A researcher specialising in architecture and synthetic biology, Rachel Armstrong imagines a future with building materials that function as part of living systems. New Scientist caught up with her to talk about her new TED book, Living Architecture.
What is wrong with today’s architecture?
The issue with modern architecture is that it is imagined through the framework and technology of the machine. We even think of ourselves as machines. Machines are good at taking resources and making objects but they’re impenetrable to the environment and they are extremely wasteful.
Currently, the best our architecture can be is carbon-neutral. You are looking to nature to go one step further?
If we change our world view from being centred on machines to being centred on ecology, it starts to become a lot easier to imagine what kinds of technology might complement this approach. The natural world is full of examples: algae technology, the use of trees like baobabs as toilets and the living root bridges of Cherrapungi, north eastern India. But they don’t fit well into an urban environment and they don’t respond fast enough for the lifestyle we demand.
Are you advocating we go back to some bucolic agrarian-based existence?
Not at all - more like a symbiotic approach between nature and existing structures and technology.