Symbiosisi 6 – Between Science And Utopia

Symbiotic Architecture Between Science And Utopia

Ksenija Bulatović, Ksenija Bunjak, Saša Naumović, Sandra Giulia Linnea Persiani

Introduction: Symbiotic Architecture – Thinking It Through

In order to better comprehend the reality and its diversity, people have been sorting the phenomena into the groups and categories, emphasizing relations between them. Throughout the history, the world’s and, specifically, western philosophical thought evolved around these different groups and relations. Władysław Tatarkiewicz, a Polish philosopher, discussed it in his “History of Six Ideas”. Following his overview, there are three kinds of value – good, beauty and truth; three kinds of functions and lifestyles – theory, action and creativity; two kinds of beings – ones created by man and ones created by nature; two kinds of knowledge – mental and sensual; two factors of being – components (elements) and their arrangements (forms); and we also distinguish things and signs (Tatarkjevič, 1976). Within those relations and categories we can discuss the Symbiotic architecture, as well.

At the previous conferences STRAND 2013, STRAND 2014 and STRAND 2015 the authors have presented the idea of Symbiotic architecture and discussed it through its relations to sustainability, traditional architecture, organic architecture, biocomputing systems etc. Initially, the ideology of Symbiotic architecture was born as a response to the contextual changes, global crises and limitations that known architecture is currently facing in the contemporary world. In order to better comprehend the Symbiotic reality and discuss it, we have too defined three groups of phenomena. So, as it was mentioned before on various occasions, Symbiotic architecture stands for the co-life of three curtail elements: man, house and environment. Symbiotic home is considered to be alive – it is born, it lives following all the needs of its symbiote man, breathing the life of the household, and eventually dying. After man ends his existence in his home, house returns to its origins – nature (Bulatovic, Bunjak, 2014).

Good. Beauty. Truth. Presence of these values in the philosophical though can be traced back to the time of Plato who was among the first that discussed them together. Symbiotic architecture can be considered as good. One of its main purposes is the wellbeing of its symbiote, the wellbeing of man. The Symbiotic home provides a protection and it transforms according to the human needs creating a good environment adaptable to every situation and internal/external needs and contexts. Symbiotic architecture does not have a constant, “frozen” form. Instead, it is changeable, dynamic and ephemeral in its appearance. Therefore, we cannot discuss its aesthetical aspect and its beauty in conventional ways. Jan Mukařovský, Czech structuralist, defended the opinion by which any object or event can be a carrier of the aesthetical function. Neither object nor event can, by its essence, be the carriers of the aesthetical function regardless to the time, place or the evaluator. The limits of aesthetical area are not given by the very reality, and therefore they are dynamically variable. Following this, we cannot say that Symbiotic architecture has aesthetical value only by its essence. It has a constantly changeable appearance, so its beauty lies somewhere else – in its purpose and meaning. Symbiotic architecture also stands for the primary truth, emphasizing the importance of the trinity – man, house, and environment. It is focused on the processes in nature from where it derives all its characteristics.

Of Nature – of Art. Tatarkiewicz reminded us of two kinds of beings – those created by nature and those created by man. Origins of this thought can also be traced back to the Ancient Greece, where types of beings were distinguished as those of nature and those of art (Tatarkjevič, 1976). According to Plato, this definition was brought by the sophists. A similar relation based on slightly different grounds was presented by Aristotle who differentiated beings that exist by itself and for us (Tatarkjevič, 1976). Future development of philosophical thought was based on both opinions. When it comes to Symbiotic architecture, it is both of nature and of art, it exists by itself and for us. Symbiotic home is considered to be a being derived from nature whose main purpose is to provide an adequate comfort and protection to a man responding to all his needs and context changes.

Mental Knowledge – Sensual Knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge – those based on intellect and those based on senses. These types of knowledge have been confronted through history dividing philosophical thought to rationalism and sensualism (Tatarkjevič, 1976). This is one of the major problems regarding the Symbiotic architecture. This idea can become a reality once we accept this concept on both mental and sensual level. Man, along with his changeable needs controls the home, its form, position in the reality and relation towards the contexts. So, he needs to be able to both intellectually comprehend and accept it and in the same time fell it with all his senses, connecting himself to it.

