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A few weeks ago, i went to the graduation show of the Interactive Architecture Studio - Research Cluster 3 at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL. The unit, headed by Ruairi Glynn and Ollie Palmer, focuses on kinetic and interactive design looking at the latest robotics, material and responsive systems while at the same time borrowing from a long history of performative machines and performing arts. As you can guess, i was quite enthusiastic about many of the works developed over this one-year postgraduate course.

One of the most interesting for me was William Bondin's research project which explores the gap between digital simulation and physical prototyping in the performance of dynamic architectural systems.

Bondin's proposal involves a colony of self autonomous creature-like structures, called Morphs, which very slowly navigate public parks. Their moves are not just dictated by a set of pre-programmed rules, they also rely on their physical and social environment.

Morphs exist and wander freely as individual nuclei but they can also join together and adopt certain geometries according to their needs and circumstances.

This is still very much a work in progress but a very promising one.

Simulations for tetrahedron and octahedron nuclei were carried out. In addition, one tetrahedron nucleus was fabricated as a proof of concept in order to understand the limitations of the technology employed.

Video documenting the whole research:

The morph performing one step:

I contacted the young architect for a quick interview:

Hi William! If i understood correctly, your self autonomous creature-like structures are inspired by a species of brainless slime mould. Can you tell us what you found interesting about that type of slime and how this translated into the Morphs?

The interesting thing about slime mould, in particular Physarum polycephalum, is that its cognitive processes occurs within its environment rather than a centralised brain. It is an example of an organism which has developed a clever way of exploiting its surroundings in order to perform navigational tasks and memory-related processes. For instance, when foraging for food it deposits slime in areas which have already been explored, and then avoids the same slime so that it will not re-explore the same area twice. This simple feedback technique inspired me to develop a form of mobile architecture which, analogously to slime mould, deposits digital data into its environment in order to off load its computational processes such as path finding and spatial memory. In fact, Morphs are very low-level creatures in terms of computational abilities and their complex trajectories are a result of the complex environments in which they are placed.

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Proposal for Mobile Reconfigurable Polyhedra (MORPHs) to occupy a site and encourage interaction through play

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MORPHs during winter might experience neglect

Could you describe the behaviour of the Morphs?

Morphs, which stands for MObile Reconfigurable PolyHedra, have a behaviour which is dictated by the sites in which they are located and their physical morphology. They are attracted to areas with high pedestrian traffic which ensures a higher probability of engagement with the public, and they stay clear of vehicular roads due to their very slow movements. Therefore, characteristics which are embodied within a site become highly influential to their "desired" locations. Similarly, their physical composition dictates the way they perceive their environment and consequently the way they behave. For example, due to their solar powered circuitry, they avoid shaded areas and do not travel during night time or overcast weather. They are also terrified of water and do not operate in wet conditions, in order to protect their electronics. These are their basic low-level behaviours which, similarly to our primary instincts, ensure their own protection and survival in complex environments. Therefore as an end result, you have these creatures which are very playful and gather in areas where people are likely to meet, but they get scared easily and become very introvert when threatened.

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Fabricated fully-actuated tetrahedral truss performing a walking action

Because Morphs move so fluidly and elegantly, i couldn't help but think of Strandbeests. But they have nothing to do with Theo Jansen's creatures, right?

I really enjoy Jansen's work and appreciate it in its context; as beautiful objects which occupy and travel across landscapes. However, as an architect, I'm not only interested in the spaces which man-made creatures inhabit but also in the spaces which they create. Morphs have the ability of joining together into complex formations to create spaces which can be occupied by people, and respond to these temporal inhabitants. Additionally, Theo Jansen's creatures are automatons which are unaware of their surroundings and the people within their "personal space". Morphs, on the other hand, are responsive spatial structures which communicate between them and their users in order to perform collective tasks. If you threaten one Morph you might send a whole community into hiding, while if one of them enjoys learning a new dance routine it might teach it to others and perform it in groups.

The Morphs move super super slowly. Can't you make them move faster? Why?

All buildings move. They do so over a very prolonged timescale, and it can take centuries for a building to move a couple of millimetres. So if we had to speculate on how buildings view time, because after-all Morphs are architectural creatures, we have to acknowledge the fact that architecture operates on a very different timescale than its users. Morphs operate on a mediated timescale, because although we perceive them as very slow movers they are lightning fast compared to their 'static' counterparts. In terms of time, they exist somewhere in between. This also gives us practical benefits, such as very low power consumption and risk mitigation.

The "Morphs rely on environmental cues and human participation in order to attain purposeful behaviour." Which kind of environmental cues and human participation are you talking about?

