AccScience Publishing / JCAU / Volume 5 / Issue 3 / DOI: 10.36922/jcau.0619

Synthetic biology enabling a shift from domination to partnership with natural space

Víctor de Lorenzo1 Miguel de la Ossa1
Show Less
1 Department of Systems Biology, National Center of Biotechnology, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Darwin 3, Madrid 28049, Spain
Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism 2023, 5(3), 0619
Submitted: 19 April 2023 | Accepted: 14 July 2023 | Published: 4 August 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Regenerative Architecture)
© 2023 by the Author(s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

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.

Synthetic biology
Bionic architecture
Research in Víctor de Lorenzo’s Laboratory is funded by SYNBIO4FLAV (H2020-NMBP-TR-IND/H2020-NMBP-BIO-2018-814650), the MIX-UP (MIX-UP H2020-BIO-CN-2019-870294), the NYMPHE (HORIZON-CL6-2021- UE 101060625), Contracts of the European Union, the BIOSINT-CM (Y2020/TCS- 6555), and the Project of the Comunidad de Madrid - European Structural and Investment Funds (FSE, FECER).

Abdelhameed, W. (2018). BIM in architecture curriculum: A case study. Architectural Science Review, 61:480-491.


Aldersey-Williams, H. (2004). Towards biomimetic architecture. Nature Materials, 3:277-279.


Al-Momani, N. M., & Harrald, J. R. (2003). Sensitivity of earthquake loss estimation model: How useful are the predictions. International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, 4:1-19.


Andrianantoandro, E., Basu, S., Karig, D. K., & Weiss, R. (2006). Synthetic biology: New engineering rules for an emerging discipline. Molecular Systems Biology, 2:2006.0028.


Armstrong, R. (2015) Vibrant Architecture: Matter as a Codesigner of Living Structures. Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH and Co KG.


Armstrong, R. (2023). Towards the microbial home: An overview of developments in next-generation sustainable architecture. Microbial Biotechnology, 16:1112-1130.


Armstrong, R., & Spiller, N. (2010). Synthetic biology: Living quarters. Nature, 467:916-918.


Attias, N., Danai, O., Abitbol, T., Tarazi, E., Ezov, N., Pereman, I., & Grobman, Y. J. (2020). Mycelium bio-composites in industrial design and architecture: Comparative review and experimental analysis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 246:119037.


Baltes, N. J., & Voytas, D. F. (2015). Enabling plant synthetic biology through genome engineering. Trends in Biotechnology, 33:120-131.


Brophy, J. A. N., Magallon, K. J., Duan, L., Zhong, V., Ramachandran, P., Kniazev, K., & Dinneny, J. R. (2022). Synthetic genetic circuits as a means of reprogramming plant roots. Science, 377:747-751.


Calvert, J. (2010). Synthetic biology: Constructing nature? The Sociological Review, 58:95-112.


Cardinale, S., & Arkin, A. P. (2012), Contextualizing context for synthetic biology--identifying causes of failure of synthetic biological systems. Biotechnology Journal, 7:856-866.


Castle, S. D., Grierson, C. S., & Gorochowski, T. E. (2021). Towards an engineering theory of evolution. Nature Communications, 12:3326.


Chayaamor-Heil, N. (2023). From bioinspiration to biomimicry in architecture: Opportunities and challenges. Encyclopedia, 3:202-223.


Dade-Robertson, M. (2016). Building science: Synthetic biology and emerging technologies in architectural research. Architectural Research Quarterly, 20:5-8.


Danchin, A. (2008). Bacteria as computers making computers. FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 33:3-26.


de Lorenzo, V. (2018), Evolutionary tinkering vs. Rational engineering in the times of synthetic biology. Life Sciences, Society and Policy, 14:1-16.


de Lorenzo, V., & Danchin, A. (2008). Synthetic biology: Discovering new worlds and new words: The new and not so new aspects of this emerging research field. EMBO Reports, 9:822-827.


de Lorenzo, V., Prather, K. L., Chen, G. Q., O’Day, E., von Kameke, C., Oyarzún, D. A., et al. (2018). The power of synthetic biology for bioproduction, remediation and pollution control: The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will inevitably require the application of molecular biology and biotechnology on a global scale. EMBO Reports, 19:e45658.


Debauche, O., Mahmoudi, S., Mahmoudi, S. A., Manneback, P., & Lebeau, F. (2020). A new edge architecture for ai-iot services deployment. Procedia Computer Science, 175:10-19.


Di Cristina, G. (2002). Architecture and science. Nexus Network Journal, 4:133. Gilbert, C., & Ellis, T. (2018). Biological engineered living materials: Growing functional materials with genetically programmable properties. ACS Synthetic Biology, 8:1-15.


Ginsberg, A. D., Calvert, J., Schyfter, P., Elfick, A., & Endy, D. (2017). Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature. United States: MIT Press.


Habert, G., Miller, S. A., John, V. M., Provis, J. L., Favier, A., Horvath, A., et al. (2020). Environmental impacts and decarbonization strategies in the cement and concrete industries. Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, 1:559-573.


Hafner, J., MohammadiPeyhani, H., Sveshnikova, A., Scheidegger, A., & Hatzimanikatis, V. (2020). Updated ATLAS of biochemistry with new metabolites and improved enzyme prediction power. ACS Synthetic Biology, 9:1479-1482.


