Synthetic biology enabling a shift from domination to partnership with natural space
Synthetic biology is a field of science that examines biological systems through the lens of engineering with the explicit objective of rationally designing live objects for either fundamental or biotechnological purposes. Yet, the same conceptual frame also embodies its exact counterpart: the biologization of engineering, i.e., looking at rationally designed systems through the lens – and with the tools – of biology and evolution. Such a creative tension between technology-driven design and biological processes has one of the most conspicuous battlegrounds in modern architecture. Such an edge occurs in a time dominated by the evidence of climate change, ramping environmental deterioration, and the ensuing instability and mass migrations. The most recent influences of biology in architecture have moved from the adoption of biologically inspired shapes and forms in many types of buildings to the incorporation of new biomaterials (often functionalized with qualities of interest) as assembly blocks, to the amalgamation of live materials with other construction items. Yet, the possibility opened by synthetic biology to redesign biological properties à la carte, including large-scale developmental programs, also unlocks the opportunity to rethink our interplay with space, not as one more step in the way of domination, but as a win-win conversation with the natural environment. While various contemporary architectural tendencies clearly move in that direction, we propose a radical approach–exemplified in the so-called Biosynthetic Towers Project–in which complex buildings are designed and erected entirely through biological programming rather than assembled through standard construction technology. To make this scenario a reality, we need not only tackle a dedicated research agenda in the synthetic biology side, but also develop a new attentive mindset toward the environment, not as a space to be conquered for our exclusive own sake, but as one scenario of sustainable co-existence with the rest of the natural world.
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