Morphs continuously assess light intensity and water presence in order to take informed decisions about their next steps. This ensures that they will not get trapped in ponds or under trees, and helps them to locate themselves in sunny and dry areas. However, Morphs are not completely self autonomous.

There are four classes, or sub-species, of Morphs and each of them has different purposes and degrees of control. The music-enabled units, which are finished in bright orange, are very slow and rarely change their location. They allow musicians to play music within their enclosure, and transmit the sounds they pick up via wi-fi, as a sort of a free-for-all radio station. The purple ones, which relate to dance, are very fast movers and they respond to push-pull action by their choreographers. They are able to store unique geometries in sequence and play them back when instructed to. The architectural ones, identified by their blue colour, are very slow movers but they can carry a significant amount of load. They are ideal for assembling large configurations and can be attached to different coloured units to create complex spaces. An additional class of these polyhedrons is also envisioned to cater for open-source development, whereby users can design and build bespoke components which can be plugged into existing units.

Do the machines learn in the course of their 'life'?

It is envisioned that over time these machines start to learn about their environment, participants and even themselves. This will give them the ability to take better informed decisions about their future actions. For example, if a tetrahedron breaks one of its edges it will then have to learn a new way how to roll over without using that side. In addition, it might ask for collective help from its peers to help it travel or become permanently bonded to another Morph for successful locomotion. Another suggested form of learning is the ability to predict participants' preference and behaviour. This will ensure that the right amount of units are present at the right location when needed.

However, in practice machine learning is a very complex area of research. So far we have been exploring this field in simulation, with limited degrees of success. The intention is to collaborate with robotics engineers and computer scientists in order to actualise these processes into the next generation prototypes.

Do you see applications for the Morphs? In architecture, robotics or other areas?

Morphs started out as a research project into adaptive behavioural architecture. Over the course of a year, it has developed into a semi-speculative project which brings together robotics, computer science, public art, landscape architecture and urban design.

What is next for the Morphs?

Morphs are planned to be unleashed by the end of 2015 as an autonomous but sociable reconfigurable architecture. Prototyping of a tetrahedron nucleus started in March 2013 and has resulted in one functional unit. Current research involves the programming of these nuclei, development of their digital communication and the simulation of their social behaviour. The next fully mobile, untethered, Morph is aimed to be completed by the end of 2013 before larger assembles are explored through 2014.

Thanks William!

Sponsored by:





EP Vol. 1 - The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 by Alex Coles, Professor of Transdisciplinary Studies, School of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Huddersfield and Catharine Rossi, Senior Lecturer in Design History at Kingston University.

Available on amazon UK and USA.

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Publisher Sternberg Press describes the book: EP is the first critically underpinned series of publications that fluidly move between art, design, and architecture. The series creates a discursive platform between popular magazines ("single play") and academic journals ("long play") by introducing the notion of the "extended play" into publishing: with thematically edited pocket books as median.

The first volume is devoted to the activities of the Italian avant-garde between 1968 and 1976. While emphasizing the multiple correspondences between collectives and groups like Arte Povera, Archizoom, Superstudio, and figures such as Ettore Sottsass and Alessandro Mendini, The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 also highlights previously overlooked spaces, works, and performances generated by Zoo, Gruppo 9999, and Cavart. Newly commissioned interviews and essays by historians and curators shed light on the era, while contemporary practitioners discuss its complex legacy.

With contributions by Paola Antonelli, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Andrea Branzi, Carlo Caldini, Alison J. Clarke, Experimental Jetset, Verina Gfader, Martino Gamper, Joseph Grima, Alessandro Mendini, Antonio Negri, Paola Nicolin, Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Catharine Rossi, Vera Sacchetti, Libby Sellers, Studio Formafantasma, and Ettore Vitale
Design by Experimental Jetset

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Ettore Vitale's 1° Maggio,1973, poster 
for the Partito Socialista Italiano

I've reviewed or simply read my fair share of books about the work of Archigram, Ant Farm and Haus-Rucker-Co.. It was high time i'd read more about the Italian avant-garde in architecture and design because the 1960s and 1970s in Italy is a creative period that needs to get more attention outside of the country.

The key events and concepts covered in the book are never dull. The designers and architects of the Italian avant-garde had bite and sometimes they also had humour. Intellectuals and artists were protesting about the conservative model of the Venice biennial and calling for its restructuration (which gave way to the Architecture Biennial!) Ettore Sottsass was putting tiny tv sets in nature 'for night butterflies'. Ettore Vitale was designing posters reminding of the dangers of fascism. Radical architects were holding seminars on a disused railway bridge. Gruppo 9999 were creating the Space Electronic discotheque in Florence as a 'progressive multimedia environment.'

