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Not Born This Way

Not Born This Way

University of Minnesota’s Blaine Brownell (director of the MArch Program) and Marc Swackhamer (head of the School of Architecture and founding partner at Minneapolis-based HouMinn) have now published a book that goes much further. In

“According to designers Koert Van Mensvoort and Hendrik-Jan Grievink,” they write, “hypernature brings us ‘natural’ experiences that could not exist without the human hand, but can be appreciated nonetheless. We argue that this definition should be expanded to include all life, for the manipulation of nature is not limited to human influence. … Hypernature also includes the modification of nonliving matter by living organisms for the purposes of reshaping their physical environments.” In other words, their book demonstrates the conjoining of the natural, human, and technological by presenting projects that reveal “new relationships between the born and the made.”

The word “innovative” does not begin to describe the environments and spaces presented in the book’s 42 case studies, which are organized into seven beautifully illustrated chapters based on planetary development—from microbial and zoological to the noosphere, or domain of human thought. Properties, processes, and phenomena are examined in diverse projects the world over.

In MIT Media Lab’s Silk Pavilion, silkworms are denied a cocoon and thus continually cover a bio-inspired scaffold with their intricate webs. In the Sahara Desert, miniscule grains of sand—which normally erode structures—are compacted and shaped into residential buildings. The BIQ House in Germany has a bio-adoptive facade known as SolarLeaf: window panels filled with liquid that are part of a geothermal heating system and that also grow algae, which in turn shades the building. Echoviren is a botanical pavilion modeled on the surrounding redwood forest in Northern California, but designed to decay over a period of decades.

In other words, write the authors: “Decay, change, and unpredictability: these are three words to which architects have commonly exhibited resistance, but to which hypernatural designers enthusiastically flock.” Rather than controlling nature, then, a hypernatural approach requires architects and designers to “deliberately resituate control, often to the predesign phase of a project, where they set up the conditions for work to unfold, organically and unpredictably.”

Always provocative in form, materiality and function; usually participatory, as the human presence triggers a digitally designed response in many of these works; and upending expectation in form and functionality, the structures investigated in Hypernatural present a seemingly otherworldly future radically outside of today’s status quo. There may be hope for us after all.

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