Symbiosis 8 – Biocomputing Systems In The Symbiotic Architecture

Biocomputing Systems In The Symbiotic Architecture
Ksenija Bulatović, Ksenija Bunjak, Saša Naumović

From a historical point of view, it seems as if the world overnight faced large crises such as population crises, environmental crises, energy crises etc. Rapid economical growth followed by a population and energy consumption growth occurred in the last few centuries, and mostly during the last decades of the 20th century. It is common belief that most of those crises can be related to the technological development. Yet, this statement depends on the interpretation of the very term technology.

A direct translation of the word technology (τέχνη – craft, skill and λόγος – word, or λόγια – science) stands for the science about skills that people use both in the nature and society with the main purpose of fulfilling their basic needs. Even though the word technology can be related to different concepts, today is has mainly been used to describe the term high-tech. Still, one should not limit technology this way, since it is more than machines, processes and inventions (Olsen 2009). Seen in different contexts, technology can have various meanings. While researching 20th century, some historians based their work on the important technological achievements seen as global phenomenon, such as electricity, mass production, transportation etc. On the other hand, there are historians who discussed technology form a viewpoint of everyday life and individual user. For scientists it is an end product, while for the engineers it can be a process or a mean for solving some problem or enhancing better quality of end products. Dualities in its interpretation, as well as diversity of opinions follow technological discourses from the very beginning. Therefore, a number of possible definitions grows. Technology can be understood as “a bundle of information, rights and services” (Olsen 2009: 19) or “the information necessary to achieve a certain production outcome from a particular mean of combining or processing selected inputs” (Olsen 2009: 19). The mostly used definition is the one provided by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):

“Technology is bought and sold as capital goods including machinery and productive systems, human labour usually skilled manpower, management and specialised scientists. Information of both technical and commercial character, including that which is readily available, and that subject to proprietary rights and restrictions.” (quote from Olsen 2009: 19)

Still, we cannot talk only about production processes. Technology covers a wide range of processes that are not socially neutral. It is based on closely related elements – technique, knowledge, production organization and product (Olsen 2009). Seen in the social contexts, technologies mean power whether we are talking about developed or developing countries.

In his interpretation of the term technology, a philosopher Martin Heidegger argues that “the truth as the essence of being, ontological difference between being and the being, the phenomenon of the world, the completion of metaphysics – are exposed through thematisation of the phenomenon of technique” (Radovanović 2009: 93). The term technique cannot be described from a viewpoint of technical achievements, its main characteristics or its importance. It has to be addressed from a viewpoint of its essence. While discussing the essence of technique, Heidegger dismisses instrumental (technique understood as a mean) and anthropological (technique as a human product) aspects and points at the technique as a natural core of any society. The essence of technology isn’t anything technical and cannot be understood through its usefulness. It can only be comprehended through our specific technological connection to the world.

Today, technologies represent a set of accumulated knowledge about nature and its laws directed towards fulfilment of human needs. They can also be defined as the ways in which we apply our notion of the natural world to problem solving tasks (Olsen 2009). Therefore, we can assume that technologies followed human evolution in different shapes. We can easily say that it reflects a society and social relations and stands for a product of civilization and culture. But, technology can be also understood in a context of nature. Self-sustainable technologies already exist in nature – beings and their biological processes can be seen as the purest technological forms. Today’s most advanced technologies are possible due to the expansion of nanobiotechnology, new growing science. One of the possibilities within nanobiotechnology is the creation of biocomputers. In biocomputers, systems of biologically derived molecules (DNA, proteins, etc.) are used to perform computational calculations such as storing data, retrieving and/or processing it. But the concept of biocomputing can be discussed in wider range – all the impulses that can provoke actions and reactions within the living beings can, theoretically, be considered as a technology.

Can the ideas of biocomputing be transposed to the architecture? Does the answer to this question lie in the symbiotic architecture?


Biocomputing, biomolecular computing or computations performed by biomolecules are becoming our reality. They challenge traditional theoretical and technological approaches to the computation science. Even though today, nanobiotechnology made the biocomputing more probable and more precise, the idea of storing data on a molecular level is not new. Back in the late 1940s, mathematician John von Neumann discussed the theory of self-reproducing automata, the idea of a machine creating a more complex machine. Present biocomputers, systems of biologically derived molecules have many advantages – their energy costs and waste production are low; they have high artificial intelligence and self-recovery, large memory etc. For us, biocomputing is a wider theoretical term. We consider all nature processes – from a behaviour of simple one-cell organism to the impulses of human brain – a specific kinds of biological computers.

Stanisław Lem, a Polish writer, discussed technologies in his book “Summa Technologiae”. Human activity in nature could never be completely pure. Every technology is, in fact, an artificial prolongation of human natural tendencies to master the environment (Lem 1977). On the other hand, Lem introduces his idea of natural technologies through the term homeostasis. Homeostasis stands for the system within which stability and relative continuity are the main characteristics of its variables. “Survive despite changes” (Lem 1977: 37) is a motto of majority of beings. Unlike other beings, man is less adapted to his surroundings. Instead he is one adapting environment to his own needs, using technology as his specific external organs. This kind of homeostatic human activities brought us here, to this precise moment in history dominated by global crises. The change of living conditions provoked by the rapid development led to creation of homeostatic systems of contemporary world (Lem 1977).