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Cavart, Progettarsi Addosso seminar, held on a disused railway bridge in Colze, Vicenza, September 27, 1975. Courtesy of Archivio Michele De Lucchi (via Domus)

The book compiles commissioned essays and interviews. By people who were questioning and shaking up design, architecture and art then and by people who, today, are analyzing and discussing the impact of those avant-garde ideas and realizations.

EP Vol. 1 - The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 lays the solid basis for a deeper and more critical reflection on a key moment in the history of architecture, design and art in Italy. I would recommend the book not only for its historical perspective but also for the way it echoes some of today's interests and preoccupations. The architects and designers of the time too were raising environmentalist concerns for alternative sources of energy. They were already questioning the rule of the objects and the role of an art biennial. They too were exploring more powerful uses of 'new media' while looking for a more meaningful relationship between man and technology. And believe it or not, they were already inventing designs driven by concepts and encouraging 'non-professionals' to build 'spontaneous structures' and participate in ongoing debates. Surely there are lessons there that we could all make use of.

I think that the book would have benefited from a clearer presentation of the socio-economic and political climate in that time and place. But other than that, i'd say this is one of the most exciting and eye-opening books designers and architects could lay their hands on these days.

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S. Elena/Giardini, Pier Paolo Pasolini during the protest at the Biennale. On the right: Ninetto Davoli and Cesare Zavattini, 1968. Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche

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Berengo Gardin, Venezia 1968, contestazione alla Biennale d'arte


Views inside the book (more images at Experimental Jetset):

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Corridor8 has an interview with Prof. Alex Coles and Dr. Catharine Rossi. Rossi also published a general introduction to the Italian avant-garde in Disegno Daily.

Previously: A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 , Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992, The Sky's the Limit: Applying Radical Architecture, Clip/Stamp/Fold - The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X, Book Review: Ant Farm - Living Archive 7, Casa Per Tutti, Other Space Odysseys, Ant Farm retrospective in Sevilla, Pioneers of conceptual architecture, etc.

A Practical Guide to Squatting is a very adequate title for a book that will teach you the skills of lock picking, show you how to craft a solar oven using a pizza box, grow a community garden, build a swimming pool in an open foundation or avoid arrest after breaking into a building. An adequate and provocative title thus. The handbook, however, will also give readers an opportunity to reflect on a practice that is too often attributed to gangs of drug addicts and anarchists 'stealing people's homes.'

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Larraine Henning, the author of the handbook, reminds us that, in many cases, a squat is an emergency shelter, an habitat in a derelict building that has to be fixed, lacks electricity, insulation and proper drainage system. Just for the sake of my own enlightenment i had a look at the housing crisis in the country where i'm currently living and it appears that homelessness rates are rising. Meanwhile the Empty Homes Agency estimates that the number of empty properties in Wales and England amounts to over 930,000.

Yet, it is now an offence to squat in a residential building in England and Wales and no other sustainable alternative(s) has been offered in exchange. The situation isn't much rosier in the rest of Europe as the fate of an icon such as Tacheles, Berlin's art squat demonstrated.

My intention is not to become an apostle of squatting but just to put the practice into a broader perspective. In addition, squatting can go beyond the simple need to put a roof over one's head when it extends to experiments in socialism, architecture, and community. Think of the Open City in Chile, Paolo Scoleri's Arcosanti in the Arizona desert, Christiania in Copenhagen or the Grow Heathow community outside of London.

With A Practical Guide to Squatting, the author -who trained as an architect- also reminds readers that architecture is not only practiced by an arguably elitist sect of educated professionals, but also by the disenfranchised, the layman, the individual and the collective.

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How-to make a swimming pool in an open foundation

The book, alas!, is not out yet. It started as Henning's MArch thesis and she recently launched a campaign on indiegogo to raise funds for publication.

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I've asked Larraine Henning, a 'former architect turned fruit picker / illustrator / squatter / cattle musterer', if she could talk to us about the book and her own squatting experiences:

Hi Larraine! How long did it take you to gather this very detailed information?

I worked on my Master thesis for nearly a year. The first half of my thesis was a research component where I investigated informal architecture, alternative communities, temporary building and squatting.

The the final product of my thesis was the handbook "A Practical Guide to Squatting"

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How-to pick a lock

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Sleep Shack Assembly

And how much of it stems from personal experience?

Prior to attending UBC in Vancouver I lived and worked as an architect in Rotterdam. For a short time I lived with my boyfriend in an anti-squat, which is a legal and registered version of squatting in the Netherlands.

