On Growth and Form II


On Growth and Form will illustrate the impact of subtle environmental changes on organic growth, and the durability of the natural world to adapt. The project proposes to do this through the design and construction of one or more architectural machines.

The machines will be designed around specific native woodland plant species and located within the forest, each machine will have the ability to carefully alter one or more environmental factors. The alterations will trigger natural tropism reactions within the plants, and produce the growth of both the weird and wonderful.

Each machine will form a system, made up of both digital and ecological processes. The input into the system will be organic matter and the environmental alteration, this could include changes to light, colour spectrums of light, gravity, magnetism and touch. The system process will be tropism, which in turn will lead to a bio-analogue and grown output. This output will take the form of an organic drawing, structure, pattern or shape, formed by the plant in reaction to the altered environment. Previous reactions will perpetually affect future outcomes.

Initial ideas for possible woodland machines are:

A machine which will ‘print’ an organic natural structure through phototropism, creating light paths and encouraging plant growth in particular directions. This machine could train plants into wild and unimaginable shapes. Although Bamboo is not a native plant, phototropism has been used for centuries to manipulate growth to form curling and woven stems.

A growing ‘printed’ page, formed by a machine that ‘prints’ a solution onto a surface, encouraging certain species to grow, drawing perhaps in layers of moss.

An organic graphic display screen which can form new messages over time, relying on phototropism. This could be water based using Duck Weed which is capable of moving towards a light source. This screen has the potential for the public to alter the light source grid, and the environment, forming an ever evolving message, or perhaps it creates a living clock.

The installations will reference the likes of Heath Robinson, Tomas Saraceno and Philip Beesley.

The project intends to forge interdisciplinary links, the first of which will be with plant behavioural scientists, whose input will further initial investigations in identifying appropriate native species to use, these studies in turn will help inform the woodland site. Where necessary the project will use links to a network of resources to utilise digital technologies, this includes Fabrication Laboratories at both The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and The University of Westminster, Fab Lab. Expert input will help push the boundaries of what is possible both scientifically and technologically, allowing the project to cross the realms of both digital and analogue, natural and manmade.

On Growth and Form will explore architecture as both the machine and the output. It will delve into ancient scientific principles of plant growth, and cutting edge understandings of the physics behind it. It will engage viewers to think about the natural environment, its complexity and adaptability. 

[Jerwood Open Forest Briefing Note, Jan 2016]


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All contents © Elena Thatcher. 2018, except where noted.