Crises aren’t anything new in the human society. There hasn’t been any longer period without them, since they closely followed civilization development (Mesarović, Pestel 1975). But, history also shows us that societies were able to overcome most of the crises on their own. Could we hope for this kind of natural flow when it comes to the crises of our age? Unfortunately, no. Today, on a global stage and in the same time we have numerous ongoing crises.

Lem also argues the idea of intelligence in nature. “Non-intelligent” beings use inherited regulation mechanisms to adapt themselves to the environmental phenomena. When it comes to the scope of possible responses to the changes they are “programmed in advance” (Lem 1977: 99) to obtain their continuity. Yet, those mechanisms can respond only to the genetically predefined conditions. When faced with the new problem solving or changed conditions instinctive behaviour looses its preciseness. Advantage is then given to the “intelligent” beings that have the ability to change their acting programs according to their own needs. Lem defines this as “self-programming by learning” (Lem 1977: 100). They no longer have predefined knowledge. Instead, they need to learn the best way of acting. Even though is has its own risks, this kind of behaviour is more adaptable to the modulating surroundings. We consider both categories, programmed in advance and self-programmed by learning, types of biocomputing possibilities.


At previous conferences STRAND 2013 and STRAND 2014, authors have presented the idea of Symbiotic architecture as a response to the current contextual changes and global crises. Symbiotic architecture stands for the co-life of elements: man, house and environment. Symbiotic home is born, it lives following all the needs of its symbiote man, breading the life of the household, and eventually dying. When man ends his existence in his home, house returns to its origins – nature (Bulatovic, Bunjak, 2014). The core of symbiotic house is the protection, a transformable response to human needs, natural and social context (Bulatovic, Bunjak, 2013).

Influenced by contextual changes, human needs also change. Change of human needs leads to new contextual changes. This interdependent relation requires a specific architecture that can follow both contextual and human needs variations. Form of symbiotic architecture is, therefore, adaptable in its function and transformable according to the users’ needs and surrounding impulses. Continuous quality of existence regardless to the environmental conditions is one of the basic principles of symbiotic architecture. Principles of symbiotic architecture are drawn from the natural environment. This kind of architecture bases its essence both on knowledge and intuition.

Walls of symbiotic architecture represent the unity of biochemical substances and biocomputing mechanisms and produce a self sustained energy source as a result of the initial interaction. When talking about biocomputing mechanisms, we relate to Lem’s discussions about intelligence in nature. Symbiotic architecture biocomputational elements have both the “genetically” pre-programmed intuition and the ability to learn and self-programme in cases of unexpected changes. Analyzing cells – their essence, behaviour, movement and form transformation according to their own needs – we notice that the substance is not the only factor. It is induced by the impulses which define its elasticity, form transformability and self-sustainability. “Primitive” organisms such as, for example, amoebas modify their form according to the internal needs and the survival instincts. Internal impulses are sent to the membrane, dictating position and activities in space. Those impulses are intuitive, genetically predetermined and programmed in advance. They represent Lem’s first level systems and in symbiotic architecture are used to form the “walls”. In previous works, we have shown that cybernetic characteristics of symbiotic architecture walls go beyond artificial computer attributes. We would rather define them as abilities set by first level biocomputational systems and taken directly from the nature as the original knowledge source.

It is common knowledge that the energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. In order for architecture to transform and displace itself, its substance has to be compatible and operational in all predictable and unpredictable changes. In other words, architecture has to be self-sustainable and regenerative. This is programming by learning. But, how can symbiotic architecture learn? The answer is – from its symbiotes man and nature. The most advanced biocomputational system we can find in ourselves. Human brain manages all the processes in the body. It stores information, operates them, learns and acts through sub-elements. Within the normal conditions, humans function as perfect bio-motor sets, centrally operated from the brain.

Symbiotic architecture is, therefore, a symbiosis between “programmed in advance” systems and “self-programmed by learning” systems. 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. Second level systems represent other symbiote – a spirit, an initiator, a man. This symbiote, along with the third symbiote nature, gives a house a possibility of learning and by that, possibilities for responding to more demanding needs and unpredictable changes.


Technological development doesn’t necessarily have to have negative consequences and be considered as the main provoker of global crises. Technologies can be discussed in the context of nature as well. In that case, we are talking about biological technologies present in every living being.    Biocomputational elements, theoretically speaking, go beyond present possibilities within nanobiotechnology and widen the most common use of the term biocomputing. We consider all the living processes, whether processes of “primitive” or “advanced” beings, biocomputational.

Symbiotic architecture represents symbiosis between house, man and nature. House is consisted out of a membrane that is previously programmed and genetically predestined to intuitionally fulfil basic needs. Man and nature bring advanced knowledge and a gift of learning. Therefore, symbiotic architecture is prepared for both expected and unexpected changes. It flows, transforms, and changes its shape and position according to the external and internal needs. Functionality of the inside-outside relation is brought to the perfection.

In symbiotic architecture esthetical criteria is irrelevant. Beauty exists only in the context of its essence, self-sustainability and intelligence. Symbiotic house is a biological and cybernetic “machine”, in the way humans are. But, it has no proportions or geometry, no previously designed static form. Non existing form detaches a man from material criteria and technology in its narrowest sense discussed in the beginning of this work. The only purpose of symbiotic house is to fulfil human needs, allowing him freedom and mobility and pointing the importance of natural intelligence and technology.


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