We shared half a floor of a large office building in the center of the city built in the 70's. The toilets were the former public washrooms for the building, we had the men's washroom and the other lady we shared the floor with had the ladies'. We had no hot water on our floor and had to do all our dishes in cold water. There was one shower for the whole building (6 floors), which was rigged up to the only hot water source, that we all shared. No one paid typical rent, but paid the building owner only for basic utilities. Eventually everyone was evicted as the building was slated for demolition.

Since living in Australia this last year, I have occasionally lived in tent communities with fellow agricultural workers. This was not full on squatting, but it was on land that started out as a tenting squat until the woman who owned it organised a more set up campground.

As a young person I would often break-into abandoned buildings simply for the thrill of exploration. I loved to stumble around the wreckage of forgotten urban relics. I would do this in the city and in the countryside, and once slept the night in an abandoned cabin below a caved in roof in the middle of winter in the Prairies of Canada.
It was exhilarating and I hope I never get too old and crumbly to do stuff like that.

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The break in kit

I was also wondering how you deal with the legislation? I don't know about the (anti-)squatting laws in Australia where you now live or in Canada, the country you're from but i know that anti-squatting legislation is getting increasingly strict in some parts of Europe. For example, the UK law now criminalizes squatting in residential premises, even if hundreds of thousands of properties are now sitting empty across the country.

Squatting is not really legal anywhere, however some countries choose to accept it more than others.The constitution of Sweden upholds something called allemansrätten, translated as "freedom to roam" or "everyman's right". Its decree claims that every person shall have access to private or public land for the purpose of recreation. The UK and Holland have a loaded history of squatting and typically condoned such living. Over the year their progressive attitude has dampened and it is becoming less and less acceptable. The laws in most countries however have loop-holes. Squatting really isn't a matter for the police, but rather it is usually the job of the actual property owner to press charges against trespassers. Not until that happens do the police actually have the authority to take legal measures on squatters. Not only that but every country seems to have a different rule regarding abandoned property. In Canada a property needs to stand vacant for 50 years before it can be acquired by someone else and legally taken over. In Australia it is only 7 years, and provided you have not trashed the place but begun steps to set up camp after those 7 years you can apply to the crown to have the title put in your name, for free.

Can you conduct a family and professional life while being a squatter? Is it compatible with, say, getting electricity and running water installed?

Absolutely. Many squatters are working professionals and participate in everyday life just like anyone else. The place I lived at in Rotterdam was full of students, professional architects and the like.
The only difference is that you live in a home that ou don't pay for and that does not belong to you, life can go on. Not all squatts have limited access to utilities.
Many do simply because they have been abandoned and these things have not been maintained. Sometimes there is a bit of work involved setting it up, doing repairs or building alternative sources for water, power etc.

You trained as an architect. Do you believe that architects should dedicate a greater amount of their knowledge and skills to squatting and other so-called 'alternative homes"?

I think that people who worked in restaurants tend to be better tippers, just like people who lived without luxury tent to appreciate those small luxuries more.
I am not suggesting that everyone should give up the comforts of their home to go live in a squat, I do think that everyone, not just those practising architecture, should be tolerant and empathetic to how many other people live.

Thanks Larraine!

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All images courtesy Larraine Henning.

Related story: Goodbye to London - Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies.

Going Public - Public Architecture, Urbanism and Interventions, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, Sofia Borges and Lukas Feireiss.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher Gestalten writes: Going Public showcases the creative revival of public space in our urban and rural landscapes. The book's compelling selection of formal and informal interventions, reclamations, and architecture illustrates the current scope and interest in refashioning and repurposing our built environment for public use. The objectives of the featured examples are as diverse as the projects themselves and range from inspiring communication and community experience to devising new means of gathering in and connecting to nature.

Ranging from bold to subtle and from temporary to permanent, the architecture and urban design featured in Going Public offers inspiring and surprising interpretations of our public surroundings and natural landscapes.

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Joost Goudriaan, Chesterfield Park Bench, 2010

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Gaëlle Villedary, Tapis Rouge (Red Carpet), 2011 (Jaujac, France)

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Kurt Perschke, RedBall Project, ongoing

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Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth, Tiger and Turtle - Magic Mountain, 2011

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Kielder Art and Architecture, Freya and Robin, 2009 (Northumberland, UK). Photograph © Peter Sharpe

I might think (probably foolishly) that i get the contemporary art world pretty well covered but each time i open one of Gestalent's book dedicated to graphic design, architecture, street art or illustration, it feels like i've spent too many years lying torpid in my shack at the back of the tundra. So many jaw-dropping ideas, images, projects and initiatives i had no idea existed multiply in quick succession as i flip through the pages of the books.