Elements – Form. As mentioned before, elements of symbiotic architecture are man, house and environment (both natural and created). There are also elements within elements that play a major role in creating and constantly modifying the form. Symbiotic architecture is also a symbiosis between “programmed in advance” systems and “self-programmed by learning” systems defined and discussed by Stanisław Lem, a Polish writer (Lem, 1977). First level systems represent symbiotic membrane – a body, a house – and function upon previously genetically defined intuitional impulses. The membrane reacts to the elementary needs and responds to the basic changes. Walls of symbiotic house represent the unity of biochemical substances and biocomputing mechanisms, producing a self sustained energy source as a result of the initial interaction. Second level systems represent other symbiote – a spirit, an initiator, a man. This symbiote, along with the third symbiote environment/nature, gives a house a possibility of learning and by that, possibilities for responding to more demanding needs and unpredictable changes (Bulatovic, Bunjak, Naumovic, 2015).

Things –Symbols. We can distinguish a world and a language we use to describe the world (Tatarkjevič, 1976). If Symbiotic architecture is the reality we discuss, and if that reality is perceived on the right way both mentally and sensually then in the relation to the house we do not need the symbols to describe the knowledge that has already became a part of our being. On the other hand, the symbol of home will persist regardless to the changeable reality of the house form. For man, symbolic thinking will remain an important aspect of expressing spiritual needs, creativity, energy etc.

Theory. Action. Creativity. We have left the discussion about kinds of functions and lifestyles for the end, as they introduce new problems and open further questions. This division relates to Aristotle and has probably been introduced by him. In everyday life, we often use a simplify version of this relation: theory and practice (Tatarkjevič, 1976). Symbiotic architecture is active and creative as much as its symbiote man is. It can be discussed thoroughly, and it relates to different natural laws, philosophical theories, architecture theories and moments in the history of architecture discourses. But, what about the practice? It is known that in the current contexts and world’s settings, conventional architecture had reached its limits long time ago. We need a change, something that would break the existing limits and bring new ways of addressing the architecture itself. Is the Symbiotic architecture, defined on this way, nothing more then a utopian vision? Or is it technologically feasible and possible in present or future realities and can it be scientifically proven?


We have mentioned the people’s necessity for sorting the phenomena into the groups and categories, classifying them according to their current needs. The concept of Type is widely diffused and seems to arise naturally in organisms with medium to high levels of intelligence, as a way of processing information though categorisation, recognition of recurring patterns and definition of connections between these patterns. With the same purpose of better comprehending their reality, architects have as well discussed the concept of Type for centuries. From its etymological meaning to the post-war theories, the idea of Type has, in the overall context of the architectural tradition, embraced transcendental issues of aesthetic, epistemological and metaphysical character as well as the classification and study of building forms. However since the end of the 20th Century, the interest in designing following typology-based methods has rapidly declined. On the other hand, the progress in the scientific and technological fields brought an opportunity and a necessity to rethink the concept of Type.

The apparent loss of sense of the Type in the contemporary architecture can be explained by the idea that the present architecture exists in a phase of transition, reaching its limitations as we discusses earlier. The architectures we see today are the outcome of history-related typologies: elder dwellings which came up in specific transition periods and successively evolved in time, adapting environments and cultures, optimizing as new discoveries opened up a new fields of knowledge. These typologies have been experimented and cross-bred for millennia, producing many variations. We are today at the threshold of a new technological era: the scientific progress, the new social patterns moulded by technological ephemeralization, and not least the climate challenges our species must deal with for survival will in the coming years have an enormous impact on the construction of our future dwellings. With these premises, opportunities for “new architectural niches” arise, with the probability of new typologies to develop in time. Having this in mind, we have continued developing the idea of Symbiotic architecture as a future plausible reality. Many parallels can be drawn between concepts in Evolutionary Biology and the development of architecture from the first dwellings, to the genesis of typologies and further on the different specifications and sub-categories. Type can be understood as an adaptation to the exteriors and interior factors acting on an organism: Zuk and Clark (1970) describe architecture as a three-dimensional form, resultant of a set of pressures in time. These pressures, as evolutionary stresses, can be permanent or transient, of physical character – as functions, networks, environmental influences – or non physical – as social, economical, cultural concepts and forces. Architecture should be able to change as the pattern of these pressures change in time. These are the grounds on which we base Symbiotic architecture – ability to constantly modify as a result of both internal (man) and external (environments) influences and needs.

