Tuesday, 22 February 2011

by: Neil Spiller

For Architectural Education and Fighting Ubiquitous Fashion

"A building project...has to be substantially completed before construction can begin. In order to live up to these imperatives and yet be capable of innovation, some contemporary architects have sought to collapse "theory" and "practice" in new "algorithmic" processes of design that avoid subjective "judgement" and produce novelty through instrumental mathematical operations. Made possible by powerful computers and ingenious software, the new algorithmic magic creates novelty without love, resulting in short-lived seduction, typically without concern for embodied cultural experience, character, and appropriateness" Alberto Perez Gomez (1) The term "Cyberoque" is probably ten years old. It was predicated on the notion that the new virtual technologies would blow life into architecture and we would head off to a new architecture of billowing surfaces, voluptuous skins and seductive invaginations. Indeed, the formal articulations that are possible to the contemporary architect are much increased, albeit mostly in a familiar series of articulations begat by similar software applications. Much has been sacrificed to this formal necromancy and this includes properly articulated plans, expedient economic structural logics and the exquisite dovetailing of form and programme. Unfortunately all these tropes and trends lead us not to an architectural world of individual liberation, unleashed creativity and empowerment but to a world of ubiquity and a lack of self-critical engagement in the process of design and, most crucially of all, a lacuna of human communication through architecture that engages the human condition in all its myriad complexities and desires. Alberto Perez- Gomez's work is a shining beacon that advocates the erotic, the love-ly and the poetic possibilities of architecture. Most contemporary architects shy away from these exuberant notions and are content to hide like children under corporate skirts.

During the last five years the MArch Architectural Design AVATAR Course has been developing a large and dense series of theoretical projects that address some of the surreal possibilities of the new technologies in response to ideas of individuality, mnemonics, poetics, machinery and the history of art and architecture. We are living in an era of millennial ecstasy, we are now cast forever out of our skins. We are transparent, elsewhere and smeared across our world, our digital or visceral smudge visible and vulnerable. Our new architectures search for an ecstasy of creation, a choreography of chance, the liberation of particularity and a dislocation of the designer self, `I got mine, get yours! in a world where all is possible, the question is begged: Are you doing anything that really needs to be done or are you blinded by the sweet caress of the digital delirium, the warm embrace of the hyper connected, disconnected spectacle? It sucks you dry, adapting to your every action, and growing stronger bit by bit. Now is the time to think differently. All our post-modern desire is good for is an obsession with Apples and BlackBerrys � Digital Fruit. We desire the exceptional, we want to be different, and we want all things to have a special relationship with us. We make our world by desiring within it. We should build our architecture with desire.

Monday, 13 December 2010


The London Based Collective EAT, of which I am part of, gave a Lecture in Greewinch University last friday invited by Professor Neil Spiller and Phil Watson. This essay, on Architecture and Scale, was part of that lecture.

