Remember our 35th issue, Everything Under Control? For a forthcoming exhibition at The New Institute in Rotterdam, curator William Myers has selected dozens of projects that illustrate new ways to harness living systems for art, design and production. Biodesign: On the Cross-Pollination of Nature, Science and Creativity will run from 27 September through 5 January.
The quest to integrate natural processes with design is as old as wood houses. However, the changing climate and rapid depletion of resources heighten its urgency, as humans face the necessity of reshaping their relationship to nature. Clever, usable new ideas present the prospect of a sustainable future and may provide ways to ease the long-running conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Biodesign: On the Cross-Pollination of Nature, Science and Creativity will glimpse into our possible future and provide inspiration for designers, artists and scientists in the form of varied, in-depth information on new materials and potential biological applications in architecture and design.
The Dutch Rathenau Instituut started in 1986 as a technology assessment center to advise Dutch Parliament. It has since developed into a broader think tank studying the organization and development of science systems, while regularly publishing and stimulating debate about the social impact of new technologies. Volume talks to the Institute’s Rinie van Est and Virgil Rerimassie to hear about the main trends in synthetic biology and related disciplines. They paint a picture of the world where biology and technology have converged, and where our fundamental way of working through scientific problems has shifted.
For more than eight years artist Koert van Mensvoort has been working on a project to redefine our concept of nature. Through his platform Next Nature he has published books, held talks, ran workshops, maintained an active blog, and even developed a hoax, all in effort to communicate that there is no absolute nature, but that technology and nature are deeply intertwined; a biosynthetic nature so to speak. Can the development of a Gillette razor be considered in Darwinian terms of evolution? Is the fake nature of an indoor ski slope any less legitimate than the Alps? By fundamentally shifting the way we conceive nature, he believes we will be better able to cope with the oncoming climatic and environmental challenges ahead.
Somewhere between a vat of expensive face cream and a baby Neanderthal lies a probable future for synthetic biology. While synbio start-ups – large and small – struggle with the reality of scaling up microscopic cellular factories into profitable business models, stories of DIY anti-cancer research, Neanderthal cloning, limitless ‘green’ kerosene, and tumor-killing bacteria are told as outcomes of a likely future where humans have full control over biology.
We have seen the future, and it’s biosynthetic. More precisely it’s a future where biological systems are twisted, spliced, and altered, to such an extent that any distinction between synthetic and organic is lost. Gone are the days of blunt engineering as a means of total control – concrete dams and electro-shock therapy. Today science is moving us deeper into the nano-world of microchips and molecules, where new more refined forms of control are possible, where organic processes can be mimicked, modified, and augmented. In this new biosynthetic world, luminescent trees will light our sidewalks, massive oyster beds will defend us from the floods, and hacked Lyre birds will broadcast the radio. But with new powers comes new responsibilities. We’ve seen a thousand TED talks promising us these new wonders, but we’ve rarely discussed the human element. What does it all require of us? What are the new produced? The skill sets, knowledge, and codes of ethics required to maneuver in this brave new biosynthetic world?
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.