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(21-22) Bio-Craftsmanship: Towards a Regenerative Architecture

Title: Bio-Craftsmanship: Towards a Regenerative Architecture

Tutor(s): Rachel Armstrong and Jan Wurm

Academic year 2021-22, semester 3, Brussels

Engagement: Craftsmanship/

open to students from Interior Architecture

Language: English

Figure legend: Design-led, process-experiments investigating different combinations of matter and form—a key Bio-Craftsmanship theme.​


Responding both to the Age of Biology and the Ecological crisis, this studio explores an emerging toolset for design and construction that incorporates the living world as part of the architectural portfolio.

Our studio is based on ongoing architectural research that examines fundamental relationships between nature (expressions of the world’s natural systems), technologies (a spectrum of tools that relate human and nature through their instrumental actions), and culture (expressions of human experience). Our guiding ethos is to regenerate the health of our planet’s ecosystems by designing, developing, building, and living with nature.

The idea that the human is the foundation for all understanding is no longer tenable. Human exceptionalism has been the root of both human progress and ecological catastrophe. All life on earth is part of one, vulnerable ecosystem. We want to forge mutually supportive relations between all life where, in the context of a changing world, humanity is part of nature and is equipped to address the profound damage wrought by the Anthropocene. Specifically, designers of the built environment need to develop new strategies to create more and healthier places for a growing population while restoring the health of our ecosystem in a zero carbon economy. Instead of emitting anthropogenic carbon—we will work with natural carbon cycles using regenerative materials, and natural processes to inform a new paradigm for designing, building, and living with nature.

Recognised as the Age of Biology, the twenty-first century is characterised by the advent of advanced biotechnologies, which offer dynamic new sets of solutions to material challenges ranging from the body to the environment. Enabled by late twentieth century insights, applied biological processes, which MIT’s Tom Knight has described as the nanotech that works, can be deployed to replace polluting chemical methods, break down waste efficiently and produce new materials with lower pollution, water, land, and energy use.

In the field of bioengineering, genetics and molecular biology, a fresh understanding of living systems, renders possible new scales of engagement with matter, new tools, new kinds of operations and a qualitatively different relationship with the environment. Substrates are lively, not passive, and concepts such as “circularity” that link the cycles of life and death—leading to regenerative processes—become possible.

Our research builds upon these insights to devise encounters, methods, tools, artefacts, and  systems across micro-, human and macroscale that create new insights and regenerative strategies to support symbiotic relations across the living world—in this way, it addresses the present and the future, while respecting the world’s many histories. Within the studio setting, we explore the emergence of Regenerative Architecture to restore planetary health by providing healthy places to sustain all life on planet Earth. Regenerative values transform design, which transforms the physical, which transforms, in turn, society. Creating space for all of life thus blurs boundaries between the grown and the built, the permanent and for the transitory.

Traditionally, the city is the communal space made by humans, exclusively for humans, which is sheltered from the rigours of nature and climate. As the climate shifts, and in the context of a established sprawling built environment that consumes natural habitats and resources, the studio will explore opportunities to design spaces at the interface between vital nature and the built environment—where the built is living and the living is an integral part of the built.  What does a building look like that is an integral aspect of a healthy ecosystem during its “construction” and “operation”?

In this studio you will learn about this increasingly important field of research—at the intersection between the built environment and nature—where, through the development of case studies and by prototyping a hybrid living building component, you will learn how to establish a research-based approach towards bio-craftsmanship. Based on your prototype, whose appearance and performance you will document over the course of the studio, you will develop a design for a building as your final project.

The questions our studio addresses are:

  1. What does it mean to design-with life and, within and for, ecosystems? (ethics, values, communities, cultures)
  2. What are the materials, processes, technologies and building tactics that enable bio-craftmanship? (scale, performance, infrastructure)
  3. How does bio-craftmanship differ from conventional architectural approaches? (opportunities and limitations)
  4. How does bio-craftsmanship become integrated into the built environment as constructions/spaces/materials/technologies etc. How does it reflect on the future of the designer’s profession and cross disciplinary collaboration?
  5. What types of architectures have already been produced and what other types of architecture are possible? (detailed case study examples)


Your final submission will include:

  1. Your final project—architectural proposal/spatial intervention presented in drawings, models, and working models/bio-physical experiments;
  2. A 1:1 bio-crafted prototype of one part of the building’s skin;
  3. A bio-craftsmanship manifesto;
  4. A reflection document (captain’s log; catalogue raisonné) that articulates your research methods, co-design and growth process, context for your prototype emplacement, approaches, and learning.


Phase 1. 

Students will meet and work as a group during Studio to research and explore the principles and practices that comprise bio-craftsmanship. You will conduct a survey on available biomaterials, processes, and select a recipe for developing your prototype unit of construction.

Students will learn about and research

  • Ethics and values underpinning the processes of working with “living” materials and technologies, plus the systems of care (infrastructure) that shape their performance and characteristics;
  • Questions of scale that separate the biological from the architectural and approaches for addressing these challenges;
  • Understanding ecosystem indicators such climate, location, orientation, exposure as drivers for the co-design with nature;
  • The prospect of no construction and demolition waste with complete building lifecycles;
  • Rich diverse and inspiring examples of bio-materials within installations and buildings;
  • Protocols for cultivating biomaterials;
  • Identify a site and context for a selected biomaterial prototype.

Phase 2.  field study/ specialist studio work

Students will work individually to cultivate their own living / bio-crafted prototype within context of an urban environment. They will situate it within their chosen location, within a shared ecosystem, and continue to document its development over the course of the studio.

Phase 3. 

Students will work individually to develop their building concepts and design strategies for a built/grown hybrid construction that embodies their learning from bio-craftsmanship.

Depending on whether strong individual themes are shared, tutorials may be held in small mutually-informative groups. Work will remain centred on individual projects.

Rethinking resilient building protocols and types that are relevant to an Age of Regenerative Design and Climate Change.

Visualise conceptually how the building organism is changing and adapting until 2050.

Understanding the site and environmental context as part of the construction and maintenance strategy.

Developing a more-than-human approach to the maintenance of micro-organisms and living agents and their interface with the built environment and human inhabitants.

Establishing a building program that holistically integrates the unique opportunities and challenges of a biologically-active construction including developing an end-of-life protocol.

Phase 4. 

Finalisation of construction and building program.

Week 13 – Studio Review

Week 14 – Final Presentation