Symbiotic Architecture

Symbiotic Architecture

Alive: A New Spatial Contract for Multispecies Architecture.

The Living is a New York based studio that works with new technologies and biological systems. For this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale they have developed a pavilion that demonstrates how organic materials with microbial properties could be used in architecture. This type of architecture would not only improve the construction industry’s environmental footprint, but could also be used to create healthier environments for humans and other animals.


The Living combines research and practice to explore new ways of integrating nature and modern architecture. The focus on the intersection of biology, computation, and sustainability, allows them to create innovations that would enable us to live in a symbiotic environment with nature, without compromising our health and wellbeing. The studio has articulated three frameworks for harnessing living organisms for architecture: bio-computing, bio-sensing, and bio-manufacturing. This pavilion represents the ongoing research The Living has been working on with biologists and academics to explore the potential of multi-species architecture and how best to harness the microbes that invisibly surround us.


The Alive pavilion was part of the Venice Architecture Biennale’s exhibit, titled Among Diverse Beings, and explores how living organisms could become part of architecture. The team wanted to look into the potential of creating an “urban microbiome”. This would help make cities healthier and more sustainable as they use bio-receptive materials in their construction. Shifting away from sterile spaces would create structures that are alive and probiotic, working with the natural human microbiome and the microbes that are all around us. At the end of the exhibition the piece will be deconstructed and used in several ongoing experiments, including one in New York City where it will be analysed to assess how microbes grow in different conditions. This research will allow them to learn more about the biomes of cities by comparing the materials DNA with that of existing buildings.

The pavilion is made from luffa. Luffas (sometimes called “vegetable sponges”) are in the same family as cucumber, squash and other gourds. This organic material is extremely fibrous which allows it to be hosted by microbes, as well as other living creatures. The Living envision the use of luffas at different architectural scales, such as in office and restaurants due to its probiotic and air flow properties. It can also be used to make building facades, these microbial facades would also help to remove pathogens from the air.


The Living have created a number of bio-based architectural projects. One of their most notable is the temporary pavilion made from 10,000 compostable bricks grown using organic materials that was installed at the MoMA PS1 gallery in 2014. The cluster of towers were built from bricks that were grown from mycelium that was fed corn stalks, an agricultural byproduct. Hy-Fi was created as a physical environment and a new paradigm for sustainable architecture back in 2014, when materials like mycelium were not commonly used. The structure hosted public events for three months, before it was disassembled and composted in the soil of local community gardens.




The Living

Biennale Architettura 2021