ULGC in conversation with The Draftery about the printed biannual Figures

You have certainly heard about New York-based The Draftery a curated drawing archive based on a call for submission founded by Jesen Tanadi. The team is composed of Jesen Tanadi, founder and curatorial partner, Athanasiou Geolas, editorial partner and Thomas Gardner, advising editor. The specificity of The Draftery is its curatorial practice-based approach. This is what at first interests me when I discover this website. How to curate a medium such as drawing when you don't have an exhibition space (yet)? The Draftery proposes two solutions: their website and a printed biannual, Figures that articulates drawing and text. Two volumes have been published.
The Imperfect Machinery of the Mind ı Cistern II | © Myles Dunigan, 2013 || The Draftery
8.5" x 10.5"
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2013
Image originally appeared on The Draftery

Their interest for drawing is not restricted to the only architecture area: architects, artists, students and other practitioners are invited to submit their works.
The website is organized into three main axes: Archive, Figures, Captions. Archive serves as an exhibition space. Captions is a new editorial project that will consist of detailed and critical conversation of work.

Extended macro Universe | © Val Britton, 2008 | The Draftery
71" x 97"
ink, gouache, graphite, collage, and cut-out on paper
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2011
Image originally appeared on The Draftery
A Primary School for a Future Nation ı Kid with Watermelon and Orange | © Ilfigeneia Liangi 2012 | The Draftery
23.4" x 33.1"
Drawing published in The Draftery in 2013
Image originally appeared on The Draftery

As the curators launched a Kickstarter campaign for the funding of the third volume of Figures earlier this week, I decided to talk about The Draftery, its history, drawing and of course Figures with its founder Jesen Tanadi and its editorial partner Athanasiou Geolas. They kindly accepted to respond to my email conversations.

Figures 03 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

The Origin of The Draftery
ULGC: What is the history of The Draftery? When and why did you found The Draftery?

Jesen Tanadi (JT): The Draftery was founded
in June 2011. However, the collection that The Draftery was born out of began earlier than that around 2010, while I was still in school.

While in architecture school, I was interested in architectural representation--from its history, its conceptual implications, its potential, and its aesthetics. There was a point in my education when I realized that the drawings I was constantly looking at and being asked to look into were all done by the same group of architects--most of whom are now pretty prolific. Most of them made their drawings in the 80s and 90s, and can usually be found in MoMA’s The Changing of the Avant-Garde, among other well-known publications that heavily feature architectural drawings. Soon enough, I became tired of them--don’t get me wrong, they’re still great drawings--but there’s only so much of them you can take...

I started doing my own research and running across great contemporary architectural drawing--usually on blogs. Unsurprisingly, a lot of those drawings were done by students and lesser-known practitioners. That’s when I began to make note of the drawings I found, and I began “collecting” them on my hard drive. It wasn’t a big collection or anything, but the work was still very inspirational, especially when I was working on my thesis--knowing that there are students out there producing such high-quality work kept me somewhat competitive.
In tandem with all of this, when I was in school, I was a proponent of sharing with my friends whatever random information about architecture I ran across: a blog, a set of drawings, a cool website, etc. When I got out of school and my friends and I moved away, I didn’t want that aspect of my daily life to go away, so I decided to make my drawing “collection” public--to share what I was already doing with a larger audience.

Athanasiou Geolas (AG): It wasn’t too long after Jesen had started The Draftery — maybe 3 or 4 months — that he emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in editing submissions for a book. This really came as no surprise considering that a good portion of both Jesen’s and my own work towards the end of school consisted of architecture projects that were really bookmaking projects with ambitions of having an architectural impact. We started with some relatively loose guidelines and have been having one long conversation about what we are really trying to do with these books since then. Figures as a series grew out of our desire to present drawings directly and then ask their authors to speak candidly about them. While in school, we would spend probably an unnecessary amount of time wondering how certain drawings we loved were made. And at best there would be a caption at the bottom of each drawing that would tell us the dimensions of the image, the kind of paper it was on and maybe pencil or airbrush, etc - the basic kind of info you’d imagine in an art history textbook. But we are practitioners, we make drawings and want to know how the drawings was made, we wanted to know exactly what processes lead to such idiosyncratic visions. And so Figures became a place where we could show drawings we found exciting and engaging visually, and then ask their authors to talk earnestly about how and why they made them the way they did.

