THE BARTLETT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECT, UCL
HELLO SYMBIOCENE - 2020/2021
This year, we will explore how the concept of symbiotic alliances can be applied to the practice of architecture. Our research will focus on ecology’s driving principle of adaptation. So powerful and central an idea of the past century, it transformed the study of natural and social sciences, guided the engineering principles of computing, and continues today to offer us a mechanism to mediate between the natural, synthetic and digital.
Last year we challenged what it means to live and design in the Anthropocene. This year we will focus on how we as future architects can break this destructive cycle and shift our creative efforts towards a new epoch, the Symbiocene.
The philosopher Glen Albrecht challenges our notion of the Anthropocene, the age of human dominance over the planet, with an alternative era, coining it the Symbiocene. He argues that although there are predators and pathogens in nature, and certainly competition, so too are there boundless examples of macro and microscale mutually beneficial relationships between organisms.
“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry”
R. Buckminster Fuller
Confronted by today’s urgent economic, social and environmental pressures, we will ask how mutual relationships between ‘human’, ‘non-human’ and ‘landscape’ can lead to new hybrid typologies. Perhaps buildings can behave like generous neighbours in a like-minded community, accommodating cohabitation with various other natural and manmade critters, moderating the microclimate, cleaning the air, offering tomorrow’s food and much more. We will speculate how tools of care, storytelling, play, and activism might guide us towards a generative, less destructive, and alternative future.
As our climate is changing, so must our architecture. Our profession is deeply invested in the logic of economic growths and as a consequence in the UK, the built environment accounts for almost 47% of greenhouse gas emissions. Can architecture and our practices object at all, or are we unavoidably complicit? How can we help to cool the climate yet warm to symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships?
In the spirit of collaborative survival, we will study humans as part of multi-species communities and imagine different forms of living together. We will explore the architecture of connection and interfaces rather than divisions - between facts and values, science and science fiction, nature and culture, human and non-human beings.
The year’s programme is structured as a series of interconnecting proposals, starting with an investigative exercise, resolved by an architectural fragment, developing into a major building project. In all of this, we are asking you to investigate a large subject in a very focused and personal way. Throughout the year the unit will be creating our own unit biome for the Symbioscene. What architectural tools do we need to move towards a more equitable, sustainable future for all - people, species, and ecosystems?
Your first project will act as a catalyst for invention, a place of wonder, and discovery. As a unit, we will create our own cabinet of curiosities, a unit biome and a collection of spatial prototypes for the Symbiocene. This project will be research-based and propositional at the same time. It starts with your own personal investigations and journeys – physically or virtually in your own local environment.
Your study will find, define and reveal a symbiotic relationship, either as a socio-cultural, mechanical or biological phenomenon. You might study any type of close and long-term interaction between two different organisms or systems, be it mutualistic, commensalism, or parasitic. This could be an interface between digital or physical environments, a system between the natural and the synthetic, or a convergence between human and the non-human and more. Your projects in P1 might be siteless, yet super site-specific, informed by the micro and macro social, cultural, political surroundings.
You are asked to conclude your investigations and construct a multisensory spatial/architectural interpretation/fragment that surprises, connects, alters, accelerates or manipulates the former reading of the symbiotic alliances you identified.
Your areas of interrogation might reach from multispecies co-living to imagining brand new architectural environments to host this new epoch. From biological conditions to bioengineering where scientists are turning bacteria into living hard drives to microbial homes. From non-human intelligence such as Google’s Deepmind to HP lab’s proposal for the Central Nervous System of the Earth (‘CeNSE’). We will study the modus operandi of natural or virtual parasitising and explore relationships with non-human entities anchored in reality and suspended in virtuality.
In P1 we tested our ideas. In P2 we will evaluate their potential on a bigger scale. Now, that you have imagined the modus operandi of your sensorium, we will explore its implications in the context of a specific site. Can we think of an architecture, that is daring and imaginative in its capacity to adapt, respond and be responsible?
We will speculate how we might hear, see, smell, taste and feel our built environments in the Symbioscene and how our proposals might permeate through the digital and physical world. Guided by your previous intuitive findings, and your personal observations, you will design a resolved and complex public building, speculating on mutual relationships between habitat and inhabitation.
This year is a unique chance to explore ‘the new abnormal’. Sites of investigation might be explored in the real world or through altered states, through virtual platforms, blockchains, supply chains, networks, or other real and virtual ecosystems.
Unit 5 is a testing ground and laboratory for imaginative thinking, research and speculation. We look into the history and culture of a place to be able to imagine futures that we can’t fully foresee. We learn by doing!
The first term will be experimental and is there to test, take risks and forms your approach to the main building project. Your tests might have uncertain outcomes but they always have results. They are important to find a creative, original and intellectual working method that prepares you for future projects. In the second and third term, we will take our pleasures very seriously and encourage you to develop a unique method of visualising your architecture.
We are interested in the artistic potential of working with technology, not only as a performance-oriented design parameter but also as a process charged with aesthetic potential, craft, cultural identity and ambition for sustainability. We will hybridise different media, scales, and digital & handcrafted techniques. We will be tooling ourselves up at the start of the year with intensive workshops for both analogue and digital skills.
Different modes of land survey might become part of our investigations, as well as fabrication, both physical and 3D modelling, LiDAR scanning, film, fabrication, and drones to map and design with. If the current situation allows, we will utilise these skills from the outset in P1. This will enable the unit to move fluidly between the analogue and digital, the virtual and real operating with a well-judged selective sharpness. We are interested that you critically position your design in its context and through it develop your own design language