Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

CREATURES; Self-reliance, Disobedience and the Strange Premise of living machines

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Research Seminar by ATCH Visiting Fellow, Lydia Kallipoliti

Wednesday June 5, 1-2pm, room 51-207

The history of twentieth century architecture, design, and engineering has been strongly linked to the conceptualization and production of self-reliant systems, or as John Todd spoke of New Alchemy’s bioshelters, of living machines. As partial reconstructions of the world in time and in space, living machines speak of the eerie transference of life to architecture, as the medium and vessel animated to respond to habitation. Living machines grow, leak, excrete, expand, deflate, move and self-regulate. Living machines might be committed to a deeply rooted fantasy of architecture producing nature, yet they are fully integrated within the very fabric of reality.

Buildings, as inhabited ecosystems, have canonically been portrayed as robust and regenerative, where waste equals food in an endless series of cycles and sub cycles. Yet, the idea of self-reliance is compulsive in the will to ceaselessly generate new life from all wasteful cycles of production. Self-reliant ecosystems, along with their dwellers, are unbalanced living models susceptible to the shortcomings of digestion; all substances, fluids and humeurs are ingested and excreted with the help of hidden machinery in a continuous process of material conversion. What remains a paradox is the manner in which this questionable model of total circular regeneration, imbued with the vitalism of a digestive stomach, has prevailed as the mainstream model of what we now call a sustainable, net-zero habitat, opposing energy loss. In this light, it is critical to question to what degree resource conservation strategies are sustainable forms of practice, and also recognize how impossible ideas become institutionalized through a series of bureaucratic mechanisms and are eventually labeled as ‘eco-friendly’ or even worse as ‘green’. Self-reliant systems disclose a struggle to reconcile the utopian ideal of replicating the earth in its totality with the visceral and raw material reality of ‘stuff’ unexpectedly generated from feedback loops.

All welcome