIBA Journal, 2018. She is Director and founder of the Experimental Architecture Group (EAG) whose work has been published widely as well as exhibited and performed at the Venice Art and Architecture Biennales, the Tallinn Architecture Biennale, the Trondheim Art Biennale, the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), the Institute of Advanced Architecture, Catalonia (IAAC), Aarhus Kuntshal, the University of the Underground (Amsterdam), The Gallatin School, New York University, Allenheads Contemporary Arts, and Culture Lab at Newcastle University.

Her work investigates a new approach to building materials called ‘living architecture,’ which suggests it is possible for our buildings to share some of the properties of living systems. Collaboratively working across disciplines, she builds and develops prototypes that couple the computational properties of the natural world with matter at far from equilibrium. She calls the synthesis that occurs between these systems and their inhabitants “living” architecture. 

She is coordinator for the €3.2m Living Architecture project, which is an ongoing collaboration of experts from the universities of Newcastle, UK, the West of England (UWE Bristol), Trento, Italy, the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, LIQUIFER Systems Group, Vienna, Austria and EXPLORA, Venice, Italy that began in April 2016 and runs to April 2019. It is envisioned as a next-generation, selectively, programmable bioreactor that is capable of extracting valuable resources from sunlight, wastewater and air and in turn, generating oxygen, proteins and biomass. Conceived as a freestanding partition it is composed of bioreactor building blocks (microbial fuel cell, algae bioreactor and a genetically modified processor), which are being developed as standardized building segments, or bricks. Living Architecture uses the standard principles of both photo bioreactor and microbial fuel cell technologies, which are adapted to and combined into a single, sequential hybrid bioreactor system so they will work synergistically together to clean wastewater, generate oxygen, provide electrical power and generate useable biomass (fertilizer).

In partnership with the University of Michigan Biosciences Initiative, which aims to strengthen research and education in the biosciences across the university through strategic leadership, coordination and alignment across the campus.

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