Figure 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

Drawing and Representation
ULGC: The Draftery is curated drawing archive with multiple platforms. If I look at The Draftery's interests, this leads to two mediums: drawing and curatorial practice. Let me start with the medium of drawing. Why does drawing matter? Why did you choose this medium rather than, for example, models?

In short, drawing is how architects communicate. It’s much more immediate and less encumbered, both in its making and its viewing. In a drawing, a mark is a mark, and the process of making that mark is the simplest way you can visually communicate your ideas. Models are a bit more encumbered, in that there are a lot of steps in the process: drawing the components, cutting whatever material you’re using, and then assembling them together.

I also like the visual impact a drawing has. To me, the most effective drawings convey more than one set of information on a sheet, so in addition to the graphic aesthetics, the density requires the viewers to read the drawing--to separate the information presented--as opposed to just look at it like an object. But the term “drawings” is also open-ended because a drawing has the potential of conveying almost anything--the final outcome is usually pretty indeterminate.
That said, models can be drawings, and we’ve featured drawings that either have a 3D component, or that have incorporated a built model into the drawing itself.

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AG: As Jesen said, we read drawings; and we make them in order to communicate. I have almost literally never had a conversation about a building with another architect that didn’t involve sketching of some kind along with the words, “like this”. It is a very immediate and embodied way to communicate, and for me that is the ultimate paradox — how a drawing can communicate information both abstractly through a set of conventions that we all understand, and through an immediate spatial reality--“like this”--is something that I am still not able to reconcile. However, it is a quality that models in general do not have. They are too literal to carry the same extent of abstract communication. Plus I just really enjoy the act of drawing — it is something unique to professions in the building industry. That ultimately, the obligations and power of an architect concentrate into a set of drawings which are bound together, stamped and referenced in the construction of buildings is more surprising than I can describe who knew that architects draw for a living?

Figure 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: I am interested in the relationship between drawing and representation in architecture. Drawing is a language with specific codes. It has a grammar, a certain rigueur, and a materiality. The architect uses drawing to express first ideas on paper and, with the advent of the computer, digitally. Drawing is the first step in the making of representation in the discipline of architecture. Are you interested in the making of representation?

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

JT: Yes, absolutely. It’s not exactly what I do anymore, but it was a tremendously informative part of my past. I now work in graphic design, but I find that my process continues to reflect that history.

AG: Every drawing’s role is to communicate, and any manifestation on paper--the lines, colors, and--shades are representations of some idea. They are attempts at giving form and order to some inchoate expectation; that these representations ultimately lead to other larger kinds is a major concern in the way that I consider drawings.

Figures 02 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: Do you consider yourself to be merely passionate about architectural drawing, or are you a collector?

JT: I prefer the term “researcher.” “Collector” has a certain socio-economic connotation and possessive quality about it. When I think of art collectors, I immediately think of the people who collect works of art for economical reasons (or to decorate their lavish homes)--to place them in their incredibly valuable portfolio. There are others, of course, who find pleasure in the aesthetic qualities of the artwork itself, but I can’t help but think of the former kind. We also don’t actually “collect” anything, really. We don’t own real copies of the drawings we publish, and we don’t buy any rights. We merely promote people whose work we find valuable, online and in print. In a way, we’re kind of like a museum that doesn’t own anything--without the drafters’ impetus, we’re nothing but a blank white room.

AG: I am definitely not a collector. I’ll take Jesen’s answer here, I also prefer the term researcher. We are passionate about drawing in general, passionate about the reality that drawings influence us greatly, and passionate about presenting a relevant discourse about the way that architects communicate.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery

AL: The computer allows new possibilities and methodologies. Over three decades or so, there has been a boom  in digital drawing—that leads to a hot debate on the future of traditional drawing. Are you more interested in traditional drawing rather than digital drawing or both?

