Could architecture someday be alive—thinking, feeling, reacting, even caring—just like a sentient being? It’s a question much too strange not to take seriously.
Architect Philip Beesley and his team at the Living Architecture Systems Group flung that question high into the air at the 2010 Venice Biennale, and it has been swirling around ever since. Since the original Hylozoic series, the nomenclature of the group’s creations has shifted into even more adjectival arcana: Epiphyte Springs, Aerial Wells, Cellular Whispering Fields, Sentient Veils. This is such stuff as dreams are made of, except that in reality it’s made of precision-cut mylar fronds and steel filigree, viscid chemical compositions, tiny glass vessels, veins of LEDs and miniature sound-speakers, bursting out of skeletons created by 3-D printing. Call it theoretical research, or premonitions of earth’s next ruling life forms. Architects might yet become the unacknowledged rulers of the world.
The Living Architecture Systems Group’s latest love-child of science and art, designed in partnership with Salvador Breed and 4D Sound, is dubbed the Astrocyte. Showcased earlier this month at Toronto’s EDIT Festival, the Astrocyte suggests a futuristic Christmas tree exploding in slow motion over the concrete floor of the abandoned Unilever soap factory. As one approaches the Astrocyte, its leaf-like appendages flutter and murmur, responding kinetically to the presence of a human, thrumming like a power line or a swarm of crickets. It lightens the room with an uncanny sense of life: the post-mechanical, post-digital evolution of the jerky cartoon robot, a creation sensitive to the slightest motion, a small step towards structures that can emote in tandem with humankind.
Beesley himself describes this new mutation of phantasmagoria as “an aerial scaffold interwoven with artificial intelligence incubating future hybrid growth of thousands of photocells.”
All of which qualitatively answers the question: can architecture be alive? Hell, maybe!