The transformability during the buildings’ lifetime is of primary importance for it to adequately respond to the environmental pressures. Kinetics introduce spatial transformation and adaptability in architecture (Oosterhuis, 2012). Unlike static and conventional architecture, which is made to last and is subject to variation on the long term, kinetic architecture expresses itself in short to medium time perspectives introducing the concept of cause and effect (Fox & Kemp, 2009). While for the design of static architecture geometric transformation is a design method with the goal of locating one frozen moment, in kinetic architecture there is no singular moment in time as the design patterns shift geometry constantly (Moloney, 2011). The constant changing of characters and forms of Kinetic Architecture might challenge the categorisation of the architecture into typologies: one day architecture might be able to change its characteristics so drastically as to belong to more (or infinite) types. Symbiotic architecture not only has an ability to dynamically modify itself, but it is also “programmed in advance” and “self-programmed by learning” providing itself a necessary knowledge to undergo those changes. We believe that the Symbiotic architecture walks towards the idea of one architecture belonging to the infinitive number of type regarding its form and unique type regarding its essential purpose.

In nature, an organism never crystallizes in one shape but is an ongoing process of metamorphosis comprised in a definite range of possibilities (Menges, 2008). For a parent organism to produce an offspring of its own size, the young must undergo a metamorphosis before becoming an adult. The “adult organism” concept is a rough approximation of reality suggesting morphological stability: in reality, an organism passes during its lifetime through a series of forms in space, the cloud of points representing all existent morphologies in the phylogenetic history being the morphospace (Arthur, 1997). The Symbiotic architecture, understood as a living being, undertakes the whole life process as well.

Nature itself uses recurring strategies as the multiplication of available basic elements to minimize the information without running into a consistent loss of data (Gruber, 2001): the amount of information necessary for the construction of a living system is amazingly low compared to its apparent complexity. According to Steven Vogel (Zinsmeister, 2011), a fertile egg for the construction of a human contains around 1010 bits of information. The complexity which can be achieved through very simple organisation can be seen in the binary number system. Computation gives us a sense of how complex macrosystems can be built up with the use of very few basic building blocks. Zero-and-one sequences create bits of information, grouping together to create bytes – representing orders in coding capable of describing everything from still to moving images, sounds, programs – creating more and more complex systems. Referring to the Symbiotic architecture, even though its constantly changing appearance might seem complicated, the data and information required for this already exist and can be found in the environments and man himself, supporting the idea of symbiosis between elements.

We can see that the Symbiotic architecture can be scientifically discussed proven but can it yet be technologically supported or are we steps or miles away from this becoming our reality? In order to support our hypothesis that Symbiotic architecture in not only possible, but very much probable in the future, we will discuss few examples.

Theo Jansen – Strandbeest. 

Figure 2: Strandbeest

 Theo Jansen, a Dutch engineer, has started the project Strandbeest in the 90s – creating artificial animals or self-propelling beach animals as he also calls them. They are made from plastic tubes connected into a specific skeleton moved and modified by wind energy transformed into the kinetic energy. These animals have a stomach made from recycled plastic bottles containing the high pressurized air from the wind. Wings placed at the front capture the wind, pumped into the bottles afterwards. Once released the pressurized air is used to move the animal. In order to move, an organism needs muscles. Muscles are made form a tube containing another pipe with the ability to move in and out. Letting the air out from the bottles the inner pipe goes out as well, lengthening the muscles and activating other muscles to do the same.

Stored air from the wind gives these animals an ability to move and modify while moving providing them with not only a dynamics, but a specific form of life as well, and allowing them to responding to different outdoor influences (storms, water etc.).

Philip Beesley – Hylozoic Ground.

 Figure 3: Hylozoic Ground

Hylozoic Ground is an experimental work of Canadian architect and sculptor Philip Beesley and his team. It is based on the Hylozoism, a philosophical thought by which any matter can be considered as alive. We can trace back this idea to the early Greek thinkers and Milesian school – Thales believed that the primary substance was water; Anaximenes considered air to the universal principle, while for the Heracleitus that was the fire. Hylozoic Ground stands for an experimental architecture rethinking the idea of contemporary wildness. This sculpture creates an interactive environment and is formed by a forest made of specific geotextile structures that have the ability to respond to the surrounding impulses. Small and transparent geotextile (acrylic) elements are covered with interactive elements. A large number of digitally made elements were combined with microprocessors that allowed the structure to react to presence on people. The authors consider this sculpture as an experimental lung that breathes around the visitors, moving and modifying the environment.