JT: At first, I was more drawn to traditional drawing. And that’s probably part of the education I received. Where Athan (Athanasiou) and I went to school, manual drafting was (and still is) extremely valued. Unlike some other schools I’ve visited, our desks were made up of one giant drafting board and a butcher block. I think that says a lot about the pedagogy there--that the hand is still valued. It also didn’t help that the digital drawings I came across were all unbelievably banal and lacked much of the author’s voice. In essence, they all looked the same--overly-glossy, ultra-realistic V-Ray renderings. Of course, that isn’t the way architects operate anymore (although I’ve worked at offices that still have a drafting table or two set up, sometimes used, but mostly dormant). Through my research for The Draftery, I’ve come across some beautiful digital drawings that aren’t just ultra-realistic renderings of a proposed project. A couple of years ago, a friend mentioned the term “digital craft,” kind of in passing, but that term has stuck with me since. I like to think that The Draftery is beyond the tired argument of digital vs. analog, because the digital isn’t going away. People are at arms because with digital drawing, there’s a method of operation that’s inherently different than what they’re used to. The arguments were healthy, and the problems are just part of the process’ growing pains, but I think it’s time to move on. Now, more than anything, we look to craft.

AG: To be more interested in one or the other would be a disservice to the mission of The Draftery. I fully agree with Jesen that the debate between the two is tired. Of course I prefer hand drafting, but that is what I learned. But this doesn’t change the fact that drawings--digital or traditional, output by a computer or painstakingly crafted one hatch mark at a time--are drawings. A clutch, a Mayline, a computer, and Rhino are all tools; and tools are really only worth what you can do with them. What is important to remember is that each tool has its function. The impact that new tools have on the things that we make is undeniable, but what we make will always be more important. No one gets angry at a nail gun.

Printed Matter
AL: You have published two volumes of Figures. Would you mind talking about the history of Figures? It seems to me that Figures is more a curatorial project than a printed biannual. It is conceived as an exhibition as if you have displaced the space of exhibition into the space of the book. Would you agree with this characterization?

JT: We actually stumbled into the world of publishing by accident. We both like printed matter a lot, of course, but I hadn’t considered being part of the book design & publishing realm prior to our first Figures. A couple of months after The Draftery first existed online, a friend who happened to be working at Booklet, a small independent publishing house in Tokyo, asked if I was at all interested in publishing drawings from The Draftery. I excitedly agreed--I mean, who doesn’t want to be published?--and asked if any of my friends would like to help me put together the first issue. Athan jumped at the opportunity and we’ve worked together since. The first two Figures were wonderfully ad-hoc. They were about the size of a pamphlet and we only made 90 copies of them. However, working on them was a great introduction to the world of architectural publications.
I’m not sure what to think of the separation of a curatorial project vs. a printed biannual. I think Figures does both: it is a curatorial project that exists as a printed biannual. Yes, in a way it can be thought of as an exhibition, but the space of the paper allows us to do much--more this is more evident in the upcoming issue. There are things you can do in book design--such as cropping and repeating images, and overlaying and pairing text with drawings--that you cannot really do in an exhibition. In a gallery or museum setting, the drawing is sacred (unless you’re this guy--a clip from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing); with Figures, they’re much more malleable. That isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate the drafters’ work, but on a page there are ways you can represent the same image to make it tell a story without necessarily ruining the drawings.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit Image © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: While Jesen and I were still in school, a professor of ours made a very big point out of discussing “the status of the book.” This question resonates strongly with everything we are trying to do. I think that you are absolutely right comparing Figures to an exhibition. However, The Draftery differs from physical curatorial spaces not only because it can be revisited whenever you want, but because unlike an exhibition, our goal is not to establish a singular narrative about the drawings we feature. Instead, each theme for Figures grows out of the contributor’s work. The theme for each issue of Figures is often very malleable until Jesen and I sit down to write our opening statement. In fact, we write our opening statement after nearly everything else in the book has been completed. When requesting drawings and writing from our contributors, we only provide a very basic and open-ended theme. In general, Figures calls attention to the rhetorical capacity of drawings, asks authors to comment on their own rhetorical techniques (and how their drawings demonstrate these techniques), and then offers a critical essay that places this rhetorical theme in a contemporary context. There are, of course, questions we want to have answered; but, we are looking for those answers to come from our community. Our own opinions on the matter can come out in our statement, but the theme and its relevance to contemporary discourse comes from the drafters.

AL: The Internet offers alternative opportunities for production and distribution of architecture and art. Why is printed matter important for you? What is the place of the publication in your curatorial practice?

