Microbiological design transforms air quality

Designers are frequently using biology-inspired design principles as efficient tools to construct environments which are not only more sustainable but are biologically beneficial to the space the occupant resides within.

Researchers in multidisciplinary fields including design, architecture, and microbiology, are collaborating their knowledge and skills to apply microbiological principles to the built environment, altering human inhabited spaces to be healthier and cleaner.

The progressive knowledge of the indoor microbiome system is a promising approach to creating healthier environments. Healthy microbial environments are beneficial as they purify the environment in which we live in, eliminating the bacteria and moulds which would otherwise have an adverse effect on us. This is important in the built environment as many prior architectural choices, for example, ventilation type influences microbial communities.

A designer that has visualised an inventive concept which can be used in the home, counteracting the harmful effects of the microbial environment, is Los Angeles-based designer, Mun Yi Cheng. Taking a multidisciplinary approach in how biological principles can alter and improve living space, Cheng worked with fellow researchers Caleb Fisher, Brendan Ho, Fangyuan Hu, Ryan M. Odom, Anthony Stoffella and Xiangtai Sun to develop the conceptual project.

“MUTUA was a project conceived as an intersection of biology and architecture,” Cheng tells The Building Centre. “We were interested in exploring how microbes, which can perform a variety of beneficial functions, could be integrated into a domestic setting.”

Historically, microbes have had an antagonistic relationship with humans. “Identified as agents of disease and decay, they were considered a part of nature that was dangerous,” Cheng explains. “Architecture was one way of creating a static, discrete barrier between domestic life and uncontrollable nature. The medieval city protected urban life by keeping nature outside its walls; architectural systems today are designed to be barriers to the smallest elements to prevent mold, rot and other processes catalyzed by microbes.”

A flat-packed design, MUTUA is constructed as a patented panel and incorporated within it are microbes which are managed by a robotic system. Here, the robotic system (with refillable cartridges) ensures that the microbes grow in an aesthetically pleasing fashion but also optimally, creating an ideal microbial environment. Consequently, Cheng’s project asks whether we could mediate microbial ecosystems through an increasingly intelligent architectural system. “Conventional agriculture is already conducted using farming drones and image recognition software,” Cheng explains. “Could microbes be farmed in the same manner - deliberately seeded, bred and strategically removed to produce the outcomes we want?”

The team’s project assesses whether or not utilizing robotics into a biodesign project can be beneficial to our wellbeing not only by generating a healthier environment but by controlling the system for us, so we do not have to. “Robotic intelligence is integrated into the wall panel that constantly monitors and farms beneficial genetically engineered microbes for you. It tends to the microbes growing on a bed of substrate, while they purify air or create beautiful bioluminescent murals, and destroys harmful and unwanted microorganisms.”

The system provides this by utilizing pattern and detection recognition algorithms, analyzing where nutrients are needed whilst destroying unnecessary microbe growth. “Data gathered from each MUTUA panel is uploaded onto the cloud, and strategies are mined for growing microbes even more effectively. Combining human, microbial and artificial intelligence, MUTUA is an agriculture for contemporary home life,” Cheng explains.

By forming a symbiotic connection between intelligence and microbial systems, MUTUA illustrates the benefits of combining technologies to improve wellbeing in the built environment, whilst being maintained by a system that allows us to focus on more important tasks in our day-to-day life.

By Anna Marks 

All images courtesy of the designers 

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