Hanson, A. D., & Lorenzo, V. D. (2023). Synthetic biology-high time to deliver? ACS Synthetic Biology, 12:1579-1582.


Huerta, S. (2006). Structural design in the work of Gaudi. Architectural Science Review, 49:324-339.


Huesemann, M., & Huesemann, J. (2011). Techno-fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment. Gabriola: New Society Publishers.


Hundertwasser, A. (1997). Hundertwasser Architecture: For a more Human Architecture in Harmony with Nature. New York: Taschen Verlag.


Jo, C., Zhang, J., Tam, J. M., Church, G. M., Khalil, A. S., Segre, D., et al. (2023). Unlocking the magic in mycelium: Using synthetic biology to optimize filamentous fungi for biomanufacturing and sustainability. Mater Today Bio, 19:100560.


Kocaoglan, E. G., Radhakrishnan, D., & Nakayama, N. (2023). Synthetic developmental biology: Molecular tools to re-design plant shoots and roots. Journal Experimental Botany, 74:3864-3876.


Krohs, U., & Bedau, M. A. (2013). Interdisciplinary interconnections in synthetic biology. Biological Theory, 8:313-317.


Kruft, H. W. (1994). History of Architectural Theory. United States: Princeton Architectural Press.


Lewis, J. (2008). From signals to patterns: Space, time, and mathematics in developmental biology. Science, 322:399-403.


Lohn, J. D., Hornby, G. S., & Linden, D. S. (2005). An evolved antenna for deployment on nasa’s space technology 5 mission. In: Genetic Programming Theory and Practice II, p. 301-315.


Makert, R., & Alves, G. (2016), Between designer and design: Parametric design and prototyping considerations on Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia. Periodica Polytechnica Architecture, 47:89-93.


March, L., & Stiny, G. (1985). Spatial systems in architecture and design: Some history and logic. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 12:31-53.


Meng, F., & Ellis, T. (2020). The second decade of synthetic biology: 2010-2020. Nature Communications, 11:5174.


Metcalf, S. (2004). Art and physics. Art Education, 57:25-32.


Morange, M. (2013). Comparison between the work of synthetic biologists and the action of evolution: Engineering versus tinkering. Biological Theory, 8:318-323.


Morris, E. C., Griffiths, M., Golebiowska, A., Mairhofer, S., Burr- Hersey, J., Goh, T, et al. (2017). Shaping 3D root system architecture. Current Biology, 27:R919-R930.


Naseri, G., & Koffas, M. A. (2020), Application of combinatorial optimization strategies in synthetic biology. Nature Communications, 11:2446.


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Microbiomes of the Built Environment: A Research Agenda for Indoor Microbiology, Human Health, and Buildings. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


Nicolas, M., Torres-Pérez, R., Wahl, V., Cruz-Oró, E., Rodríguez- Buey, M. L., Zamarreño, A. M, et al. (2022). Spatial control of potato tuberization by the TCP transcription factor BRANCHED1b. Nature Plants, 8:281-294.


Persiani, S. G. L., & Battisti, A. (2019). Frontiers of adaptive design, synthetic biology and growing skins for ephemeral hybrid structures. In: Energy-Efficient Approaches in Industrial Applications. London: Intech Open.


Porcar, M., Danchin, A., & De Lorenzo, V. (2015). Confidence, tolerance, and allowance in biological engineering: The nuts and bolts of living things. Bioessays, 37:95-102.


Ripley, R. L., & Bhushan, B. (2016). Bioarchitecture: Bioinspired art and architecture-a perspective. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 374:20160192.


Sbacchi, M. (2001). Euclidism and theory of architecture. Nexus Network Journal, 3:25-38.


Shavandi, A., & Jalalvandi, E. (2019). Biofabrication of bacterial constructs: New three-dimensional biomaterials.  Bioengineering (Basel), 6:44.


Singh, T., Arapanaei, A., Elustondo, D., Wang, Y., Stocchero, A., West, T., & Fu, Q. (2022). Emerging technologies for the development of wood products towards extended carbon storage and CO2 capture. Carbon Capture Science and Technology, 4:100057.


Soderlund, J., & Newman, P. (2015), Biophilic architecture: A review of the rationale and outcomes. AIMS Environmental Science, 2:950-969.


Stephanopoulos, G. (2012). Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. ACS Synthetic Biology, 1:514-525.


Szalapaj, P. (2013). CAD Principles for Architectural Design. England: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.


Tan, C., Xu, P., & Tao, F. (2022). Carbon-negative synthetic biology: Challenges and emerging trends of cyanobacterial technology. Trends in Biotechnology, 40:1488-1502.


Vijay, K., Murmu, M., & Deo, S. V. (2017). Bacteria based self healing concrete-a review. Construction and Building Materials, 152:1008-1014.


Yuan, Y., Yu, X., Yang, X., Xiao, Y., Xiang, B., & Wang, Y. (2017). Bionic building energy efficiency and bionic green architecture: A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 74:771-787.

Conflict of interest
The authors declare they have no competing interests.
Back to top
Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism, Electronic ISSN: 2717-5626 Published by AccScience Publishing