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Living architecture and synthetic biology – microbes will play a role

It is this type of thing that inspires me that a better understanding of microbes in the built environment could be of immense value in many areas: A Trip To The Living City Of The Future | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation.  Certainly, we need to do a lot of research into making buildings more “alive” with synthetic biology or any other process – as having a building be alive does not necessarily mean it is better.  But I find the notion of experimenting with novel living components to buildings to be inspiring and I am definitely going to buy Rachel Armstrong’s book “Living Architecture.”  And I note this is yet another reason to better understand the microbial ecology in the built environment – because the microbes will definitely interact in diverse ways with any living components to a building.

2 thoughts on “Living architecture and synthetic biology – microbes will play a role

  1. Rachel Armstrong says: “Our built environment doesn’t have to be static.” She’s right. In fact, it is not and it cannot be static. It’s dynamic, constantly reacting to the environment around it and the occupants and objects and processes within it. This can be understood as “building ecology.” Buildings are ecosystems, strongly affected by the air that comes in through ventilation systems and open windows and doors, and by the people and objects inside. Check it out at microbe.net or buildingecology.com.

    What concerns me more than this misconception of the built environment as static is the notion that we can introduce synthetic microbes into the environment without creating some potential hazards that we simply could not anticipate. Genetic engineering of agriculture, geo-engineering as the solution to global warming, and an endless number of other “magic bullets” gone awry should have taught us by now not to be so arrogant, and not to mess around with nature when we don’t really know what we are doing.

  2. Hal

    I agree in general that messing around with “nature” without some assessment of the risks is a bad idea. It bothers me in general when people suggest that there are no risks associated with some alteration in nature. That being said, I think we are constantly altering the natural world and the key question to me is choosing how we mess with it more than if we will mess with it. So sure – GMOs should not be presented as risk free and the history of the use of GMOs in agriculture leave a lot to be desired. But I think GMOs could be used to reduce other environmental hazards like toxins and pesticides and nitrogen runoff and monocultures. So if GMOs were used wisely, I do not object to them “on principle” per se. This is the same way I feel about “living buildings” and such. Certainly, introducing synthetic organisms into buildings has risks and should not be done carelessly. But cities and roads and other human built entities have enormous affects on the biodiversity of the planet. And I think it is important to consider the possibility that one could make buildings more alive and more biodiverse. And this is what I found appealing about Rachel Armstrong’s vision. It truly inspired me to think about ways to do this. Now – sure – there is some “devil in the details” here and she may have glossed over much of that. But from a big picture point of view – I like what she had to say …

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