Scale entails a deep history in architectural practice, rooted in the resolution of scope that architects decide to use: continents, oceans, cities, buildings, rooms, carpets, micro-landscapes and medico-landscapes. In contemporary architecture scale is no longer a standardized order in the classical sense, but is used as an ordering system that can stem from musical theory, number patterns, ratios, mathematical equations an a myriad of more abstract and sometimes even mystical investigations. EAT operates and places itself within four distinctive relational parameters of scale, these are: the micro-scale, the medium or human scale, macro-scale and moment-time scale. Rapid developments in technology in the areas of biology, nano-technology, chemistry and medicine have demanded the attention of architecture and are being investigated by architects using design as a research method to explore and manipulate actual biological material sometimes at the molecular level. Biological and natural principles have long been used as a model in architecture in a variety of ways, anthropomorphic principles have long been applied to buildings supposedly establishing a formal link between nature and architecture.
The following 3 projects, of which the first is Adam Phillips’s “The 3rd Degree; Secrecy & the Consequences of Promiscuous Technology”, developed as part of the Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research Lab, were conceived through a bottom-up approach to architectural design; using living technologies at the micro-scale, most of them viewable only through the microscope, the designers generated proposals that travelled in scale from the petri dish to a building, an industrial district and ultimately the vast North Pacific Ocean.
Adam’s is a research based design project that stemmed from earlier fascination and research in self-organizing, bottom-up biological systems and how they could possibly influence new parameters within architecture. It started in a micro-biology lab where the growth, documentation and analysis of slime mould encouraged the creation of a speculative architectural living technology, a Material Internet, where the cellular rhythm of slime-mould was harnessed as a biological social-networking system and accessed and deployed through the alchemical relationship it has with gold, essentially communicating through the gold surfaces within Freemason’s Hall, in London’s Covent Garden. As a living technology, it is reliant on atmospheric changes to flourish or hibernate. Changes that are induced by fluctuations with light, temperature and moisture, are quintessential environmental elements used as a method of control by the way a human engages it through an architectural interaction with their body at incremental points in the building. Through the body’s senses, and the technology that senses the body, this scale of interaction is used as a moment, an event, designed by the architect at the microscopic, cellular-scale, intending for the consequences of the users interaction with it to be spread throughout the architectural body of the building.
The second project, designed by Ju, examines the reconciliation between the industrial society and the natural world, presented as a fictional narrative that articulates a cyanobacteria growing as an architectural first aid kit, in the abandoned and deteriorated district of Silvertown in East London. Once again, this project begins at the micro-scale, it uses chemical equipments and biological knowledge instead of conventional architectural methods and develops from scientific phenomenon and theory, using computer scripting, low technological experiments and an elaborate narrative to produce a metabolic material technology. This semi-living unicellular organism is fertilized using a simple combination of cyanobacteria as sperm, and protocells acting as ovum. When the embryos mature, the organisms multiply rapidly and then absorb existing building materials such like limestone, brick and concrete while rebuilding a new structure.
The speed at which this occurs is relatively is low, but by operating the system on a much larger area, a London district,Ju enables the effects to be felt and realized on an urban scale. The project performs as an environmental first-aid kit to protect London against future flooding. This narrative is visualized through the intense and emotional drawings depicting the system as a whole, its various organs, and the dream that comes with imagining a new type of sustainable architecture.
My project, Plastic Fantastic, as with the previous projects was designed through a bottom up approach, analyzing in the fist instance mineralization processes, specifically the process of crystallization, as the project developed, the specific self-assembling qualities of molecules during the process of crystallization were of special interest and became central to the project. Self-assembly is defined: the autonomous organization of components into patterns or structures without human intervention. Self-assembling processes are common throughout nature and technology. They involve components from the molecular scale (crystals) to the planetary scale (weather systems) and many different kinds of interactions. The concept of self assembly is used increasingly in many disciplines, with a different flavor and emphasis in each.
Research and exploration with self–assembling processes makes evident how scale, both in size and time, is an essential element to investigate in order to develop a bottom-up design approach to an architectural proposal. The study of natural phenomena, like the giant crystals of the Naica cave in Mexico, consisting of giant gypsum crystals measuring up to 11m and with weights of up to 30 tons, compared with small sized crystals artificially grown in my kitchen, and a careful analysis of a number of experiments done on the influence of shape on self-assembly helps to understand and overcome the scale problem involved in utilizing a phenomenon that is generally found to happen in the micro scale and to blow it up to human and macro scale.
The project speculates on the deployment of protocells in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Protocells are self assembling chemical systems without any DNA, and are made of only a small number of simple chemicals you might find at any home. The Patch, a giant accumulation of man made debris, predominantly millimeter sized plastic particles suspended in the upper water column covers an area though to be about 8 times the size of Britain. The technology, developed in the micro scale is applied to an area that covers millions of square kilometers of open ocean.
The protocells, through self-assembly trap and bind the floating neuston plastics, creating a series of floating islands, a complex synthetic ecology where a new social, economic and political order is formulated.

This three projects show how scale is not really a measure or a dimension, but a capacity for relation. The dynamic systems that govern our world and the geometries of the structures associated with them, give rise to scalar relations among themselves.
Commonly expressed in contemporary architecture we find scaled-up analogies between natural biological conditions and larger scale structures, this experimentation with bio-architectural composites has given rise to a number of different responses and approaches from bio-mimicry to neo-plasmatic design and protocell architecture, and thanks to advanced digital design technologies and representation techniques, were opened the door to a world, in which interdisciplinary practice with physicians, biologists, chemists and bio-engineers is becoming not only increasingly common but necessary.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


"Self-assembly is the autonomous organization of components into patterns or structures without human intervention. Self-assembling processes are common throughout nature and technology. They involve components from the molecular (crystals) to the planetary (weather systems) scale and many different kinds of interactions. The concept of self assembly is used increasingly in many disciplines, with a different flavor and emphasis in each."
George M. Whitesides, 2009

As new self-assembling protocell technologies are developed and used to trap and bind suspended plastics in the Oceans, mainly The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, tighter regulations on CO2 emissions force plastic manufacturers to eventually cease production and focus exclusively on collecting and recycling used plastics. This creates an economic stimulus by which plastic becomes a scarce and valuable material. The folating islands created by the plastic binding in The Patch turn into plastic mining settlements, a new citiy-state, a micro-nation that becomes the world's main raw plastic supplier.

