Tallinn Architecture Biennale Installation, Tallinn, Estonia, 2021

CATEGORY: Installation
STATUS: Competition (winning entry)
PROJECT TEAM: Anna Jankovic, Andre Bonnice, Bryn Murrell, Nikola Sormaz
COLLABORATORS: Natalie Alima ( PhD Researcher, RMIT), Tommaso Nervegna Reed (Artist)

In response to the theme of Slowbuilding, this project conceives a structure that exaggerates its material entropy and allows for the passing of time to be expressed both naturally and artificially. Assigning value to the waste and by-product commonly discarded from the timber industry’s precise machinic processes, the project reuses timber off-cuts and saw-dust, to form a base structure that provides the ideal habitat for growth of a colony of mycelia.

Starting with the contemptible symbol of architectural purity - the ‘Hut’ - this structure generates a tension between this archetype and the infused biological transformations of material growth and decay that override and undermine it. Reformed through bespoke generative algorithms the base structure is no longer a hut, but something closer to the Grotto or the subterranean root growth of a tree.
Drawings of Heidegger’s hut

Beyond the everyday concerns of maintenance and longevity, which register the time scale of architecture, its entropic qualities have conventionally been overlooked and excluded from our understanding of it. The prevailing view is that a decayed architecture is an obsolete one. It is given a name, the ‘ruin’, and we either seek to preserve it; or to erase it, with the view that no value can be found in its material or immaterial qualities. This project seeks to challenge and invert this understanding - that rather, an architecture of decay is not in and of itself without utility, meaning or purpose.

This project takes the base structure of Martin Heidegger’s abandoned Hut as the host form, stripped of its original cladding, leaving only its timber frame, as the armature for both a growth algorithm and a biological system to reconfigure and grow upon. The Hut in its original form is an imposition on the forest, a rearrangement of extant timber resources into a form that can no longer sustain the ecosystem in earnest, only its human occupants.

The timber structure of Heidegger’s Hut is deconstructed and reformed, in service of the ecosystem of mycelia surrounding it. The structure slowly transforms it into something which provides for both the non-human and the human. As the mycelia grow vertically, from the underlying floor plan through the timber members, the new configuration transforms the hut into something that more closely resembles its natural origins.

This project investigates timber as a sculpted, textured and imprecise material, by assigning value to the waste and by-product (off cuts and saw dust) that is commonly discarded from machined timber milling. It is proposed that this waste material from the local timber industry will be harvested and combined with a biodegradable polymer, forming the base form of the installation; which will be shaped into a series of smaller components, produced using an industrial robot.

Reflected ceiling plans

The printed timber structure is then inoculated with mycelia to consume and take over, slowly replacing it over time, until the sawdust formwork has been consumed, with only the hardened structural mycelia remaining. This is analogous to the process by which bio-scaffolds are utilised in medicine to promote the growth of human tissue with an artificially introduced structure.

Our method of formal generation utilises dual geometric representations. That of a simplical 2-manifold, and of a signed distance field (SDF). For each step in the growth simulation site-specific sun exposure over the August to October period (our expected duration of incubation) is analysed for every point in the simplical representation. Each point on the SDF is then advected in the direction that maximises surface area, while minimising exposure to the sun, aligning with the ideal habitat for mycelial uptake. This is visualised in the animation below.

Growth animation

The initial design has been adapted to the needs of the mycelial colony, in the same way it would for the human occupant of a building. Subsequently, during construction and over the course of its exhibition, the mycelia will augment to the design, making changes to its form and the environment, feeding on the structure as it grows and consumes. Whilst the mycelia feed, the designer shepherds organic growth through indirect means, having ceded direct control over the genesis of form at the latest stage of the project.

This project curates an uneasy alliance between biological transformations & the performance of a generative algorithm. The locus of agency shifts between the two across the project and through time. Borrowing and building upon the internal logics of a Scholars Rock, wherein the rocks' holes created by the riverbed are reworked artificially by sculpting, creating a hybrid between the natural and synthetic; this Algorithm seeks to simulate the ideal conditions for mycelia growth, creating a form that allows the mycelia to inhabit the structure and gain some agency over its design. Through this measured process, the project seeks to heighten this state of flux, expressed in the object's material decay that is in tension between emerging and eroding form.