Bio-Cultural Architecture

Bio-cultural heritage (BCH) can be understood as the biological manifestations of culture found in domesticated landscapes resulting from long-term biological and social relationships. It emerges from ecological niches created directly or indirectly as we transform our environment for agriculture, industry, and infrastructure.
New science and interdisciplinary approaches are reshaping how we understand ecosystems structures, function, and processes, highlighting the interconnectedness between them and our built environment. The challenges brought about by the climate crisis are forcing us to revisit and ultimately revalue these bio-cultural links. Compelling us to adopt a generative and reproductive interdependency with our ecosystem.
In ‘Bio-Cultural’, we will propose Bio-Cultural Architecture. Devices which generate the ecosystems of tomorrow and strengthen our interdependence. Spatial interventions designed to produce a measurable interaction between our ecosystem and our built environment. Architectural objects imagined for multi-species inhabitation.
We will design how they perform, how they are inhabited by humans and nonhumans. We will explore them as artifacts for nurturing companion species relationships and entanglements. Finally, we will speculate on the outcome of our Bio-cultural architecture, by simulating how they decay and leave traces over time.

Networks of Ordinary Life

The WWW today is dominated by participatory and so-called social platforms. Such user-generated networks pervade our ordinary life. Much like pre-modern forms of a new technology, many of these platforms have been modelled off existing cultural forms. Cultural artefacts such as the scrapbook (Pinterest), funniest home videos (tiktok), newspaper classifieds (gumtree), and talk back radio (Clubhouse) could be considered as skeuomorphs of the social web. But often the intended use of a certain platform evolves to resemble little of its initial pitch. In the case of Pinterest for example, the idea of digitising a wedding scrapbook for brides to be, evolves to resemble little of its early form. Often these platforms take on a life of their own.

We are interested in what these platforms have evolved to become – how much of their original metaphor have they retained, and what this might mean for the material world.
Now that there are generations who have never known a world without computing, is the metaphor of the skeuomorph still relevant? Or does the material world start to reveal itself as a skeuomorph of the digital, ie. that the digital is used as an analogy to understand the material world, instead of the one reversed process.
If we reverse engineer these once skeuomorphic forms back into the material world will an entirely new language of cultural forms be revealed?

Ghost Within Shells

Last year, while the world was in lockdown, the NFT market tripled in value, reaching more than $250 million. In 2014 Anil Dash and Kevin McCoy created ‘Quantum’, the first ever NFT, depicting a short video of a set of spinning dollar symbols inside a picture frame. Post-internet irony aside, this ‘Warholian’ piece is now valued at U$D7 million. Beeple has become a mainstream media phenomenon and sold his work at Christie’s for USD69 million, placing him among the top 3 valuable living artists. The first ever tweet by Jack Dorsey saying “just setting up my twttr” sold for USD2.9 million. NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS are in some ways the ultimate post-modern artistic expression where speculative value has replaced substance up to the point where the object of desire is not the representation, but a machine-generated number attached to an image-shell. Art has become a paradoxical collaboration between human input and cybernetic validation, which beyond questioning the value and evaluation of art, has questioned the necessity of the physical or digital existence of the art beyond a unique code and a fuel price for the machine. No longer is the art unique and valuable, without a 14-digit code. Hence, during this year’s AAVS studio we delve into the creation of NFTs, understanding them as Ghosts in a Shell – being the ‘ghost’ a machine-generated number, which without its ‘shell’ would lack a body to exist in.

The Lighthouse – Architecture as Level Design

Nature and its relationship to the human body has been studied, mapped and analyzed for centuries- that architecture should respond to the proportions of the body. Building codes and patterns defined by Da Vinci, Le Corbusier (or, even better, Charlotte Pierrand), Leon Alberti, among many others exist today based on general universal measurements, from bodily relationship of one’s elbows to the foot, arm, palm, etc. The perfection of Cindy Crawford itself.

