Exemplar: Blood and Fungal Buildings

When Aisling showed us the Design and Violence website last week, I recognized Phil Ross’ Mycotecture creations which were part of the Intimate Science exhibition at the Miller Gallery in 2012.

In addition to his mushroom sculptures, the gallery exhibited Ross’ experiments in “mycotecture” – architecture that has been made out of growing mushrooms into the shape of bricks to use in construction.

Video on Mycotecture

I also discovered an architecture project by Jack Munro that uses bricks with blood from cattle that is used as an adhesive for sand.

More Images and FastCo Article

Munro Studio Process

Even though the techniques for making these materials have been actualized, the speculative design comes into play when you start thinking about what people’s relationships to buildings made of these radical natural resources would be like. I personally think a building out of mushrooms is fantastic, but blood would be a bit gruesome. Ross envisions a tea house that is both constructed and deconstructed by the mycotecture building itself, and Munro proposes that blood bricks could be used in desert environments that utilize blood of slaughtered cattle that is typically a wasted by-product.

Critical Engineering Manifesto

5. The Critical Engineer recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user, proportional to that user’s dependency upon it.

As a user incorporates a technology into their life more, it alters their understandings and the way they go about their lives.

For instance, air transportation has altered the relationship people have to distance, which affects how people conceive of physical distance between each other. To illustrate: I first grew up near the Bay Area in Northern California, and my parents used to drive 400 miles south for 6 hours to visit my grandparents in Orange County. When I later moved to New Hampshire on the East Coast – about 3000 miles away from my grandparents – I still feel as though I live 6 hrs away from them since that’s how long it takes to travel there via plane. (I think there was an infographic on FastCo or Atlantic Cities that visualizes the changing relationship people have with distance due to transportation technology, but I can’t find it anymore.)

And this has other social implications, too. For instance, it impacts how people experience Thanksgiving: Since it is possible for families to live thousands of miles apart from each other but still be able to hop on a plane and see each other again within a couple of hours, it’s turned the tradition of being together with your extended family at Thanksgiving into an annual mass migration for many people across the U.S.

First Word Art/Last Word Art and Gartner Hype Cycle

The phenomenon of “first word” art is very similar concept to what is resting on the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Gartner Hype Cycle, whereas “last word” art parallels the Plateau of Human Productivity. Contrary to FW/LW art that makes these distinctions in a binary spectrum (though are not necessarily mutually exclusive), the Gartner Hype Cycle shows that an emerging technology continually progresses through various stages of hype and usefulness. However, I find it somewhat difficult to compare a discrete artwork – that’s often meant to be preserved in its original state – and a type developing of technology that is worked on by many people for numerous applications and contexts.

When I asked myself where my interests lie on this spectrum,  I was drawn to First word art and the Plateau of Productivity on the GHC. I found this odd since these describe opposite ends if you perceive these as parallel spectrums. However, I think this is partially a product of the contradictory values I’ve picked up while being in the environment of Carnegie Mellon: I’ve gotten into the mindset that it’s only acceptable to be involved in a project (or even a problem) that is original and provocative, making me continually grab on to highly specific ideas. As well as a mindset that you can’t pursue an idea if someone has posted a vaguely similar concept anywhere on the Internet. Yet at the same time with design, it must be relevant to how people should live, and aim to withstand time rather than be simply a novelty. It’s a competitive and unrealistic perspective to have that has proved to be very limiting and frustrating for me, so hopefully this class’ upcoming projects will help shake that up.