Monday, December 01, 2008


After attending this year’s ACADIA conference, I felt I was granted a small glimpse into the future of design. Tomorrow’s architecture may not be based on steel beams and 4x8 sheet goods, or even passive solar design; but instead on mutating cancer cells, evolutionary development biology and trans-disciplinary logic. Sound a little sci-fi? Well it is and it’s really cool.

The annual conference was hosted by Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), entitled ‘Silicon + Skin’. This year’s event was sponsored by the University of Minnesota School of Architecture and Computer Science and focused on the intersection between design, biology and computation. I attended a lecture given by designers focused on the increasingly popular subject of Biomimicry. Each presenter utilizes digital design as a method to explore principles found in nature and then in turn create generative design ideas. Each presentation was mind blowing in the potential to mine nature for new architectural ideas.

Two of the most intriguing projects were presented by Jenny Sabin from CabinStudio and Jerome Fumar whom is faculty at RMIT University in Melbourne, Austrailia. Jenny’s work, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, deals with the cross-disciplinary examination of cancer cells and their potential for generating architectures of biosynthesis. She has collaborated with biomedical researchers focused on mapping the structures of mutating cancer cells to help understand how the disease develops. Her work attempts to determine the underlying natural structure of cells so she can then deploy similar ideas in the work of architecture. The goal is to ultimately develop ‘an architecture of connectivity’ where the structure and surfaces of buildings can potentially develop out of the natural conditions and necessities surrounding them.

Jerome’s work is equally inspired by natural orders and their resulting structure and form. He focuses on larger natural systems and the underlying geometries which govern their form, or morphogenesis. Jerome sees natural structures as a byproduct of extreme efficiency. Unlike modernism’s tendency to articulate straight lines and simple geometries, natural systems are dynamic and flexible, capable of evolving to surrounding conditions. Utilizing engineering software, Jerome is able to determine the geometric principles in bone structure, sea cucumbers and other natural phenomenon to find what he calls ‘energy centric design principles.’ He then works to abstract these ideas and translate them into built work of minimized forms that are both beautiful and material efficient.
Jerome hopes to use digital simulation to understand our complex and dynamic natural world and move architecture forward. By finding new methods to optimize materials and create ‘context specific components,’ Jerome’s work and methods should inspire any architect interested in furthering sustainable design. As energy and materials continue to become scarce in global economies, perhaps buildings will move away from historic construction techniques and our simple boxes to new methods of building inspired by biomimetic design principles.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts, but what is it like to live in a building inspired by bone or cancer? I think I'll stick to my rambler in NE Minneapolis.

Colin said...

This is a very valid point. Most work to date deals with the idea of biomimetics. However there are many real world applications of biomemetic design. Diamlerchystler is one example with their DXC car based on the make up of the boxfish. Check it out for yourself:

John Gavin Dwyer, AIA said...

Congratulations Marc and everyone else who worked to pull together a very inciteful conference. This was truly one of those rare academic events that tends to slip through the mainstream media cracks. Good work catching it, Colin.