As architects, we are equipped to think on a human scale, the gestures that accompany each bodily movement increase user presence. We’ve been taught to design in regards to the program of space, to create emotional landscapes that intensify the physicality of a users’ gestures as they circulate, augmenting feelings of presence. Just like how we intuitively manipulate physical objects, architecture can manipulate how a user inhabits a space. We must crouch or crawl in small tunnel spaces, descend with ease down a ramp. Simple elements that make up a building, their proportions and material qualities push the user to move and react. Breaking one of these codes can be dangerous: like the obnoxious “women staircases” designed by men in the 70s to fit the perfect “female stride” that satisfy nobody but cause people (both women and men alike) to misstep and plummet down the steps… Afterall, form follows function.

In this course, students will design a level for a virtual reality game. The game’s core mechanic is based on the concept of The Lighthouse and will require navigating and using a 2 x 2 meters area as an infinite plane to inhabit the world. An endless lighthouse effect. Each level will uniquely play with space, physicality and gestures in the physical and virtual world. We will do this by learning game design, user experience design, supernormal interactions and building these spaces with new proportions. Students will experiment with nonEuclidean architecture, interaction design, and do case studies on VR experiences that have physicality in terms of navigation and perception of virtual architecture.

Natures of the Datasphere

Knowledge of the hyperobject
Earth, and of the hyperobject
biosphere, presents us with
viscous surfaces from which
nothing can be forcibly peeled.
There is no Away on this surface,
no here and no there.

Timothy MortonHyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World

Unit 2 will be a 10-day digital-only studio that challenges students to examine the specific ways in which catastrophic climate change will impact the settlements in which they live. Students will develop a critical position on their research and present and package their work in a compelling digital and web-native format, making creative use of GIS and photogrammetry software.

According to a recent report by the Australian Academy of Science, the Earth is set to heat by 3°C above the pre-industrial average by the end of 2100 — even if the pledges of the signatories of the Paris climate accords are met on time. In a 3° degree world, extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, bushfires, and storms will increase in frequency and intensity, with pronounced effects for cities.

These extreme events will not occur in isolation but compound one another. For example, elevated sea level in combination with longer cyclones will prolong and deepen the effects of coastal flooding. Increased dryness and higher temperatures in combination with changed wind patterns will make record bushfire events more likely.

Unit 2 will explore with students the contentions that spatial practitioners are well placed to both visualise and communicate these effects and to work in concert with experts in other fields to mitigate and adapt to them. The studio will embrace the digital as an environment with unique possibilities for sharing and collaborating with peers. Students will be taught how to use GIS software, with which they will be able to visualise, analyse and export different forms of geodata. Students will also be taught photogrammetry software, with which they will be able to document and share findings from their own neighbourhood in a digital environment. They will then be encouraged to resist the biases of those
technologies in pursuit of their own critical position. Through research, lectures, and dialogue with one another, students will engage with a number of key concepts, such as the hyperobject of climate breakdown, the anthropocene and the challenges it poses for long-standing ecological thinking, and the complexity and interrelation of the constituent parts of the Earth system.

Anthropomorphic Machines

There is no architecture without action,
no architecture without events,
no architecture without program.
By extension, there is no architecture without violence.

Bernard Tschumi, 1996

Unit 1 set out to question technology and its implication on architectural space and the body. In our COVID19, BLM, and Climate Emergency context, we ask: What is our body’s relationship with machines?

Under the agenda of ANTHROPOMORPHIC MACHINES, the studio will run two parallel design briefs: Swarm Responsive Tensegrity and Seclusion & Comfort. Students are asked to choose one of the briefs to work with during the two-weeks Workshop. Both briefs explore the body or bodies relationship with technology. Swarm Responsive Tensegrity exerts a direct interaction between the body and the machine through computer visioning. Seclusion & Comfort attempts to abstract and isolate the body into a set of physical and virtual relationships that we can describe as ‘comfort’ – can simple design criteria such as ‘comfort’ be quantified?

The design briefs are conducted through a shared design methodology – designing through making and prototyping. Fabrication and prototyping in physical and virtual environments enable the designer and the body to test and experience the effect. Here, our approach is performance-based – performance not just in the functional sense but performance in the very realm of the body and its interaction with space and objects. The process, in turn, informed the design through developing incrementally tacit knowledge. Each brief will be participated by six students.