Going Public - Public Architecture, Urbanism and Interventions didn't disappoint in that respect. In pure Gestalten style, word is as scarce as it is efficient, the layout and typeface are faultless and the selection of works is constantly engaging. At least for people like me who have been hibernating for so long.

The book also offers a breath of fresh air to someone living in a country where newspapers regularly denounce a privatization of public spaces that favours business over community.

Most of the projects presented in Going Public are small interventions aimed at opening up urban or rural space to the broad public and acting as catalysts for social, cultural and political exchanges. Because many of them are lightweight and temporary, they give young talents a space for expression and investigation. And i'm always happy when a publisher, curator or institution looks beyond the usual suspects.

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Fattinger, Orso, Rieper, BELLEVUE. Das gelbe Haus, Linz (Austria), 2009

The book is divided into 6 areas of investigation. Chapter one, Gimme Shelter, is about providing an umbrella for public programs and activities. Chapter 2, Constant Gardener, has a self-explanatory title. Then comes Walk With Me, a series of projects which takes you on a stroll around a city or scenery. Benchmarks introduced me to urban furniture with a sense of humour. Chapter 5 Between a Rock and a Hard Place shows how non-places are rehabilitated. The book closes on Why Don't We Do it on the Road? tat explores how overlooked places can be revamped and used for activities that range from organizing carpentry workshops to hosting a temporary open-air museum.

Many of the projects, however, would fit well in several categories. Here are some of my favourite:

Florentijn Hofman (he of the giant yellow duck)'s 13 meter high rabbit invites the inhabitants and visitors of Orebro (Sweden) to examine the space both with the bunny, and then again after its removal.

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Florentijn Hofman, Big Yellow Rabbit, 2011. Image © Lasse Person

A bunker sliced in two, opening a walking path for sightseers to admire the mass of the building and the lake. Bunker 599 is a pilot project that attempts to make The Netherlands' military landscape publicly accessible .

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Rietveld Landscape + Atelier de Lyon, Bunker 599


Bunker 599 [the making of]

Noun 1. Unavailability - The Quality of not Being Available When Needed is a mobile fisherman's shelter made with a foldable wooden frame and walls that, when filled with water, solidify into ice that protects the fisherman from the weather.

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Gartnerfuglen, Noun 1. Unavailability - The Quality of not Being Available When Needed, 2012 (Telemark, Norway)

The ever-brilliant EXYZT collaborated with Ewa Rudnicka to install an UFO (Unexpected Fountain Occupation) on a disused fountain in Warsaw city centre. The space performed as a bar, hostel, film venue, flea market, concert hall for 2 months.

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EXYZT with Ewa Rudnicka, UFO (Unexpected Fountain Occupation), 2011 (Warsaw, Poland)

Using only blackboards, chalk and an abandoned building, Candy Chang gave passersby in New Orleans --and soon other cities across the world-- the opportunity to share their personal dreams and aspirations in public space.

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Candy Chang and the Civic Center, Before i Die, New Orleans, 2011

Three swings for up to twenty passengers are suspended from Mmabatho Stadium's outer frame. Facing each other, and dangling from a height of twelve meters, the swings require the passengers to negotiate with one another about how to achieve optimum path and speed.

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REFUNC, Gravity Passengers, Mafikeng, South Africa, 201o

Gravalosdimonte Arquitectos's estonoesunsolar" ('this-is-not-a-plot) cleaned up abandoned plots around the historical area of Zaragoza, Spain and turned the spaces into temporary open squares for the public to meet and play.

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Gravalosdimonte Arquitectos (Patrizia Di Monte & Ignacio Gravalos), estonoesunsolar, 2009 (Zaragoza, Spain)

Views inside the book:

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Elements of the Fish Bone chapel being 3D printed

If you're an artist or designer interested in applying your creative skills to life sciences, chances are that you've heard about Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Awards, an international competition that invites artists and designers to submit proposals to a jury of experts and develop them in close collaboration with The Netherlands most prestigious Life Sciences research institutes. The outcome of the competition range from the outrageously bold (the now famous bulletproof skin) to the ambitiously eco-friendly.

The winners of this year's edition of the competition are Charlotte Jarvis who recently talked to me about her Ergo Sum project, Howard Boland and Laura Cinti with The Living Mirror (more about this one soon, i hope) and Haseeb Ahmed who is planning to digitally fabricate a Fish Bone Chapel.

