At the core of these visions lies the desire to potentiate our bodies and the things around us with an intelligence that will deepen the relationship between the objects we use and which we inhabit, and our environment: a Material Ecology.
A new model of the world has emerged over the past few decades: the World-as- Organism. This new model inspires a desire to instill intelligence into objects, buildings and cities. It is a model that stands in contrast to the paradigm of the Industrial Revolution, or the World-as-Machine.
While I believe that the new model will eventually become the new paradigm, it coexists for the time being with the old model: our minds are already at home with this new view of the world, but we still employ the building practices and design traditions that we inherited from the industrial era.
For instance, today’s buildings are made up of modular parts and components that are mass-produced and interchangeable. A furniture piece can easily be replaced by a ready-to-assemble kit of parts while a damaged tooth-root or bone can be replaced by the design of a titanium implant.
This model actually works in the same way that a machine does, where transposable parts make a whole. Awesome design machines have been created in this spirit such as composite cars, planes and steel buildings (Le Corbusier’s homage to modern industry by shaping Villa Savoye’s driveway using the exact turning radius of a 1927 Citroen comes to mind.)
But are these complex machines a true reflection of how Nature works? I do not think so. The new sensibility that views the world as an organism challenges us in completely new ways to propose innovative ways of making things. The World-as-Organism implies a continuous living system where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and parts can grow into other parts. To paraphrase Goethe: “All is Leaf.”
In this spirit, I attempt to characterize this shift by sketching a design credo in five tenets.