Living Matter

7th May

4pm – 5:30pm

The application of living biological organisms is central to contemporary food production, biotechnology and the design of nano- and microstructures among various other fields. Organs and implants are cultivated in vitro, skin cells are applied to lesions using 3D printers, clean meat is generated from cell cultures of living animals, microalgae become light sources using bioluminescence, and bioarchitecture allows entire buildings to be created through plant growth. Are these practices merely new forms of exploitation of the ecosphere or do  they open up, as researcher Neri Oxman, suggests, a new way of life and a paradigm shift in  the way we deal with nature – “from consuming nature as a geological resource to editing it  as a biological one”?

Elvin Karana, Delft University of Technology
Designing Living Artefacts
From philosophy to science, the definition of life and living has puzzled scholars since time immemorial. While some described living as a self-sustaining and autonomous chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution, others related living to the ability of self-reproduction with variations. Introduced by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in 1972, the term autopoiesis (from Greek auto, meaning 'self', and poiesis, meaning 'creation', 'production') defining the self-maintaining chemistry of living cells, has been applied to the fields of systems theory, cognition, architecture and sociology. In art and design, Livingness has been a source of inspiration for creating alive-like expressions, such as integrating kinetic elements that move like living things. Livingness has also been a more literal element in the design of artefacts through the incorporation of instances of nature or natural patterns into artefacts, just as in Biophilic design. This inspired many designers to incorporate living elements, from plants and trees for instance, into their designs to increase this sense of connectivity from people. What if designers took a more extreme stance on Biophilic design? Instead of inserting living elements from plants and trees into artefacts as we know them, why not collaborate with living things as the building blocks for novel artefacts that synthesise the artificial and biological?
In my talk, I will discuss how Livingness can be prolonged to the use time of artefacts, where it becomes a persistent material quality in design, and the design outcome a living artefact. This opens up a new and exciting design space where designers are invited to harness living organisms' potentials for unique functionalities, interactions, and expressions in the everyday. I will particularly touch upon novel performances and, ultimately, practices living artefacts would elicit; and how design can facilitate the emergence of these practices.

Ferdinand Ludwig, TU München
Co-Designing with Trees – The Imposition of Uncertainty
The German neologism Baubotanik combines aspects of construction engineering and  botany and is understood as a form of architecture that creates buildings through the interaction of technical joining and plant growth. In particular, the growth of  trees  or  their parts is manipulated and they are combined with non-living components in  such  a  way  that they merge into a plant-technical hybrid.
In Baubotanik, the architect becomes a co-designer who, together with the tree, creates a building. It will never be "finished," even if desired stages of development will be reached sooner or later. How it will look in the future depends on events and factors that cannot be controlled. Forecasts are possible but limited to rather general statements. And the further one tries to look into the future, the more blurred the  picture becomes.
For architecture, which in principle is always designed in contrast to nature and  constructed as durable  as possible,  this  is an  imposition;  neither  the  size  nor  the proportions of a building can be precisely determined by the human designer. Moreover,  its  appearance  changes with  the seasons. On the other hand it is obvious, that in a time in which not only the climate but also many social systems are undergoing fundamental change, a static approach—as proposed by conventional  architecture—can hardly provide safety.
Only if we accept and, in fact, appreciate uncertainty as the basis of our design   practice can we cope with the environmental crisis we are facing today.

Fara Peluso, Speculative Biodesign, Berlin
Design for Future Coexistence
Design with nature means design of caring and resilience, a speculation practice together with Nature's biological interactions. When art and design employ symbioses and coexistences from Nature and translate them into remarkable lessons of diversities acceptance, non homologation ways of thinking towards a democratic and empathic way of becoming.
Art and design practices adopt speculative methods to inquire agency and poetry into living organisms, observing and employing them as reference models, they become a learning tool with a premonitory attitude towards the future we want to live. Furthermore the speculative design can be also the way of fighting the homologation shaping critical minds towards a democratic and empathic way of becoming. Through this lecture the artist and designer Fara Peluso will present her work taking place at these interconnections and show how a new way of design is possible through a speculative and hybrid methodology today.
Design, science and art can adopt processes from each other and develop a more complex methodology that embodies the interweaving systems we live in, explaining how we can adjust our minds and behaviors to help consolidate what we want to become and shape our legacy. Artists and designers borrowing concepts like coexistence and symbiosis from science are working through means of a “do it yourself” practice raising critical questions, imagining and questioning, analysing and experimenting.
They create or prototype, rummaging through micro and macro scales and their traditional perceptions to contribute to the consideration of our environment through developments of a new typology of objects and living machines aiming to alter and enrich individual perception of our world rather than attempting to change it proactively.

Moderation: Matthias Held, HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd 

Panel Speakers

Elvin Karana
Ferdinand Ludwig

Fara Peluso
Matthias Held (Moderation)