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Armstrong and Fuller at the V&A

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Protocells and the future of architecture

Organised by AJ sister title The Architectural Review and the Royal College of Art, last week’s Architecture & Ecology talk saw Rachel Armstrong and Steve Fuller speculate on the future of the planet. Senior TED Fellow  and sustainability innovator Rachel Armstrong  was joined by University of Warwick’s sociology professor Steve Fuller, author of Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human, Past, Present and Future, to debate how ecology will shape our future.

Armstrong argued that current sustainable practices do not nurture life; they are just ‘a better kind of industrialisation.’ She suggested that we need a more technological approach to ecology. Future cities should break free from their inert states to encourage a dynamic relationship with the natural world.

Much of Armstrong’s research is about creating new life-like systems that can be programmed to ‘grow’ architecture. One of her ongoing projects is about smart oil droplets that exhibit life-like behaviour of bonding, growing and responding to external agents. She proposes using these smart droplets in the Future Venice project to create an artificial reef in Venice. These new light-averse stratum can be ecologically programmed to move away from light into the dark foundations under the city.


Light averse protocells. Credit: Rachel Armstrong’s Living Architecture

Fuller suggested that the human body itself is a kind of ecology and that our carbon-based origins limit the way that humans can actually be. He explained that while science has been instrumental in maximising human potential, humanity is now being pushed by technology rather than vice-versa. The past is a rich database to help predict the future of our planet.

Both speakers encouraged exploitation of existing technological and social networks as educational tools and databases. This is an evolutionary process which over time will lead to the restructuring of our cities. Armstrong argued that architecture’s concern should be how we design for an increasingly uncertain world by developing a technologised tool set. Architectural practices should be laboratories that experiment in futuristic technologies.

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