JT: There is something to be said about the permanence of a book. It has the potential to be useful--for someone to flip through it as they’re working on a project--and the potential to reach a more global audience. I suppose it’s a bit like an exhibition catalog: you get to keep a copy of the work with you.
Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: Publishing a book takes a long time. The amount of work that goes into the production of Figures and that has almost nothing to do with either editing or curating was completely unexpected. Jesen and I have had to learn on our feet about the publishing world; it has been tremendously rewarding for the most part. And perhaps ironically, the most frustrating part about both publishing and architecture is also the one reason why both are so important to me: it takes a long time. The internet is fast. And without a twinge of nostalgia I can honestly say that something is lost in the slow-going of producing an actual printed book. Likewise, printed matter remains important because it doesn’t cease to exist--even at arms length--when the lights go out. It’s the viscosity of publishing and the commitment it takes to actually make it happen that continues to make printed matter important.

AL: I am interested in the book’s making-of. Figures is composed of texts and drawings. What is the role of the text? Do you see the text as an extension of drawing?

JT: In Figures, the text serves as a way to open up conversations. As much as we’d like viewers to just read the drawings we present, sometimes that is a difficult task. Some drawings are simply too dense, some need to be explained, and some have hidden intentions. In each issue, we feature an essay by one of that issue’s contributing drafters, as a way to prepare the readers for the set of drawings to come--kind of like how an appetizer whets your appetite. Besides the preparatory essay, each drafter also provides a small amount of writing. However, we’re conscious of not making the text serve as mere descriptions of the drawings. We specifically ask each drafter to talk about how their drawing process and intentions relate to the final outcome. What we try to do is remove the mystery around the drawing process--not in an instructional kind of way, where we teach readers how to draw a perfect circle--but in a way that hopefully explains that when drafters make decisions, whether implicit or not, there are reasons and implications behind them.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

AG: As Jesen has said, the text offers a way into the drawings, it frames them. Much of the work we publish could appear in a number of different contexts. Drawings are rarely so focused as to disallow a variety of readings. By offering space to each drafter to talk about their drawing processes and the significances behind them, and then framing those descriptions with a critical essay, we hope to provide a limited and specific context in which to consider this work.

AL: Now the third volume of Figures. Would you mind talking about this third volume? You have just launched a kickstarter project for this matter. Tell me more about the kickstarter project for the third volume of Figures?

JT: Figure 03 will be about hidden things. We’ve titled it “That then Disappear in the Building of It,” which is a phrase out of a part of our curatorial statement: An often glossed over job of the architectural drawing is to reveal: to show what is behind a door or above a room, to show what is within a wall, to determine the overall spatial order and even relationships of liability that then disappear in the building of it. A few months ago, we decided that it was time to rework The Draftery--it had been about a year and a half since the first website was up. And in addition to the website, we decided that Figures should get an overhaul, so we spent some time re-organizing and redesigning it. In the last two issues of Figures, each drafter had his/her own section where we would present their drawings. This time around, we’re experimenting with a new format: right now there are three “sub-themes,” and we curate drawings, regardless of drafter, around those topics. So now it’s more like visual storytelling--more explicitly about how those drawings engage with the theme than in previous iterations. We also wanted to break out of our shell a little bit. The first two issues only had 90 copies, which meant that there’s only a small number of people who would be able to read them and really understand the drawings. With Figures 03, we’re trying to expand it a bit more. We want the journal to be everywhere for people to really get into architectural drawings and for that topic to be continuously part of architectural discourse again. While we were working on putting together The Draftery’s new website, we came across an article that was basically an outcry over the death of the architectural drawing. We’re here to reject that idea: we don’t think drawing is dead, it just exists in a new form. Figures is a way for us to dispel that idea; to our knowledge, it’s the only journal that continuously and explicitly places contemporary architectural representation at the forefront of discourse. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the production of Figure 03. We really hope members of our community can help us out by pledging and spreading the word. We offer our services in kind, and we’d love to just be able to do this without asking for anything, but sometimes, the costs just add up, and we’d love if this whole project stays ad free.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

The politics of showing: curatorial practice
AL: As has been mentioned above, The Draftery’s concern can be divided into two mediums: drawing—what you show or the object—and curatorial practice—how you show. There is a rich debate and research on the discipline of curatorial practice in the art field. Indeed, curatorial practice is considered to be a discipline. Recently, such debates and research are getting more and more popular in the architecture field. Why did you choose the medium of curatorial practice as strategy to display the medium of drawing? And why not just a blog?