The artist is teaming up with the Netherlands Toxico-Genomics Center and Prof. Jos Kleinjans to build an architectural structure which, as its name suggests, will be made of fish bones. The vertebrae vaults, scaled walls and beating circulation systems of this architecture are derived from enlarged 3D prints and the skeletal structure of fish exposed to mutagenic toxins. Haseeb is working with the zebra fish, an animal often used for genetic testing as it is technically not considered to be animals for the first 5 days of their life

Ultimately however, the work also asks whether we can see past the dangerous connotations of mutation and regard it as a medium to generate new forms.

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Zebra Fish altered exposed to toxins

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Elements of the Fish Bone chapel being 3D printed

The more i read about the project, the more curious i grew so i contacted Hasseb Ahmed who patiently answered my many questions:

The Fish Bone Chapel draws a historical connection with the Capuchin Crypt located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome. The crypt is decorated with the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order, as a silent reminder of our own mortality.

Hi Haseeb! Your project, The Fish Bone Chapel, 'is a hybrid building, existing of fish bones.' I'm sorry but i'll have to start with the most mundane question because i imagine a chapel to be rather big and i suspect your final prototype might not rise to ambitious heights. So how tall, how big can the chapel be? And will it adopt a shape that people associate with the one of a chapel?

The Fish Bone Chapel is indeed the scale of a building. The goal has always been to create a spatial experience in which one can literally inhabit genomics research and in particular the mutations in Zebra Fish skeletons induced by exposure to toxins from embryo to adult.

My work will be sited in the atrium of the the current depot of the Naturalis Museum and former Royal Museum for Natural History built in the early 1900's. This atrium already has a kind of pseudo-Dutch Protestant religious architecture complete with niches, vaulted ceilings, and chandeliers. However, instead of religious iconography it features iguanas, snails, and fish. My aim is to create works that build onto this architecture with arches of my own, ornaments, and chandeliers so that the space appears as though it was made to host the Fish Bone Chapel all along. My reference is the Capucine Bone Chapels of Southern Italy which use the bones of former Monks to construct architectural features. In my case it's Fish not Brothers. That was one concept of Life and Death given by Catholocism and I want to address the new intermediate stages of life and death brought about by Genomics research and its legal apparatus.

Interesting enough the central 'altar piece' is at the base of a stairwell often drawn by M.C. Escher in his labyrinthine works and I will play up on this as well.

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The description of the project also mentions beating circulation systems which makes me think that the work will have some kind of life in it. Is that so?

I am exploring this idea right now. Reading some scientific reports on testing on Zebra Fish hearts I have found that scientists can create alternative beats with them. It was the names that they give the beat that inspired me like 'Chiller' or 'Be-Boy' and I've started to track them down. There is the possibility that things will move but this is still something I am experimenting with. There are many ways of creating movement, a building itself is a kind of organism. This is the linkage I am trying to draw out. The work will include some Zebra Fish i myself have been raising- I call these the Chapel Fish- many of the forms are based from these particular fish. I think the fish is important for scale as well. In the end however, my project is also interested in the dead or 'not yet alive' rather then the living.

So now that we've roughly established what visitors of the exhibition will be able to see in June, how are you going to make this chapel exactly?

It is commonly thought by geneticists and society in general that mutation is dangerous or deadly- however, I would like to look at mutation as a way of generating new forms- and quite literally so.

I am working with Embryos that have been exposed to toxins which create particular malformations often visible in the skeletal structure. It is possible that the toxins themselves may alter the genetics of the animals as well.

The embryos I am working with are only millimeters big. Using CT scans I am creating a 3D virtual models of the embryos. In the virtual world scale is relative. It is a cartesian space of x, y, and z, however, a space on the ground or 'C-Plane' can be one millimeter or one kilometer. It is relative. From here I isolate, scale up, and modify elements of the fish skeletons so they can be used as building blocks for the architectural artwork. I am printing out these pieces using a 3D printer custom made by MaukCC for this project.

Because the printer builds up a piece one .125 mm at a time it will take an eternity to 3D print the entire work- so I am making molds of these elements or printing out the molds themselves and casting multiples in ceramic-like plasters. I've come up with a kind of 'poem' to describe the process:

"Bones as Bits
Bits as Bones
Bones as Modules"

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If i understood correctly from what you said to an interview you did a few weeks ago with Georgius Papadakis your project will use the zebra-fish because you are legally able to make tests on the animal for 5 days. Can you explain us in details the law it is submitted to? And how you want to explore this loop-hole?

I am interested in Zebra Fish because the bio-tech industry and geneticists in academia have become increasingly interested on them. I am also interested in how the bio-tech industry and academia are becoming more and more indistinguishable and how law and capital is shaping research itself.

