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Book Review: Bioprotopia: Designing the Built Environment with Living Organisms, Reviewed by, Dr. Gozde Damla Turhan-Haskara

Book Review: Bioprotopia: Designing the Built Environment with Living Organisms, Reviewed by, Dr. Gozde Damla Turhan-Haskara

Title: Bioprotopia: Designing the Built Environment with Living Organisms
Author(s): Ruth Morrow, Ben Bridgens, Louise Mackenzie (editors)
Publisher: Birkhäuser
Year: 2023
ISBN: 9783035625806; 3035625808; 9783035625790; 3035625794

Reviewed by Gozde Damla TURHAN-HASKARA (Architect, Ph.D.), Asst. Prof. Dr., Izmir University of Economics, Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design, Izmir/Türkiye.

Bioprotopia: Designing the Built Environment with Living Organisms by Ruth Morrow, Ben Bridgens, and Louise Mackenzie (eds.) offers an insightful exploration into the intersection of biology and architecture. The book challenges conventional architectural practices by introducing the concept of Bioprotopia, a perspective that sees places as living environments shaped by biological processes and our coexistence with organisms.

The authors emphasize the transformative potential of biotechnology in building design, highlighting innovative projects across macro and micro scales such as the BioKnit that explores the possibility of growing buildings using biological materials, challenging traditional design methods, or Healing Masonry that investigates introducing bacteria to traditional construction materials to enable self-healing properties, or Bacterial Sculpting that investigates microbially induced calcium carbonate precipitation (MICCP) as a biomineralization process, or the Photosynthetic Biocomposites that explores the integration of living microalgae within minimal moisture environments.

What sets Bioprotopia apart from other literature on biodesign is its emphasis on real-world application and interdisciplinary collaboration. Unlike the previous publications of the editors and authors of the book, and others in the literature on material studies, prototyping, and the theoretical possibilities of biological architecture, Bioprotopia provides concrete examples of biotechnological innovations and their implementation in architectural design projects. This practical approach, coupled with its ethical considerations and social equity framework, distinguishes this particular book as a valuable resource for designers and students seeking to create more ecological and inclusive built environments.

The introduction of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE) can be the most integral part of the book in which this collaborative research initiative is showcased, aiming to develop life-sustaining buildings responsive to their natural environment. It is effectively argued for a paradigm shift in architectural practice. These micro and macro projects serve as practical demonstrations of how biological innovations can contribute to creating sustainable and adaptable built environments, through a concrete example of OME building. Conceived as an experimental building, the design was guided by a comprehensive workshop involving the founding members of the HBBE and led by FaulknerBrowns Architects. Despite its experimental nature, the OME was envisioned as a stepping stone to the next level of testing and prototyping. The spatial concept of the building centered around a small, self-contained domestic space (studio apartment) on the first floor. This space was designed for microbiome studies, exploring the role of ventilation, material surfaces, and other interventions in microbial communities. Additionally, the studio apartment serves as a space to engage with the public and explore attitudes towards biotechnology in a domestic context. The OME features prototyping and exhibition spaces designed for flexibility. Wall lining boards, services, and structural elements were designed to accommodate the integration of new biomaterials and technologies as they develop.

One of the other key strengths of Bioprotopia lies in its emphasis on collaboration between architects, biologists, and engineers. By bringing together experts from diverse fields, the book fosters a holistic understanding of biodesign and its potential impact on architectural practice. This collaborative ethos distinguishes Bioprotopia from other literature on biodesign, which may fall short in demonstrating a real-world application scenario with the proper expertise.

In the context of the current climate crisis, Bioprotopia emerges as a timely and impactful contribution to environmental impact of archtectural design discourse. The book confronts the urgent need for sustainable solutions in architecture, offering practical strategies for mitigating the ecological footprint of the built environment. By promoting self-sufficiency, resilience, and regenerative design principles, Bioprotopia inspires designers to rethink their approach to architectural practice and to adopt more ecologically sensitive methodologies.

Last but not least, Bioprotopia seeks to influence design practice by advocating for ethical considerations and social equity in architectural decision-making. The book reflects on the disparities followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for a more inclusive and compassionate approach to architectural design. By foregrounding issues of vulnerability and care, Bioprotopia challenges designers to prioritize the well-being of communities and ecosystems in their projects. The book references environmental artist Agnes Denes's “Book of Dust” to illustrate the interconnectedness of human and non-human agencies in shaping planetary life-worlds. It emphasizes the ethical responsibilities and response-abilities required to address the environmental crises we face, advocating for a more compassionate and sustainable approach to living with human and non-human worlds.

In conclusion, Bioprotopia presents a compelling vision for the future of architecture, one that is deeply rooted in biological principles and informed by ethical imperatives. By offering practical insights and critical reflections, the book empowers designers to embrace biotechnology as a tool for creating regenerative and resilient built environments. It is very mind-opening for the readers to see two implementation routes clearly. On one hand, there seem to be substitutional strategies using biomaterials like mycelium for insulation, while the other route embraces radical approaches in reimagining construction norms. Of course, while the extent of the impact of both ways may vary depending on factors such as industry adoption and policy support, Bioprotopia lays the groundwork for a paradigm shift in architectural discourse towards greater sustainability and resilience. Therefore, both paths require careful consideration of sustainability, avoiding potential harmful impacts from large-scale biotechnological production and transportation practices.

Its interdisciplinary approach, timely insights, ethical considerations, and most importantly, positioning itself beyond a mere prototype mark, Bioprotopia is a powerful seminal text at the intersection of biology and architectural design, demonstrating an actual operation of a bio-building, led by diverse voices, including marginalized communities and policy-makers. Ultimately, the realization of Bioprotopia depends on a collective intelligence, derived from these voices in the service of environmental justice.


About the Reviewer: Dr. Turhan-Haskara studied Architecture (B.Sc-hons.), and completed Master in Advanced Architectural Design (M.Arch.) program with a focus on scripting languages in architectural design processes, natural algorithms and interactive cities; and Master of Science in Architecture (M.Sc.) program with a focus on time-space compression and its effects on global urban space. She is a graduate of Design Studies Ph.D. program with a specific focus on biobased material studies, computational design and digital fabrication. Her current interests also include machine learning (ML), diffusion models (DMs) and large language models (LLMs) for design applications. She works as an Assistant Professor at the Izmir University of Economics, Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design.