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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Domestic Ecologies

  • On October 24, 2014

“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry” R. Buckminster Fuller

This years Lab Research Theme is ‘Domestic Ecologies’. Below is the brief handed out to students at the beginning of the year to stimulate responses to the key ideas of Ecology, Adaptive & Cybernetic Systems in the home. If you’re interested in studying with the Interactive Architecture Lab, you can find out more about us here.

Domestic Ecologies

From wearable technologies, to the Internet of Things, from building managements systems to urban sensory networks, we are seeing the unprecedented saturation of the built environment with computation and embedded sensing. Billions of passive and active devices building dense, rich layers of real time sensor data where even our own clothes may monitor our bio-data to share with the ‘cloud’.

Internet of Things

Internet of Things

These vast datasets, latent with novel applications for consumers and industry alike beg the question – what does a world of hyper-connectivity and high definition sensing offer design? What hybrid ecologies form out of the interaction of natural and digital agency? And how in particular does the saturation of such technologies in the context of the home, augment daily routines, and mediate social interactions?

Key Fields of Reference – ECOLOGY

When Sir Arthur Tansley proposed the term Ecosystem (1935) to describe units of the environment in which a stable dynamic equilibrium exists between (biotic) organisms and their (abiotic) environment, he would not have imagined how such an idea of ecologic balance would capture societies imagination. Today the popular understanding of ecology is synonymous with conservation, environmental and sustainable design. While Ecology has much to offer in understanding and protecting our natural environment, to reduce Ecology to this function alone would be to deny us its many other insights.

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace 2…

This year of research focuses on Ecology’s driving principle of Adaptation. So powerful and central an idea of the past century, it transformed the study of natural and social sciences, guided the engineering principles of computing and continues today to offer us a mechanism to mediate between the natural, synthetic and digital. Tansley presented his holistic view of the ecosystem arguing that ecology fundamentally must be conceived as examining a whole system including not only the living organisms (biotic factors) but also the entirety of physical (abiotic factors) which form the habitat. Therefore to design ecologically requires an understanding of whole systems not of parts – of objects, inhabitants and environments all in complex and continual communication and interaction. To do this we will harness the science of control and communication systems, Cybernetics.

Key Fields of Reference – CYBERNETICS

Stafford Beer eloquently described Cybernetics as owing as much to biology as to physics, as much to the study of the brain as to the study of computers, and owing also a great deal to the formal languages of science for providing tools with which the behavior of all these systems can be objectively described. (1966)

Norbert Wiener - Founder of the Field of Cybernetics

Norbert Wiener – Founder of the Field of Cybernetics

Its founder, Norbert Wiener had brought together a range of independent lines of scientific development through the principles of cybernetics which he formalized mathematically (1948) – which in turn allowed the synthesis of the ecological principles through mathematical descriptions of biogeochemical cycling, and energy flows. A cross-disciplinary language was formed enabling the science of ecology to share a common language with computational and design thinking. From it came the foundations of robotics, artificial intelligence, networked communication, and modern computing among its many innovations.


Cybernetician Gordon Pask emphasizes in his foreword to Evolutionary Architecture (1995) that John Frazer’s early work in harnessing evolutionary processes through computation, had the goal of not merely copying the work of nature in architectural form, but actually making it alive.

Cedric Price, John and Julia Frazer, Generator (1976–79)

Cedric Price, John and Julia Frazer, Generator (1976–79)

Pask goes on to question the role of the architect suggesting he may not only design buildings or cities but also design new ways to catalyze them, to enable their potential to adapt. The Interactive Architecture Lab’s agenda is firmly rooted in this ambition to make our built environment more responsive to human needs and catalytic to social interaction.


Students will receive a series of Lectures from John Frazer that frame a critique of the current state of evolutionary inspired computational design as adaptive in the digital design space, but largely static and unresponsive in the physical realization of the architecture. We will embrace the challenge that for a truly ecological architecture, ecological processes must go beyond the digital design phase and enter into the operation (even life) of built architecture. Coursework will be structured through conceptual stages supported by technical skills workshops in fabrication, programming, digital modelling, mechanics and electronics. We will focus initially on understanding, designing and fabricating passive forms of behaviour, before introducing active and later adaptive behavioural systems. The context of the home and domestic life will be proposed but projects are not constrained to this setting and projects will be negotiated upon their individual merits and ambitions.

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