Zebra Fish are an ideal test case for genetics research for a few reasons. Firstly they are relatively see-through, they breed in multitudes, and last but most importantly for the first 5 days of their life they are not considered animals at all- allowing scientists any freedom in experimentation during this time without the costly procedures of ethics committees. For the first 5 days of their life the Zebra Fish still holds onto the yolk of its egg for nutrients as it develops from embryo to adult. However, the definition of a living animal is that it must be free moving and able to sustain itself independently by eating. So the Zebra fish is considered 'Organic Material' rather than an Animal.

This is protected under the 15th amendment of the EU constitution. Interestingly enough, this amendment protects against animal testing in rodents and apes and also ensures abortion rights. Bound up in this is the definition of what we consider to be life itself.
Genetics research on zebra fish plays upon emergent stages between life and death. If we carry the religious tone of the Fish Bone Chapel these fish exist within what is akin to the doctrine of Limbo.

The forms which I am using from the Zebra Fish are the outcomes of the genetics research itself- in this way I hope to bring this emergent situation as the general framework for my artwork.

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Fish Printer lab

For the project, you are teaming up with the Netherlands Toxigenomics Centre. What form does the collaboration take exactly? Is it you dictating what needs to be done and they execute your instructions or is the experience more hands-on from your part?

My collaboration with the NTC takes a few different forms. I do most of the work hands on- visiting the labs, collecting samples, attending the CT scanning, and this all informs my own production when I bring the materials into the studio which becomes a kind of extension of the Lab. Even the act of looking through the microscope at embryos is an important experience and there is a difference at looking through the mirrored micro scope of the scientific illustrators at Naturalis. Naturalis has also become a good collaborator in this work.

Since I am not trained as a geneticist each conversation I have informs my work and I am often in a crash course on genetics research which adds new complexities to my project. Often times these details are mundane to the scientist themselves however, they occupy a specialized place that very few people see or experience and yet affects us all and increasingly so as biotechnology and synthetic biology develops in the coming years. Close collaboration with the director Dr. Jos Kleinjans is key in getting things done and getting informed.

The NTC is primarily concerned with the way that long-term exposure to toxins may affect the very genetic composition of humans and animals alike. For example in the Netherlands people drink a long of milk and consume a lot of dairy products. Accepting the milk of another animal itself is a relatively new feature of human biology- however cows eat quite a lot of pesticides which we in turn take in. How will this alter our physiology at the level of DNA and cell replication? There are high stakes for example with Thalidomide- a sleeping agent prescribed to pregnant women in the 1970's resulting in severe birth deformations.

I am working with materials that the NTC is already generating and specifically at their Zebra Fish Lab at the RIVM run by Dr. Aldert Piersma and research conducted by soon-to-be-Dr. Sanne Hermsen. A range of toxins are tested on Zebra Fish embryos and from here certain bio-markers in the fish are measured to see what has been altered. Is it longer or shorter, is its spine curved or straight? Does it have big eyes, small eyes, or no eyes? and so on.

To me it is important to work within the bounds of the research conducted towards making a kind of critical mirror of it and I believe that more can be done with these resulting forms than the particular results sought by the researchers.

More generally, are there existing examples of use of genomics in architecture?

As far as I can see there is very little carry over from genomics to architecture. There are a few categories where they meet- for example the category of Morphology is used both in design and in genetics. It allows one to see change over time. So the chair 'evolves' as a species of bird might- or might now. this is a way of looking at the world in terms of form and shape grammars. In the 19th century there was a more explicit relationship between biology art, and architecture for example in the canonical tests of Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature, Owen Jones' The Grammar of Ornament, or Ernst Haeckel's Sea Life drawings in Art Forms in Nature. This expressed itself in ornament much fundamentally- as we see in Rococo and its tendrils and shells.

I am currently advised by Nimish Biloria at the HyperBody Studio in TU Delft who are kind of successors of this tendency after the introduction of the computers to produce dynamic architecture and with a purely functionalist bent. Though the movement of the Blobject (Greg Lynn, Xefirotarch, the whole architecture school of SciArch in LA) has been much discredited I find this futurism fascinating in the idea that one's body might become co-extensive with the architecture however I still prefer the alienation from a space brought by brutalist architecture. Why do we want a building to react to us?

Today there are some novel ideas that imagine utopian futures where one might Grow their own homes like that of Mitchell Joachim or Rachel Armstrong's vision. I think my work is situated in this scenario however within the field of computational architecture I see my role as making a critique of eco-tech ideology. I make this explicit in using the same tools as they do i.e. digital fabrication. That being said I do think that developments in the field of synthetic biology should be redirected for use in art if not architecture. Art must address the status of technology that defines our world- if art hopes to address that world at all. Function of architecture often gets in the way. The fish bone chapel is at the scale of architecture but it is an artwork if this distinction is important. In my mind artwork allows for a wastage that is visible for all to see without any clear legitimations.

