Readings and References:
Interview with William Meyers
Question: Your books BioDesign: Nature + Science + Creativity and BioArt: Altered Realities play an important role in helping designers and artists think about the possibilities of their work and have helped redefine an entire genre of design/art practice. A common thread in both books is the role that critical design plays when thinking about the intersection of nature and the artifice. What do you think are some ideas/topics with respect to biotechnology that we should be most critical of? Or are there any new or important projects that you think are speaking to the current social/cultural implications of biotechnology?
"I think we should be wary of where biotechnology is going. We need to ask questions like what is driving it and who is it benefiting? Too many projects only celebrate, speculate, or experiment with these new technologies and not enough look at them skeptically. Critical art and design, like that of Daisy Ginsberg and Spela Petric should proliferate. A project to look at which is in development is the MSA by Emma Conley."
Question: We are now living in the Age of the Anthropocene, what do you see as the biggest threat or concern for the near future? What do you think Bio Designers should be thinking most about? Are there any projects that are speaking directly to these particular issues?
"A major concern or goal as I see it is to link economic growth to ecosystem protection and enhancement. In other words, identify how certain economic activity builds and supports ecosystems (example would be oyster farms), and then reward or incentivize organizations to do these activities. To a limited extent we already do this, but it must be vastly expanded to begin to counteract the destructive momentum of current systems."
Question: If we looking ahead to your next book it could be called BioManufacturing. Do you think that the DIY manufacturing movements (OpenSource Hardware/Arduino, 3D Printing/Makerbot) will soon make using biomaterials a common practice? Are we headed towards an open source biomaterials world where we will be 3D printing organic material? If yes, what are your thoughts on this? What might your BioManufacturing book look like? Where do you see the most promise at the intersection of Biology and Manufacturing?
"Yes, I think by necessity DIY practitioners as well as large companies will turn to biomaterials and harnessing bio processes for more production. This is a logical outcome or reaction to the pressures building as a result of climate change, and the regulatory environment which is continually getting better and spotting what/where harm is done. Not sure what a book on this would look like....but it would be a pleasure to write it if I had the support structure to do it (museum, university, etc)."
Question: I am very interested in the intersection of architecture and biotechnology — grown environments rather than built environments. And in particular I am looking at how we can incorporate living systems either directly as Terreform has in Fab Tree Hab or indirectly where biological material serves as a model like the Bio City Map. I am beginning to think more computationally about how to marry mathematical modeling with living matter like the Silk Pavillion. (I am also very inspired aesthetically by architects like Ezio Blasetti, Alisa Andrasek and Francois Roche.) What do you think is the most promising technology in reimagining our built environments? Are there actual (that can be implemented now or in the near future) architecture projects that can disrupt the status quo and harness Bio Design to actually grow environments? If this work resonates with you, are there projects that you think are interesting or inspiring in this space?
"You're definitely on the right track, and I really admire your optimism and energy. With designers and thinkers like you it will only be a matter of time before we achieve the kind of healthy hybridization of built and grown environments that we need! You site solid examples, and I like your question about what's most promising. Instead of citing something like algae bio reactors in buildings or some other specific tech, I think what is most promising is the techniques and tools under development in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology that are allowing us to measure the changes in ecosystems over time. Such measures, I think and hope, will be the tool for designing policies like I describe in the answers above. Reliable measurement will allow us to assign value and then protect environments. Some would call this fatalistic or cynical, but I really think that harnessing capitalism itself to undue its previous impact on the global environment is the most promising way to do it quickly. As Jenny Holzer said "use what is dominant in a culture to change it quickly." Let's use money."
Previously recorded interviews with Mitch Joachim:
A critical note:
What is biofabrication? Is this a word designers made up? Is an ant hill biofabrication? What about a bee hive? What does it mean to fabricate with biological material? Fabricate implies assembling parts or inventing a process, but does nature assemble? Is growing nature's fabrication?
I think that we we have yet to see biofabrication come to life. Perhaps there are some examples in the biomedical field (3D printing bone or hearts), but in the design and architecture community the work being shown at the intersection of technology, biology, and architecture leaves much to the imagination. While luminaries such as Mitch Joachim, Neri Oxman, and David Benjamin are all doing work that is aesthetically pleasing and certainly creating a buzz around Bio Design, I find the work lacking a bit of substance. Is their work making real change in the way we actually build today? No! I am skeptical about the real impact to change the way we live in the Age of the Anthropocene. Are these people just making more beautiful things to be displayed in galleries and museums? Why are there no implementation plans in place for this work? Why do we not see grown environments all around us? I think as William Meyers said above, the real impact here needs to come from economics and policy changes. I am not really sure how making another critical design piece for an art gallery can add to the conversation about Bio Fabrication.