Plastic Fantastic is a speculative architectural construct that is born from the discarded materials from the rest of the world. A conceptual ecology where properties become metaphorical and reality is marginal, that aims to create a stimulus for discourse and discussion.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Thursday, 10 June 2010


Protocells, 2010. A film by Dr Rachel Armstrong and Michael Simon Toon - Dr Armstrong (senior TED fellow and UCL teaching fellow) created the protocells and footage in this film, in the laboratory at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.

Protocells could be the beginning of all life on Earth. They are self assembling chemical systems without DNA, which is generally thought of as the molecule that programs all aspects of the behaviors of living cells. These simple protocells are made only of a small number of chemicals that you might find in any home, yet they are able to sense their environment, modify it, and exhibit complex life-like behaviors such as skin shedding and communication (as evidenced by their interaction and co-ordination). They also exhibit the most comprehensive of life-like qualities; eventual cessation of activity or as we call it, death.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Thursday, 13 May 2010

ON EXACTITUD ON SCIENCE... del rigor en la ciencia

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.
-Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

One paragraph short story by Jorge Luis Borges published in FICCIONES

Friday, 16 April 2010


To understand a site as complex as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that has been the cause of much speculation but that has yet to be clearly defined and fully understood, (it’s size is almost impossible to confirm with sources describing it to be from the size of Texas to the size of the continental U.S.); my tactic is to map the forces and conditions that define it, from winds and oceanic currents, to boat routes and amounts and types of plastic dumped into the oceans. Using mapping techniches as a way of appropriation of this almost mythical region; uncharted territory, a territory to be discovered, conquered, colonized. My system creates a dynamic relationship between itself and the environment on the site and uses the suspended plastic to create a new substrate and generate a synthetic ecology formed by the material discarded by the U.S.A. and Japan.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


The experiments from last term (see videos below) have been complemented by research done and published by the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Department of Informatics in the University of Zurich and the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems in Zurich, Switzerland. The drawing below shows how the conclusions of this research have helped me define morphology and mix of the elements and understand how a change in these characteristics of the components affects the final structure, it’s aggregation patterns, assembly speed and stability of the system and to overcome assembling issues such as magnetic shielding (Miyashita et al, 2009).

Saturday, 10 April 2010


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant accumulation of man made debris suspended in the upper water column of the North Pacific Ocean, roughly located between 135° to 155°W and 35°to 42°N, calculated to be close to twice the size of Texas (about 8 times the size of Britain) and to contain as much as 100 million tons of marine debris. The patch, of which 80-90% is plastic materials, is mostly formed by discarded material dumped from the U.S.A.’s west coast and from Japan and is gathered together by the North Pacific Gyre, that is the largest ecosystem on Earth and consists a system of prevailing currents that collects, the debris and traps it in the center of the vortex, forming the patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photo-degradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris that biodegrades, the photo-degraded plastic disintegrates into ever-smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues to the molecular lever. The existence of The Patch was predicted in a 1988 on paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States and has been brought to mainstream attention by Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Foundation, who came across it coming back from a sail race between Los Angeles and Hawaii (Moore, 2003).

Acording to Greenpeace, debri takes about 6 years to travel from the coast of the continental US and Japan to reach the the vortex and form the patch. The patch, like most marine debri concentrations, has been gradually formed by the gathering of marine pollution by oceanic currents, over the course of many years. It ocupies a large relatively stationary area, although recent data sugests the presence of two zones of concentrated debri conected by the Gyre's Convergence Zone.

Despite the size and density of the patch, it is not visible from satellite photography since it's primary component is small plastic particles suspended in the upper water column, on, or just bellow, the surface. Also, since plastic degrades into smaller and smaller polymers, it is not possible to view it through satellite pictures. This has led to even more speculation regarding the size, shape and location of the pacth, and even to some people doubting its existence.

It is important to note that the patch is NOT a floating island of garbage over which you could walk; images and videos found on different publications relating to the patch that show this situations are showing the plastic debri that has escaped or wasn't trapped by the North Pacific Gyre's Convergence Zone and has been washed up on the shores of the Hawaii Islands and Alaska

I haven't been able to embed a scaled version of the Greenpeace animation showing the currents that cause the Gyre and the movement of trash from the coast to the Patch click here to see it on the Greenpeace website, give a read to the info on the Patch while you're at it too!
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