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NATURE BECOMES ARCHITECT | Growing our next generation of buildings



Growing our next generation of buildings

 the way we build our buildings is stupid we mined valuable resources out of the earth we schlepped them on fossil fuel based ships all over the planet and when they arrived on the site they have to be put together by hand every building is a bespoke prototype every building is a one-off and we’ve been doing it this way for 200 years and our buildings are failing us they don’t work I’ll show you what I mean. This is a building in 1917 and this is today it’s the exact same technology I would show you one from 1817 but cameras hadn’t been invented yet do you see what I’m saying you could essentially resurrect a zombie from the Civil War put him on a job site and he’d go right to work and that’s convenient but we’ve learned so much in the last 200 years they didn’t know then what we now know about cancer or endocrine disruption or indoor air quality. So as John Oliver would say how is this still a thing? Not to mention the fact of how buildings are the largest contributors to climate change by the way I don’t even call it climate change anymore it’s too Pleasant. I just call it “chlamydia” because nobody nobody wants that so how do we fix this buildings require massive resources massive energy. If the building is too hot you put in energy if it’s too cold you put in energy and our buildings are killing us by the way they’re making us all sick so we need regenerative healthful abundant buildings so pick your market failure whatever you want labor waste materials climate it doesn’t matter it’s failing on every level not to mention the fact that nobody likes us, I don’t. You just Google contractors and architects, you’ll see what I mean they hate us come on now everybody in this room probably is a contractor story by the way you can learn a lot by googling things I didn’t know that you could accidentally kill your sister I didn’t that was a I don’t know that was a thing the role of sustainability is to give us a brighter future and frankly I’m trying to give us a future Star Trek and not Mad Max that’s the future that I’m going for and then thank you mom and then and what’s interesting is it’s more than just buildings do you realize that after we ban LED paint in buildings the crime rate went down so it’s tied to something much bigger because this is not Photoshop this is us designing buildings pretending it’s wintertime and we’ll never need air conditioning it’s incredibly short-sighted and the current state of Green Building alone is not going to cut it so building Barbies and that’s our energy dream house it’s nice but it’s not enough we need a disruption we need a paradigm shift we need a transformation and it’s got to come from outside it won’t come from within no candle manufacturer invented a light bulb right the post office did not invent email if you want a transformation it’s got to come from outside now I used to work for students in Frank Lloyd Wright and mr. Wright used to describe what he called organic architecture he even used biological terms to describe what we would do that a building would grow from its site that it was respond to its surroundings and for 25 years I built buildings like this that I called healthy buildings but they’re not healthy building so what do I really want here that’s what I what life real life that’s what we need we know that certain buildings are going to continue to progress the way they are we know building materials are continued get more and more transparent in their materials that continued to be less and less toxic less and less bad but they’ll never be good for you and they’ll continue to get better and better source what we’re doing is we’re building these living walls I’ve done a lot of these they’re beautiful right this is a living roof its nature but on top of dead toxic material it’s missing the opportunity what if instead our buildings were actually alive what if they breathed what if they could grow what if they could heal within construction there’s this small subset called green building right and there’s an opportunity that’s about to pass us by unless we seize on it an opportunity across DNA and biology that if we tap into a transform how we build our buildings and that’s my big idea and I call it frankly Pro struction