AG: A blog just wasn’t enough. As we’ve mentioned above, a physical book and the necessities of organizing an exhibition require a significant investment of time and energy. And the reality is that a blog is itself a highly curated endeavor. Ultimately our goal is to get people to pay attention to the fact that drawings are powerful objects. Expanding The Draftery into the physical space of the gallery and the book was a commitment to this project that we felt we had to make. This question again returns to the “status of the book.” Without the paper in the book, and the hours of conversation with our printer, without the weeks of contemplation; that is, without the lasting artifact, what commitment would we be making to the drafters we feature?

AL: Does The Draftery have an exhibition space, a gallery? Or do you use the Internet as an exhibition space? As you may know, the difference between the Internet and the exhibition space is that the one is less selective. What is the role of Archive? Is it just a webpage? Or does it work as an exhibition space?
Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

JT: We don’t have a real exhibition space (yet?), so at the moment our website is our primary outlet. But we’re selective as to what we display--there is a process in place where we review every single submission to see if it’s a good fit for us or not. We look for work that’s visually compelling and also has an interesting and worthwhile narrative behind it. Our Archive serves as our primary “exhibition space”. Prior to our update, each drafter’s page featured only his/her drawings, but we’ve since added more; such as space for the drafters to offer an introduction and description of the drawings they’re submitting. We’ve also been able to design each drafter’s page with a specific layout that fits their drawing set--pairing up one drawing with another and/or with relevant writing. Of course, Archive’s accessibility also differentiates it from the traditional exhibition space model. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and to anyone with access to a computer and the internet--unlike a gallery that has work you’re interested in seeing, but is in another part of the world. Our primary audience is made up of students, professors, and young professionals, and we imagine them to be looking through our Archive at the wee hours of the night as they’re trying to complete a project--whether in search of inspiration, or simply procrastinating.

Figures 01 | The Draftery | Credit image © The Draftery and Booklet

If you want to participate to the funding of Figures 03, see their Kickstarter campaign including a video presentation of the campaign.


Making the Geo-Biological Turn. Alive/En Vie. Aux Frontières du Design, at Espace EDF, Paris

Architecture may no longer function as a sump of resource consumption but rather as a site of production for useful substances such as food, biofuels or precipitates that enable materials to self-repair. 
The sterile, inert surfaces of our modern cities provide a site and an opportunity for transformation of architectural design practice — to generate a common life-sustaining project aimed at the production of urban soil in which other systems can thrive.

A collective exhibition at Espace EDF (also known as EDF Foundation), Paris 7th arrondissement, explores the nuanced relationship between nature and architecture, industrial design, and art. The title: Alive/En Vie, aux frontières du design. From Philip Beesley, Rachel Armstrong, Vincent Fournier to EcoLogicStudio, Terreform One, Botanical Fabrication, CITA, and Carole Collet, to only limit to these participants.
First, the thematic behind this exhibition our changing notion of nature.
The Radiant Soil | Philip Beesley | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

I decided to focus on the architectural part of the exhibition letting other but very interesting projects voluntarily aside. A first point about this exhibition we can formulate is that these projects want to confirm that our relationship, which has long being ambiguous, if not conflictual, is changing, and that the boundary between the engineering system and the natural system is becoming finer. It is obvious that these tensions, caused by unpredictable disturbances we cite at length — and we will merely sum up into categories: the world's mutation, genetic modification, climate control, on the one hand, climatic, ecological uncertainties, on the other hand —, have forced us to reconsider our approach to nature, "to reconsider the divide between Nature and Culture" (Next Nature, Actar Editorial, 2012). The 35th issue of Volume, an issue entitled Everything Under Control that addresses the relation between synthetic biology and architecture, fast-emerging technology and architecture, states that we are reconsidering our relationship with the ecosystem, or, what we have already noticed two decades ago and that becomes more relevant, the increasing awareness of environmental crisis. Indeed architects, designers, and engineers study nature as means to problem-form unstable contexts that pose the climatic-ecological-engineering system.
The Radiant Soil | Philip Beesley | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

