Editorial, Volume #35

It’s a Human’s World

— by and

In architecture a rat race is going on. Not another record-breaking tower – that wouldn’t be new(s). The race is about the application of a fairly new technology in the building industry. What at first seemed a cute and somewhat clumsy machine to produce architectural models and small objects, is now being tested to ‘go live’. I’m talking 3D printing of course and the ambition of at least two architecture offices, in Holland alone, to be the first to print a full-scale building. One is pursuing a pavilion, the other an Amsterdam canal house, complete with gabled roof.

Whether the 3D printer will revolutionize the way we construct the spaces we want, or just add another option, or simply stay within the realm of small-scale complex form, is hard to predict. For the moment, however, it is promising; it could be the start of a further opening-up of the building industry to make design and construction more accessible to everyman.

There is another rat race going on, and its consequences for architecture and the production of space are even less predictable. Synthetic biology is developing at a tremendous pace and will change both our daily reality and our understanding of our relation with the world. It’s already started. The distinction between organic and non-organic, between life and matter, between biology and technology, between cognition and program is fading and blurring. We’ll use products made by organisms we’ve programmed, and we’ll be surrounded by manmade creatures that exist solely because they can perform a task we need done. We won’t be using nature, or exploiting it, or exhausting natural resources; we’ll be creating the nature we need. We’re finally entering a phase in which we can bypass the dichotomy between nature and man or the subservient position that we should listen to nature or perish. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, certainly. But from now on we won’t leave it to nature to upcycle dust into complex organisms; we’re taking the lead! After millennia of trying to overcome vulnerabilities, fight decay, and more recently the threat of extinction, today’s and tomorrow’s perspective is one of creation. Enter the glorious world of synbio and feel like master of the Universe! Well, the Earth at least. Are we finally solving problems instead of creating new and bigger ones? Are we headed towards total control?

Cover of Volume's 35th issue, 'Everything under Control'

Cover of Volume’s 35th issue, ‘Everything under Control’

The development in sciences mentioned above is known as NBIC convergence, the merging of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive sciences. If convergence is leading to greater amounts of control over our surroundings, then we should again look to the mechanisms of control, for hints of how to manage all of this. For this issue of Volume, we’ve taken three fundamental types of control, to assess the consequences of convergence: Feedback control involves the reviewing of existing information and past experiences to see if original goals have been reached. We’ll look back at early experiments on the border of technology and biology to see how far we’ve come.

Concurrent control involves the monitoring of the present system set against quality standards. So how are people grappling with synthetic biology and its related domains today?

Feedforward control looks to the future, in an attempt to identify and prevent deviations in standards before they occur. In this section, we’ll look to the near and far future of biotech, trumpeting new opportunities and raising cautionary flags, to help us focus our efforts in the research and design work to come.

Is all this biology talk not spatial enough for you? (use your imagination please) Then fast forward to our insert, where we’ve gone back to our architectural roots by digging up structuralism. Working with The Berlage we look at structuralism’s ambitiously modest attempt to create ‘open structures’. Looking back on its history and assessing current potential the question arises: is there room for a kind of structuralism re-loaded today?

* This issue grew from a collaboration with ‘Yes Naturally’ in The Hague: exhibitions, workshops and a conference on man’s relation with nature as seen by the arts; spring/summer 2013.