Living Architecture Lab

Research Labs + Centers

Fall 2012 + Spring 2013

David Benjamin, director

Since its creation, the Living Architecture Lab has explored possible futures of technology and architecture in the context of public space, ecosystems and the Internet of Things. The Lab designs and builds functioning prototypes that bring architecture to life in new ways. In the past year, the Lab sharpened its focus on design and biology, working with a range of collaborators to explore the intersection of architecture, computation and synthetic biology.

Mussel Choir (exhibited at the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2012)

What if the “smart” city turns out to be not so smart? Artificial Intelligence (AI) often involves centralized databases and automated decision-making. But Natural Intelligence (NI) involves feedback between multiple interconnected living agents–and it puts information in the hands of multiple people who can take informed actions. The Venice Mussel Choir is a monitoring system using live mussels as bio-sensors and vocalizing changes in water quality through a combination of AI and NI. Mussels are well-established indicators of water quality. Using a Hall effect sensor and a rare earth magnet attached to the shell of a mussel, it is possible to detect changes in the gape of its shell and extrapolate its response to water conditions. Working with native mussels, we created an installation in a local canal to “sing” real-time reports and a daily summary. Components of the system include a mussel sock of live mussels, sensors and magnets attached to mussels along different points of the mussel sock, marine rope, a custom system of low-voltage, low-cost electronics, and custom monitoring software.

Bio Computation (exhibited at TED Global 2012, TED Long Beach 2013 and Espace Foundation in Paris)

In the growing discipline of synthetic biology, living systems are engineered to help solve problems across various industries. For this project, the Lab designed new composite building materials through a pioneering intersection of synthetic biology, architecture, and computation. These new composite materials offer insight into the near future when synthetic biology may help us design and manufacture the built environment with higher performance and lower environmental impact than traditional methods. In this project, bacteria become factories for manufacturing building materials through a combination of three of their natural features. Bacteria can produce flexible, fabric-like substance. Bacteria can produce rigid, brick-like substance. And bacteria can generate complex, self-organized patterns. In an experiment combining these features, two different types of genetically-modified bacteria are mixed in a large petri dish and they generate flat sheets of material with distinct rigid and flexible regions. This process, which is still being refined in the lab, is then modeled in a software workflow. Thousands of design options are explored by varying the properties of the bacteria, which translates into different patterns in the sheets. The custom workflow is uses techniques of simulation and optimization common in aerospace and architectural design.The resulting composite sheets have novel properties of structure and transparency, and they can be applied to new high-performance envelopes in buildings, boats, and airplanes.

Bio-Computation A/B