On the one side we are facing a set of issues — population growth, urban expansion, financial mutation; climatic, ecological issues, water, food and resource shortages; — on the other side, we will be benefiting from advances in technology, genetics, biology, robotics and cybernetics. These challenges are evident in this exhibition. Philip Beesley and his project the Radiant Soil, an impressive meshwork installation suspended from the ceiling. If you are already familiar with Beesley's research on evolutionary ecology, material agency, fabrication, robotics, and their relation to user, an approach he defines as "responsive architecture", the Radiant Soil will remind you Hylozoid series, a massive, physically interactive installation he has been developing since 2007. Here, with the Radiant Soil, Beesley pursues his research on the linkage of the biological, the ecological and the artificial. Robotic, chemistry and prototypical architecture are central to this installation. Thus, according to Beesley,
[t]he word 'soil' might speak quietly of secure mass and compression and resource for framing human territory, but this contemporary soil seethes with a myriad of seeded viscera, miniscule fragments gathering and efflorescing, redolent with chorusing oceans of growth to come. The soil covers, and retreats. Soil consumes space, erasing and consuming daily circumstance within its unspeakably silent, primal fertility. The ambivalence latent within soil makes it a monstrous doppleganger for architecture.
Put it the simplest way: soil is seen "as a kind of standing reserve." (Seth Denizen in discussion with Etienne Turpin, Organs Everywhere, issue 4).
In an article Soil and protoplasm: The Hylozoic ground project he co-wrote with Rachel Armstrong, he denotes soil as
made of structurally repetitive organic and inorganic material that possess heterogeneous properties. Similar to the complex assemblies of tissues and organs in living systems, soil contains functions that are supported by an orchestrated variety of cells. The various elements of a soil matrix are spatially arranged in a way that provides suitable surfaces for self-organising and evolving biochemical exchanges. The chemistries self-regulate and interact and they confer the various molecular species with behaviors of living systems such as growth and sensitivity to their surroundings.
In a time of scarcity, the accelerating speed of material change will be modifying the relation to soil. As Seth Denizen stated (Making the Geologic Now, Punctum Books, 2012),
[t]he world becomes defined not by a time, but by a speed. This is the point at which the world can no longer be merely an extension of our own, a difference in degree, but rather something which takes on a difference in kind: another sea, another wind, another world at right angles to our own.
The parallel with Seth Denizen's research on soil can be explained with this sharing statement regarding shift in the material conditions of our society (Etienne Turpin in conversation with Seth Denizen, in Organs Everywhere, issue 4; Martin Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology," in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Thus, as Denizen says,  
There is absolutely nothing of human habitation on the planet that does not, at some point, pass through the soil because, and this is very important to understand, the soil is the filter through which all material production must pass.
The Radiant Soil is made up of inert materials and a 'living' technology composed of adaptive chemistry — organic 'protocell' technology, inorganic 'protocell' technology and inorganic chemical cell (iChells) membranes:
interlinking clouds of industrial design biomimetic components of polymer, metal and glass, arranged in suspended filter layers contain a near-living carbon-capture metabolism. Frond-clusters fitted with shape-memory alloy mechanisms react to viewers as they approach, flexing and setting off bursts of light that stimulate the protocells and trigger chains of motion that ripple throughout the environment. Scent-emitting glands attract viewers and encourage interaction with the system, providing stimulus that increases air circulation and protocell formation.
Or an immersive environment defined as an evolutionary system of a synthetic ecology; A geotextile mesh that interfaces with the visitors. The Radiant Soil is made up with proximity sensors that detect movement and respond with motions. A particular point here is the concept of interface that makes architecture act as enabler. A concept related to this idea of adaptive capacity, adaptability, or… responsiveness that characterize Beesley's design research. In a discussion with Omar Khan for the fourth issue of the editorial project Situated Technologies Pamphlets, Beesley argued: "I like to think of these material exchanges as being the first stages of metabolic interactions where living functions might take root within the matrix." Or thinking architecture as facilitator to link the user and its environment to a certain extent. But this also raises the question of vulnerability, of fragility of architecture, as Beesley stated in his discussion with Omar Khan, and I will add, more broadly of the engineering system. It is however important not to understand vulnerability as negative, but as creative force for architecture to deploy new opportunities to building, as well as to thinking. As Omar Khan forthrightly writes, "fragility provides a strategy for allowing an architectural structure to embrace multiple openings in the fact of its own demise."
Overall, the Radiant Soil tries to bridge these opposed world of the man-made and the natural. It also attempts to reveal the transition from a distinction between born and made to a distinction between controlled and beyond control.
Fab Tree Hab Village | Terreform One | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