Thanks Haseeb!

All images courtesy Haseeb Ahmed.

Previously: The 2011 edition of DA4GA, Charlotte Jarvis talked to me about the Ergo Sum project recently.

I'm just back from a few days in Madrid where i visited the jaw-dropping vast new headquarters of Medialab Prado. More about that soon. I did however find some time to visit a couple of exhibitions in town. Including Anonymization at La Casa Encendida.


Robert Harding Pittman, Lake Las Vegas Resort | Las Vegas, USA

In this photo series, Robert Harding Pittman acutely documents the exportation of the Los Angeles-style model of urban development to other countries such as Spain, France, Germany, Greece, United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
From the construction boom up until the current building crisis.

Anonymization presents under an implacable light a landscape of anonymity made of shopping malls, vast parking lots, arrays of unfinished houses that look exactly the same, green golf courses in the middle of desert areas, etc.

The photos highlight that urban sprawl has no soul, character nor regard for the cultural, social, ecological or even meteorological context. The absence of any human figure in the photos render the alienation even more striking.

In all of places that I photographed, developers almost always feel that they need to build a golf course in their development in order to attract homebuyers, the photographer told Fototazo. Even though many residents do not play golf, it provides them with a feeling of luxury, leisure and well-being, just as does the palm tree. Not only is the green golf course crucial, but so is the green lawn around one's house, even if one lives in a desert. Obviously water problems are thus also universal in sprawl built in sunny, arid climates, where much of the building has occurred in the recent future.

The other common element to sprawl all over the world is the dependency on the car and the pollution, the lack of social interaction and the alienation that this creates. Also it results in that those who cannot drive, the youth and many elderly, become immobile.

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Navarino Bay Golf Resort | Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of facts and figures related to the issue of urban sprawl and mass construction. Bear with me, the texts exhibited were in spanish. Often translated from english. I couldn't always find the original so i did a reverse translation back to english:

Dubai:
- "We don't have anything," explained Kutty, a 25 year old man working in construction in Dubai. "We are living a nightmare and no one cares." A worker earns in average 5 dollars per day to work 12 hours daily under a suffocating heat. Human Rights Watch revealed that in 2004, almost 900 people died on building sites, some of them because of the heat. They live in overcrowded shacks, among garbage, in 'infrahuman' conditions.

- Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world. Some 20% of the cranes in the world are working there.
Evolution of the population of Dubai: in 1953, 50,000 inhabitants. In 2000, 882,387 inhabitants. In 2005, 1.321,483 inhabitants. In 2011, 2.003,170 inhabitants.

- Dubai 2009: " At the airport, hundreds of cars have apparently been abandoned in recent weeks. Keys are left in the ignition and maxed out credit cards and apology letters in the glove box."
The stock market has plunged 70%. Scrape beneath the surface of the fashion parades and VIP parties, and the evidence of economic slowdown are obvious.

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Robert Harding Pittman, E311 Freeway - Emirates Road | Dubai, UAE

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Dubai

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Dubailand, Dubai

Murcia, Spain:
- In 2005, Spain built 812.294 houses. More houses than in the UK, France and Germany combined.
- These suburban residential modules are the real estate equivalent of what is called monoculture in biology, a term which alludes to their genetic poverty. Environments like there, so simple and homogeneous, are not regarded as a fertile breeding ground for our future evolution.

United Kingdom, 2006:
- Every 3 minute, a British citizen emigrates. An estimated one million Britons now live for all or part of the year in Spain. It is one of the most remarkable European migrations of the last half century. Cheap flights, a strong pound and a British property market which created almost instant wealth made a fantasy realisable for hundreds of thousands of people of more modest means. Houses in Spain couldn't be built fast enough.

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Tercia Real master-planned community (abandoned) | Murcia, Spain

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Faula Golf, Benidorm, Spain

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Real estate office (abandoned) | Benidorm, Spain

USA, 2011:
According to the census, there are currently 18.700,000 empty houses in the country. Most of these empty homes are located in the South West of the country.

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Robert Harding Pittman / Pizza Hut (abandoned), Route 70. Alamogordo, New Mexico (USA). ©Harding Pittman

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Los Ángeles, California

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Pangyo, Seoul

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Fototazo has an interview with the photographer.

Anonymization is at La Casa Encendida in Madrid through May 26, 2013.

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