January 22, 2011

Genetic architecture and the radical transformation of planet Earth

Seoul Commune 2026: Reconfiguring Towers in the Park, by the Korean office for architecture Mass Studies. Source.
Genetic architecture is an exciting, promising, and highly conceptual field that suggests we can bridge the gap between biology, artificial intelligence, and architecture. The end of result would see not just the integration of living and inert matter, but the transformation of the entire planet itself. Karl Chu, a leading figure in this area, calls it the "architecture of possible worlds." And he isn't thinking small.

Chu acknowledges that a future in which genetic architecture exists will be one in which humanity has gone through a number of paradigm shifts. He envisions a future in which humans have migrated to post-humanity and exist as "multiple beings" who take part in the emergent collective that is the "global brain." Because Chu considers architecture as an extension of the human and post-human being, he sees great potential for architecture to radically evolve along with its inhabitants and designers. The possibilities are staggering.

Genetic architecture can incorporate creative surroundings. Source.
As part of this vision, Chu and other genetic architects imagine buildings and other objects of our design as being transformed into living entities (if not beings) endowed with certain levels of intelligence and capacities. It will twist our notions of what we have traditionally considered to be lifeless objects, as much of our environment will become endowed with life and even intelligence.

Future "genetic buildings" could, for example, be self-assessing, self-healing and self-modifying, thus minimizing their need to be repaired or maintained by external sources. They will morph, process, and react. These buildings could even meet the needs of its inhabitants by sensing the moods or health of its occupants and act accordingly. Needless to say, the potential for sustainability is substantial.

Concept research: New skin living material. Source.
Chu also notes that genetic architects are not trying to imitate or copy biology. Rather, they are looking to significantly expand the space of possible intentional design through the integration of artificial intelligence and biological processes. He looks at our planet as eventually becoming a massive computing system—a very literal take on the concept of the global brain. The role of architecture is to facilitate and conceptualize this transformation.

The end result could potentially see the Earth as a massive computational and "self-aware" system in which all its components, inhabitants and systems are endowed with intelligence.

Check out this video of Karl Chu giving a talk at TEDxBrooklyn:


ZarPaulus said...

I expect the "ick" factor to put most people off the concept of genetic architecture for quite a while.

neko said...

There seems to be a sense that whatever your imagination can muster might be possible in this emerging field of study, although it is probably a long way off. Still fun to imagine some of the possibilities, though: walls that filter the outside air for you; buildings that regenerate and have their own immune systems; a home that changes your environment based on how it perceives your mood, one that KNOWS you; transparent walls with clear hair that act both as insulation and light transfer; buildings that you can grow instead of construct; and what if mobility were a factor? That one reminds me a bit of Ron Herron's Walking City.

The whole idea raises so many questions for me, especially when we get into a realm of sentience. What would they need from the environment to grow? What if a "building" could develop temperament? Language? What could happen if we, as humans, take these creatures for granted? Who the hell do we think we are, anyway?

As for the "ick factor", what makes it so icky? Whatever that is, you could try to imagine that aspect in a way that suits your needs and expectations more. What if it were just a component? Like a filtration system, or a solar panel that used plant cells?