Collaborating with nature is the starting point of projects of Terreform One, and of EcoLogic Studio. Terreform One, first, with Fab Tree Hab Village, a project consisting of the ecological design of a prefabricated home humanity, poses a double question, that of fabricating, and that of material agency. In an essay entitled Hackerspaces and the act of making published in the 35th issue of Volume Magazine, Mitchell Joachim invites us to reconsider two points, among the four axes developing in his essay, the act of making and the relationship between material and biodesign. The act of making first. Taking hackers and their spaces, he called hackerspaces, he states that the particularity of hackerspaces is their innovative quasi-professional methods and practices that "generate areas that connect unobvious cross-disciplinary activities." In so doing, this sharing space allows for an "understanding of invention" and generates an interface "that emphasizes open source knowledge through sharing." These fast-emerging technologies, he mentioned in his text, desktop 3D printing/additive manufacturing, biohacking, urban farm/food production, open source design, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fabrication, scripting/freeware, Arduino electronics, crowd-sourcing, alternate energy strategies, and citizen science, are changing the way we fabricate objects, and in a very nearing future the way we fabricate buildings. The second point well illustrated in his Fab Tree Hab Village is the reconsideration of material agency. Like Philip Beesley, as has been said above, Joachim explores actual material conditions but the comparison stops here. Joachim is interested in synthetic biology, genetics, and other biological disciplines. According to him, 
[a]pplying the tools of synthetic biology, alongside other biological disciplines, such as micro-biology and medical tissue engineering, will allow us to create products that are a hundred percent organic, with minimal waste and energy expenditure.
Fab Tree Hab Village, and another project in this exhibition, Gen2Seat, are examples of Terreform One's research whose aim is
to use grown materials to reshape the way people think about manufacturing products genetic engineering.
This is what Terreform One calls biodesign, a "field of design that incorporates living organisms in the creation of new materials and products that can enhance our living." Biodesign can be a similar approach to protocell, a research defended by Philip Beesley and artificial-life chemistry researcher Rachel Armstrong, whose project Saving Venice is also presented in this exhibition. Biodesign, Mitchell Joachim writes in Volume, denotes a "field of design that incorporates living organisms in the creation of new materials and products that can enhance our living." 
Hortus.Paris: The Machinic Harvest | EcoLogicStudio | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

These projects show us new environments and new thinking on man-made and natural systems. EcoLogicStudio with Hortus.Paris: The Machinic Harvest, invites us to pick a straw and blow air into the bioreactor tubes to feed the algae and grow the Hortus garden. The user then can scan the QR codes on the photo-bioreactors to learn about the various algal species. In so doing, the user becomes an active agent to this bio-technological environment.
Hortus.Paris: The Machinic Harvest | EcoLogicStudio | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013
Hortus.Paris: The Machinic Harvest | EcoLogicStudio | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013
Immatters | Ann-Kristin Abel | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

Two more projects from my selection are French designer Vincent Fournier's Post-Natural History and Rachel Armstrong's Saving Venice. Post-Natural History, first, consisting of a series of images in very large format in which he imagines animals synthetic-biologically programmed to maximize their adaptive capacity to a changing environment. This synthetic-biologically manipulation creates a very intelligent rabbit, a inorganic-sensitive fly, a mimetic lizard, a beetle with adaptive capacity that allows continuous tracking, a drought- and frost-resistant ibis, and a great grey owl with predator-resistant feathers. And… another fascinating project, as part of Post-Natural History, shown in this exhibition is this robotic agricultural drone, a drone capable of self-activating above 30°C to transport freshwater from rivers to dry remote agricultural areas.
Post-Natural History | Vincent Fournier | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

A common denominator to these works displayed at Espace EDF is a desire to understand the present by speculating, borrowing from an uncertain, unpredictable but emergent futures by producing objects, ideas, systems that do not exist in the present. These genetic-manipulated animals of course do not exist but let us speculate about living species with adaptive capacities to an environment in mutation. The agricultural drone, then, illustrates the growing interest in UAV technology. While UAV raises policy, legal and ethical issues, there is room for specific uses of UAV technology outside military technologies as Vincent Fournier suggests with his agricultural drone. Liam Young, co-founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, states that the physical environment is dissolving, leaving a mainly mobile, nomadic infrastructure. A recent article, on the Daily Beast, notes that the agricultural sector can expect to benefit from drones: "Every farmer will benefit. [Drones] will allow small farmers to [farm] economically and it will allow large farmers to acquire data when they want it." Indeed, drones offer a large range of possibilities for farmers such as steering water, pesticides to crops with precision. An example: Vincent Fournier's self-activating agricultural drone. Artists, architects, designers' unlimited imagination allows them to go beyond frontiers, explore new opportunities, design and fabricate new objects, new ideas that do not exist yet, but with a high certainty in a very near future.
Robotic Jellyfish Drone ı Post-Natural History | Vincent Fournier | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013
Robotic Jellyfish Drone ı Post-Natural History | Vincent Fournier | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

