Lessons from Nature for the Future

Almost 9,000 Architects attended this year’s AIA National Convention in Philadelphia (and nearly 21,000 people in total). Between speeches, seminars, trade show exhibits, voting, and the business meeting, it was quite a non-stop event. As delegates we elected three Architects to national office to fill the vacancies of first vice president, secretary, and delegate- at-large for the national Board of Directors. I can attest to the quality of leadership that our national organization has attracted. If you are interested in the details you can find that information on the new AIA national website.

The AIA Board of Directors will continue the work of ‘repositioning’ the AIA began in earnest last year, aided by the Strategic Council that was created by streamlining the AIA National Board. The overall goal is to make the organization more responsive to the whole membership. Approximately 80% of AIA members are working in firms of less than 10 people. The talk at AIA National is to support and respect the work of the everyday Architect, and celebrate quality everyday Architecture, in addition to quality large scale projects that seem to get most of the media attention. The national AIA ad campaign may eventually help with that message.

Another important report, from the national treasurer, is that the current AIA is fiscally healthy, and that is great news, but it is also important to report that the long-range health of the organization will depend on the participation of emerging professionals in our ranks who need our support and encouragement to become licensed design professionals.

Seeking to connect to all members, probably the most current active initiative ongoing in DC is the development of the new AIA national website, whose goal is to bring more accessible content, specific to each member’s needs, and make this happen more seamlessly. This is in an early rollout stage looking for feedback from the membership, and is now available to us concurrently along with the AIA national website with which we are presently familiar. The new Website can be accessed at http://pilot.aia.org. Check it out and let the development team know your thoughts. This is your chance to have an impact with your feedback and better understand their approach.

As you might imagine, the information being shared over the three-day event of the annual AIA National Convention spans a very broad spectrum, from the practical to the Avant Guard. Our daily tasks on projects usually have us deeply involved in design and detail that requires our constant attention. We are rarely given an opportunity to look far ahead to what may be coming as many threads of the design world weave together, showing us what might be possible for the built environment of the future.

On this note, certainly the most fascination presentation of the event was the day two plenary session by Neri Oxman. I found it inspiring to step outside of the present, and listen to Ms. Oxman, an Architect and MIT professor, as she showed us the possibilities of the future from the work she and her team are exploring at the MIT Media Lab, where she directs the Mediated Matter research group. They have been given the opportunity to imagine what the future can bring based on merging the expanding threads of knowledge from our time, and how we might choose to use them. An important part of her work is a reverence for nature and a constant learning from the organisms and materials that nature has evolved. We mimic characteristics and properties of the natural world in evolving materials and techniques that nature demonstrates time and again it greatly exceeds – yes, even based on current technology with our amazing digital tools, nano-space focus, and evolving but incomplete growth of genetic knowledge.

Neri presents a symbiotic design future where materials and forms are more ‘grown into wholes’ than assembled from parts, utilizing lessons from nature and the capabilities of robotics and ‘3-D printing’ (or 6D printing with three spatial properties and three others). This is beyond our current assemblage of mostly orthogonal components. It is impossible to describe without the visual aids she uses in her talks. If you are curious about this, you can get a taste of this approach in a TED talk she gave about six months ago. It is easily accessed by a google search of her name, Neri Oxman. For anyone wondering where digital technology could take us if it begins to take its inspiration from nature, you may enjoy the imagery.

As I watched Ms. Oxman’s presentation, I kept thinking of another inspiring speaker, James Connelly who was discussing the Living Building Challenge at 7:00 am on the first day. I could begin to see that the goals James sought for buildings and the built environment could be reachable if the tools and design approach Neri describes are implemented.

Blog category: