Issue 7

Designing the living

La Fabrique du vivant

Words by Silke Bender

Buildings and furniture made from mushroom cultures? Crockery and bottles produced from algae, and cardiovascular systems based on spinach? Welcome to the future! All these ideas may sound like ­science fiction, but in fact they have long reached the experimental stage of research. The recent exhibition La Fabrique du Vivant (Designing the ­Living) at the Centre Pompidou in Paris delivered a status report of the world’s most innovative projects in science, design and architecture; it presented new and ecological materials and biotechnological production processes and placed design firmly at the interface of natural sciences and computer technology. In our digital age, design is increasingly found in interaction with natural sciences, blurring the boundaries of the former dichotomy between natural and artificial. This gives rise to the question of whether life can be digitally programmed—and, if so, how.



David Benjamin—Studio Klarenbeek & Dros with
Atelier Luma—XTU Architects—
Natsai Audrey Chieza—Worcester Polytechnic Institute




David Benjamin: Living Bricks

Construction based on mushrooms and plant waste: on his search for new, ecological and climate-neutral construction materials, Benjamin—New York-based architect, professor at Columbia University GSAPP of New York and founder of The Living architects’ studio—developed bricks from mushroom mycelium cultures and chopped-up corn stalks. The 10-strong team at the startup ­comprises biologists, architects, artists and IT ­specialists working hand in hand.


The archway which Benjamin built for the exhibition from his Living Bricks is the tangible result of a long-standing multidisciplinary research project. The bricks are composed of organically grown organisms; to make them, agricultural waste products are shredded and compressed, and the resulting biomass laced with living mushroom mycelia and packed into a wooden shell. A natural process then welds the bricks together to form a stable architectural structure. This growth and self-assembly process ceases when the supply of water to the mycelium stops. In 2014, the project presented the Hy-Fi ­Tower at the MoMA PS1 museum in Queens, New York; when the exhibition closed the 13-­metre three-cylinder structure, open to the sky, was simply shredded and used as compost by the New York City Department of Parks and ­Re­creation.


Right at the start of my studies, I had the idea of expanding the way architecture is defined, Benjamin told US publication Architect Maga­zine. Over time, my original aim of developing an interactive and reactive approach to architecture connected with my interest in seeing architecture through the eyes of bio­logy and taking living organisms as our models. Perhaps buildings are more than just motionless structures; perhaps they can also be dynamic systems. 



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