Pro struction is the opposite of construction right it’s building the way nature does using nature’s technology how do you like that and I know it sounds science-fiction but
it’s actually possible and there are architects working today to make this a reality if you look at the trends you can see what I’m talking about forever we’ve had low emitting materials then we had zero vo C type materials you can get those at Lowe’s if you like right then we had agricultural waste based products they’re very pretty and then now there’s an explosion in bio-based materials right now it’s a 65 billion dollar market it’s about to be a 500 billion in the next 10 years and if you see how the trends stack up you can see that living materials are almost inevitable what’s driving all this is for the first time in human history we now know why zebra gets its stripes we know how a leaf heals itself we know why the firefly glows and all of making it possible is DNA that for the first time ever human beings can easily catalog replicate and replace DNA and the cost of which just keeps going down if you go to MIT synthetic biology website growing a house is on their to-do so we’ve been talking about this for 20 years so I went to MIT and I met with their head of synthetic biology professor Ron Weiss lovely guy this is his office by the way here’s here’s how smart he is that’s his lunch order do you see what I’m saying like he’s on a he’s on a whole other level than you and me and I said to him how would I grow a
building I said what if I wanted the walls to absorb chemicals he said well that’s easy I said what if I wanted it to glow he said oh that’s easy I said what if I wanted to heal itself easy I started to get very uneasy by his use of the word E it’s not very scientific term DZ and I said why is it so easy and he said we already know how nature does this we drag and drop them like software packages it’s easy I said okay if it’s so easy what’s hard and he said well buildings are kind of big and we have trouble growing big things like nature and we realized that if we start growing buildings and start to really get good at that it could help him solve his problem with growing organs and other things I also then asked him how do we prevent I don’t know Jurassic Park from happening how do we keep that from happening and he just said well first of all your buildings not gonna chase you through a kitchen and if it does try to eat you it’ll do it really slowly and I said is that biology humor and he said yes so there you go the way nature builds things is it creates what’s called a scaffold this is a scaffold this is coconut husk right and Apple is mostly scaffold with Apple DNA in it and when I think of scaffold I think of this frankly and that’s what it is it’s basically a structure that things grow over you our scaffold you’re a skeleton with you know ponch’s of fat on it right and nature has a variety of ways that it builds scaffolding and it more importantly it built scaffolding at room temperature without heat or pressure or fossil fuels and the results are incredible what nature can do a wealth
of form and color and geometry and shape so this is what’s possible and I know you’re thinking plant-based right that’s what most people think but actually we expect that whoever does this it would be a variety of techno from nature plant-based mixed with fungal mixed with polymers who knows what and just one of these innovations could radically transform how we build our buildings think about your arm have a thins out in the middle and thickens at the point of higher stress all out of material that’s four times the strength
of concrete and half the weight by the way it’s amazing construction keeps using co2 as a waste product pro struction uses it as a building block in construction we have to layer things over one another structure and form and lighting and plumbing infrastructure everything grows together we can move away from this idea of mass production into mass customization every building could be unique and instead of painting at every three to five years the pigment could come from within you wouldn’t need lighting anymore because the whole service could glow every building could be a LEED certified building every building could be a Living Building Challenge building every surface could be a smoke detector and if you pull a nail out of the wall the wall could heal the same way your own skin does that’s what’s possible you could even change the color of the house based on your mood or the time of year so if it’s October make the walls orange for Halloween go nuts every surface could absorb chemicals and carbon and transform a lot of other things and this is very much designed to work with existing buildings so grow your shell and put in your crappy IKEA cabinets if you want and rip them out in five years who cares we could even embed the building code itself into what we grow so if you grew a stair it would automatically meet code you wouldn’t need building inspectors anymore and nobody’s gonna miss them believe me imagine every surface a sensor a battery a heat sink so let’s grow our buildings we are not the first creatures to grow things on this planet lots of creatures grow things this is the silken spider it builds a fence around its nest to protect its young this is the bag worm loft it builds a pyramid which it then eats it’s fantastic and this little beauty this is the puffer fish it builds a geometric pattern on the floor to attract a mate to make up for its other shortcomings it’s amazing we suck at building what are we holding on to here we’re not very good at this sometimes it’s ridiculous and sometimes it’s catastrophic but we’re not good so let’s change this let’s switch from a paradigm of cut slash and burn to grow regenerate and breathe let’s use nature as the ultimate technology to make this possible I’ve been working with the XPrize foundation and we designed an X Prize for healthy homes to essentially grow buildings and if we do this we’re providing an abundant future of healthy buildings for everybody and that’s the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that’s redefining the American dream for everybody and frankly it’s inventing a new version of victory for the whole world.

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