The scientist will design the emergent city

Evolution is the change that occurs within the inherited characteristics of a population or species over successive generations. Evolutionary theory addresses the process of environmental adaption. The social environment is currently defined by expanding needs and cultural expectations. Our changing social environment requires designers and architects to evolve their thinking about the city, artifacts and buildings. Biotectonica Research & Design Studio in collaboration with CienciaPR.Org have created an interdisciplinary studio to foster the evolution of design thinking according to new global patterns of society, culture and economy.

Employment in the construction industry has dropped over the past yearin Puerto Rico; in 2013 33,800 people were employed, in 2014 only 29,800. Global statistics of employment show a similar story with social and cultural priorities impacting employment opportunities. Through new technology and sustainability clients are focusing on cost-efficiency. Climatic patterns and rapid urbanization have contributed to the current conversations of resilience, ecology and symbiosis. We rely on a technological breakthrough to sustain the emerging population.

Over the past four years, the School of Architecture of the Pontifical Catholic University in Puerto Rico has been observing current social paradigms and its consequences. Biotectonica Research & Design Studio is a new architecture model situated in the Caribbean, aiming to introduce new business models and new markets to the construction industry in order to broaden the social scope of architecture. The studio identifies biomimicry as a forward thinking design science, and the biggest potential influence in Architecture. Biomimicry is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes. The studio identifies biomimicry as one of the biggest future gains in architecture.

Adaptation is a biological concept that relates to the fitness and survival of organisms. To further the understanding of this concept and its translation into design and architecture, Biotectonica has allied with the CienciaPR.Org (Science Puerto Rico Organization), for the first time encouraging more than 6500 scientists to collaborate with architects when considering future design possibilities. The program allows design and architecture students to access accurate scientific information, rendering new technology and tectonic understanding.

This model poses a series of interesting questions, such as how the neurobiologist will shape the city? How will a biologist envisage our habitats? What can a virus tell designers about architecture? How will cities look when a chemist designs the blueprint of infrastructure? How will a meteorologist design urban settlements? Greetchen Díaz is a molecular virologist and NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Nebraska Center for Virology of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His research could introduce urban planners to new models of city development:

Cell nuclear membrane architecture is essential for proper function of the nuclear transport system that permits the exchange of cargo (like proteins) in and out of the nucleus. The nucleus is the ‘core‘ of the cell where essential processes occur, comparable to a city downtown. Similarly, downtowns need efficient transport systems but many cities face a problem with old structures and the actual demand. By studying nuclear membrane protein targeting, I learned that defects in membrane architecture, promotes the use of alternative transport pathways for proteins. Architects could learn from these different strategies in order to find architectural elements important for transport systems in a city, building or structure.

Greetchen’s bio-analogue along with the Biotectonica seeks to foster this idea of urban adaptability by investigating the biology-architecture interface. The studio introduces scientific methodology to architecture education and teaches how to adapt the future city with consideration to literal fitness principles. The studio is channeling architectural conception throughout scientific paths and is therefore approaching architecture with scientific methodology.

The collaboration is a strategic step in order to take advantage of the school’s current profile, thereby shaping a new architectural scientist able to think about buildings and cities as a second nature in need to perform as ecosystems. Daniel Colón Ramos is an Associate Professor of cell biology at the Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair of Yale School of Medicine, and founder of CienciaPR.Org, he identifies the following issue with high-rise building architecture:

In the nervous system, the interconnectivity of neurons is critical in order to carry out their collaborative function of creating perception. Similarly, in the cities, architecture should be at the service of facilitating connectivity between individuals, creating meeting spaces, facilitating the flow of people and ideas. The city is a collaborative space entity, a place of encounter and synergy. That is its aim. In that sense, it is analogous to a nervous ganglion. High-rise buildings for example, makes good use of the physical space, but people in the highest floors, despite being in close proximity, do not have connectivity points. That makes architecture to become a tool of social isolation. Just as the architecture of the nervous system facilitates the flow of information in the nervous system, all architecture in a city should facilitate the flow of ideas.

The Biotectonica and CienciaPR.Org collaboration aims to further the relationship between natural complexity and architecture by fostering the scientific domain of design and architecture. Landscape Architect Jose Juan Terrasa proposes the need for “Molecular Landscape Architecture” that can foresee “the impact of soil selection on a future plaza, and derive a perfect recipe for soil, down to the molecular level. A landscape architecture that can predict the successional path of a group of plants, selected by their genetics.” Biotectonica is a channel for similar applications in Architecture driven by scientific thinking.

We hope future cities might embrace resilience in order to face patterns of nature and its dynamic complexity. Infrastructure, buildings and systems within cities must also learn from ecosystems of evolution to achieve adaptation. The new parameters which cities will be designed and built by are derived from science. CienciaPR.Org throughout the Biotectonica Research & Design Studio will lead designers to accurately understand those new parameters of future cities. If nature and architecture is intended to merge, scientist and architect might also intertwine and the scientist will design the emergent city.

Biotectonica’s virtual landscape is at

This article also appears on author Linda Bennett's website archi-ninja.

Lead image courtesy

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