Achim Menges and Stefan Reichert – Hygroscope Meteorosensitive Morphology. 

Figure 4: Hygroscope Meteorosensitive Morphology

This project belongs to a so-called responsive architecture and it explores the relation between behaviour of materials and computational morphogenesis. The system – climate responsive architecture morphology – is based on the behaviour of wood when exposed to the moisture. The designed system responds to the change of relative humidity of microenvironment created in the glass case. With the rise of the humidity level, the system changes the porosity of its surface allowing it to breathe and creating a kinetic effect. The model opens and closes without any need for technical control or external energy supply.


We have discussed the theory of Symbiotic architecture, and we have related to the new and growing trends in architecture. Symbiotic architecture does not create an ideal society nor is it a response to any such idea. It is by itself a response to any society, any context and environment and their changes. Therefore, it cannot be considered as a Utopian vision in the common meaning of this term. Even though Symbiotic architecture provides ideal conditions for its inhabitants at any time and under any circumstances it does not create an absolute equality – it does not respond to the needs of a society, but to the needs of every individual inhabitant. It can be understood as a higher principle that allows each individual to express its own needs in different contexts and environments and fulfil them. This principle can be scientifically proven – we already have experiments leading towards self-moving skeletons, self-breathing models etc., while technological acceleration (development of nanotechnologies, biocomputing systems, artificial intelligence etc.) suggests that we are on the road that will sooner or later take us to the new architecture realities.

Symbiotic architecture, understood as a living being, derives its characteristics from nature. Reality, though, is a wider idea then nature. It includes both nature and culture. Therefore, a man, his activities and his creations play an important role in our realities. Without man, Symbiosis would not be possible and its essence would lose the core meaning. On the other hand, man created our present reality, provoking many problems and seeking solutions afterwards. Man will continue to develop, and scientific discoveries and technological growth will follow him. With the new knowledge, new and more demanding needs could occur. If the main principle of Symbiotic architecture is fulfilment of human needs, their protection from external influences and a response to contextual changes, we must ask ourselves, should human needs, after all, be controlled in order not to misuse the original principles of Symbiotic architecture? We can discuss man’s wellbeing, but how can we measure his happiness in the Symbiotic home? Those are the questions authors plan to address in the future research.


  1. Arthur, W 1997, The origin of animal body plans: a study in evolutionary developmental biology (1st ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK.
  2. Bulatović, K & Bunjak, K 2013, ‘Symbiosis – a Response on Contemporary Organic Architecture’, Proceedings from the International Conference and Exhibition – On Architecture, STRAND, Belgrade, December 9th-12th, pp 357-367.
  3. Bulatović, K & Bunjak, K 2014, ‘Symbiosis and the Principles of Modernism’, Proceedings from the International Conference and Exhibition – Facing the Future, STRAND, Belgrade, pp 302-309.
  4. Fox, M & Kemp, M 2009, Interactive Architecture (1st ed.), Princeton Architectural Press, New York.
  5. Gruber, P 2011, Biomimetics in Architecture, architecture of life and buildings (1st ed.), Springer-Verlag, Wien.
  6. Lem, S 1977, Suma Technologiae, Nolit, Beograd.
  7. Oosterhuis, K 2012, Hyperbody forward to basics, Hyperbody 2012, from
  8. Menges, A 2008, Morpho-Ecologies (1st ed.), Architectural Association, London.
  9. Moloney, J 2011, Designing Kinetics for Architectural Facades, State Change (1st ed.), Routledge, New York.
  10. Tatarkjevič, V 1976, Istorija šest pojmova, Nolit, Beograd.
  11. Zinsmeister, A (Ed.) 2011, Gestalt der Bewegung [Figure of Motion] (1st ed.), jovis Verlag GmbH, Berlin.
  12. Zuk, W & Clark, RH 1970, Kinetic Architecture (n.d.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York.


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