Finally, Rachel Armstrong, who collaborates with Philip Beesley on the Radiant Soil, also shows her latest research on Venice, a research entitled Saving VeniceHer installation consists of a medium-scale computer visualization of the Venice Reef, a collaboration with Christian Kerrigan, and a jar full of protocell oil droplets. In her latest short book Living Architecture: How Synthetic Biology Can Remark Our Cities and Reshape Our Lives, Armstrong discusses possibilities of living technology in redefining materials and fabrication. It is difficult to sum up Armstrong's take into one sentence, but to put it simply, Armstrong encourages a constant dialogue between cities and their surroundings
Saving Venice | Rachel Armstrong in collaboration with Christian Kerrigan | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

She also invites architects, engineers and designers in reconsidering their discipline by integrating adaptive, soft and responsive structures, ecologically artificial systems. Saving Venice explores capacities of new materials described as 'living technology'. Take protocell oil droplets, or dynamic oil in water droplets, this chemically-based technology is capable of moving around their environment, modifying it and allowing complex behaviors. Armstrong argues that these protocells "can be 'programmed' chemically to achieve particular outcomes."
Protocells can therefore produce a limestone like substance and artificially extend the development of this material (created by the accretion of the skeletons of tiny marine organisms), which can continue to grow, self-repair and even respond to changes in the environment.
In this context, these chemistry-based materials can work like primitive metabolisms. The aim is clear: with protocell technology, as has been said, Armstrong posits a redefinition of new architectural design, material and manufacturing principles with 'living' inorganic technology that possess adaptive capacities to respond to internal and external factors. It is certain, she notes in an article published in Next Nature, that protocell technology however is as part of a large range of possibilities to problem-form fragile environments such as Venice:
The issues involved with the reclamation of Venice are complex and this particular protocell-based approach addresses just one aspect of a large range of factors that threaten the continued survival of the city. However, other metabolic materials besides the protocell technology may have further potential to address other significant issues in this multifactorial situation, such as the very pressing problem of rising damp in the fabric of Venice's buildings where functional 'seaweed wraps' may be able to extract water from waterlogged traditional building materials and attenuate the ongoing significant damage caused by this process.
What I retain here beyond the synthetic-biologically charge of these projects, is the transformation of architecture throughout new design protocols, materials, and fabrication. Architecture is capable of self-modifying in accordance with changing contexts. But what is certain is that this transformation requires new tools, new design and manufacturing protocols, new engagement. And a shifting role of the architect. As Mitchell writes in Volume magazine, "the profession has to restructure its investigative goals, particularly assuming a balance and responsibility of giving aspirants a sufficiently bona fide command of environmental studies and adaptable technologies." Or a new but adaptive business model. Allow me for suggesting that in regard with these projects at Espace EDF, architecture is progressively incorporating contingency. Architecture attempts to reveal positive, creative forces from vulnerable conditions. It is not merely focus on building and site. On the contrary, architecture is becoming an interface with its surrounding, more scalable, responsive with its environment.
Saving Venice | Rachel Armstrong | installation view at the Espace EDF, Paris, 2013

As a last point, allow me for expressing some regret about the exhibition. The overall exhibition, however, fails because of a lack of curatorial consistency. When dealing with topics like this one, synthetic biology and design, it is a very difficult task to avoid pitfalls that could lead to a catalogue of projects and a lack of meaning. Indeed this requires a certain distance with the general topic or the formulation of a problematic that constructs a dialogue between the works, and between the works and the viewers. It seems to me that while Alive/En vie encapsulates an overview on synthetic biology and design, the absence of a clear problematic however weakens this exhibition. Put it simply, the exhibition lacks of consistency, a coherent meaning that would have gone beyond the simple topic of synthetic biology. This is the disappointing part of this exhibition. Curating exhibition cannot merely show or display a work, an idea. It requires a dynamic that generates meaning, new understanding of what is being represented.

Through 1 September 2013
Alive/En Vie: Aux frontières du design
Espace EDF, 6 rue Récamier, 75007 Paris. 

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