David Benjamin: Architecture as open system

Buildings should not be considered static and permanent objects, but instead dynamic and continually transforming systems, the design of which demands collaborative teams and open protocols.

December 10, 2019
7:00 p.m.

The climate emergency demands that the ways we build, and think about building, change radically. But how? We are in a rapidly evolving, paradoxical context of worsening scientific indicators, sweeping and contradictory policy proposals from different points on the political spectrum, and, simultaneously, increasing climate change-instigated action at the scale of cities and regions.

What, then, should designers do, and how can they do it? How do the practice, culture, and pedagogy of architecture and landscape architecture need to shift?

In this series of lectures and discussions, leading practitioners and educators describe the urgent need for change and sketch the outlines of new ways of thinking and acting as architects and landscape architects. On each evening, respondents will draw out the implications of the ideas presented and offer suggestions for implementing them at a speed and scale commensurate with the climate emergency.

Buildings are living organisms. They breathe and pulse. They inhabit complex ecosystems of species, technologies, and culture. And as the both the burdens and the demands of architecture increase with the climate crisis, buildings should not be considered static and permanent objects, but instead dynamic and continually transforming systems. Architecture involves a longer duration and a wider geography—more time and space—than we typically consider. Buildings actually begin with material extracted from the earth and end with matter sitting in a landfill. They involve energy, labor, and resources that come from around the globe. In this context, design demands the integration of research, practice, and teaching. And it calls for collaborative teams and open protocols rather than individual geniuses and signature forms.

David Benjamin is the founding principal of The Living and an associate professor at Columbia GSAPP. He also directs the GSAPP Incubator. Benjamin’s work combines research and practice, and it involves exploring new ideas through prototyping. Focusing on the intersection of biology, computation, and design, Benjamin has articulated three frameworks for harnessing living organisms for architecture: bio-processing, bio-sensing, and bio-manufacturing. Recent projects include the Princeton Architecture Laboratory (a new building for research on next-generation design and construction technologies), Pier 35 EcoPark (a 200-foot-long floating pier in the East River that changes color according to water quality), and Hy-Fi (a branching tower for the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 made of a new type of biodegradable brick).

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