Rachel Armstrong, Keynoter



9th International Conference and Exhibition
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Gallery of Science and Technology
Belgrade, Serbia
3-4 December 2021


Rachel Armstrong is tenured Professor of Experimental Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, Visiting Professor at KU Leuven, a Senior TED Fellow and a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Rising Waters II confab Fellow.



With the coronavirus pandemic continue to unfold, mutate, and alter our lives, we are now more conscious of the presence of microbes around us. Socially distancing ourselves we wear masks, self-isolate if we are unwell and wash our hands at every opportunity. This talk introduces a way of living alongside the microbial realm where these invisible agents
all around us are not “contaminants,” or “pathogens” but companions, technological systems and designed spaces that generate more liveable “wicked”—or, irreducibly complex—homes and urban environments. This is possible as less than 1% of all known microbes are harmful to us, but they have drawn the most attention. To show what is possible I will share developments in actual proof-of principle prototypes from the _Living Architecture_ project, the _Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment_ prototype, _PHOENIX COST Action network_ activities and the _Microbial Urbanism_ proposal, which are all microbial systems designed to process waste and generate new resources in cyclical systems of exchange. By designing the relatively frictionless exchange of biological materials between microbes and people takes place within our living spaces all around us, we gain access to _a life-promoting metabolic economy_ between human and microbe that is capable of transforming our everyday activities into life-supporting actions. By focusing on our own microbiomes—the communities of microbes that help us digest our food, make our skin supple and even change our mood—we can use our role as propagators of the microbiome of the built environment—the communities of microbes that naturally inhabit our living spaces—to directly influence microbial activity in ways that _can be designed_ to generate environmentally beneficial outcomes. To access these desired probiotic actions, a different approach to design is needed that engages strategies that are deployed by our immune systems that help establish a negotiated condition of mutual liveability. Most notably, the “pure” human subject at the heart of architectural design is decentred, so we can pay close attention to kinds of microbes we live alongside, recognise their diversity, understand their needs, and observe how they behave in different settings. Immunological strategies can help us fully engage the potential of this realm—not only to create healthier spaces during a pandemic but also mitigate urban environmental “harm” in untroubled times.

Living, worlding, deanthropocentrisation, regenerative, strangeness


Rachel Armstrong is tenured Professor of Experimental Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, Visiting Professor at KU Leuven, a Senior TED Fellow and a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Rising Waters II confab Fellow. She holds a First-Class Honours degree with 2 academic prizes from the
University of Cambridge (Girton College), a medical degree from the University of Oxford (The Queen’s College), was admitted as a Member to the Royal College of New Zealand General Practitioners 2005-2015 and awarded a PhD (2014) from the University of London (Bartlett School of Architecture). She is author of a number of books including _The Art of
Experiment: Post-pandemic Knowledge Practices for 21st Century Architecture and Design_ with Rolf Hughes (2020), _Experimental Architecture: Prototyping the unknown through design-led research_(2019), _Liquid Life: On non-linear materiality_ (2019), _Soft Living
Architecture: An alternative view of bio-informed design practice_(2018) and other titles.

Rachel Armstrong researches the inner life of “things” seen and unseen. Exploring and experimenting with the very stuff of life, she celebrates the strangeness of the world, even though we have rendered it ordinary, asking how we may design and build our world differently. Viewing architecture as a fundamentally ethical practice, her radically interdisciplinary approach views deanthropocentrisation as the antidote to the Anthropocene. Establishing co-constitutive perspectives, materials, methods, technologies, prototypes, and protocols of space-making that are concerned with the redistribution of power and agency between the human and more-than-human realm in ways that do not reduce the status of people, her works examines the life of the materials that comprise our living spaces. Questioning what it means to produce an architecture at a time of climate emergency, she establishes a portfolio for design, where built constructions are wholly regenerative, enliven the environment with their footprints and are synonymous with an aspect of nature carved out by their inhabitants. This view is encapsulated in her space projects such as Persephone, where an entire off-world habitat is _worlded_ to functionality. The architectures proposed within this space are grown from the bottom up, using the soils as the fundamental fabric for regeneration and ensuring the ongoing liveliness of the off-world habitat. Her work is applied to develop next-generation sustainable prototypes and systems, exemplified in the H2020 FET Open _Living Architecture_ project and the _Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment_ (ALICE) project, which is an EU funded Innovation Award, in which she was coordinator.