Benjamin Bratton on Mon, 7 Apr 2003 08:11:04 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Biotech + Architecture

(The essay below was recently published in Italian translation as "La
premessa di un'architettura ricombinante: prima parte" in Architettura e
cultura digitale, edited by Livio Sacchi and Maurizio Unali, Skira
Biblioteca di Architettura (2003). It is a collaborative project with Hernan
Diaz-Alonso that explores the formal horizons of biotech architectonics is
profiled in the current issue of RES. This project was recently presented
and installed at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. A very large scale
prototype is planned for construction in Costa Rica in August 2003, and a
publication in Architectural Record is pending. Thanks to Geert Lovink for
formatting the text. Benjamin)


The Premise of Recombinant Architecture: One
Benjamin H. Bratton
SCI_Arc and UCLA

Recombinant architecture examines the deep cultural impact of
biotechnologies, including genetic, genomic and transgenic engineering, on
the architectural imagination.

This short essay maps several of theoretical and ethical positions on the
dark matter of recombinant design, and seeks to clear the ground for a
material architecture based on these complex technologies of self, space and
matter. Recombinant architecture explodes allegorical relationships between
body and structure, incorporating biologic and architectural bodies into
indiscrete and reversible interiors and exteriors including cyborgs and
transgenic bodies, generative tissue textiles, body-architecture hybrids,
replicating habitats and genetically engineered architectures and building

Recombinant architecture is multiple, and this essay considers it according
to three interrelate indexes: (1) the conception of architectonic forms in
the image of genetic, biomorphic corporeality (architecture as physiognomic
index of the posthuman), (2) the deliberate fashioning of recombinant bodily
forms (genomic entities in the image of architecture) and (3) the
application of artificial biomaterials in the construction of the built
environment (architecture as the result of genomic design)  - from bodies to
buildings and back again.[i]

Genomic Programs/ Bodies
Recombinant technologies (genomic mapping, gene therapy,
nanobiotechnologies, etc.) radically refigure the body as a site of
production, reproduction, habitation, sensation, ambulation and temporal
becoming. Because these sitings co-ordinate with architecture ­as scale,
shelter, symbol, and scenario- we anticipate that recombinant technologies
will impact architecture in an equally radical fashion.

Even as genomic and transgenic design destabilizes the very bodies with
which we inhabit our shared worlds, what is most crucially at stake is not
the physical body per se, but rather the local and global social
institutions built over centuries upon concepts of the body as stable,
natural referent. As the biological bodily medium fragments from universal
singularity to (digital) genetic assemblage, the worlds we define through
the body become themselves equally destabilized and redetermined by
recombinant imaginaries. Any institution based on bodily discourses is a
potential site for some recombinant revolution (the family, the home, the
nation-state, 'space' itself,) and this leads us in several contradictory
and sometimes dangerous directions. The 21st century will be populated with
genomically reflexive/self-conscious children, born and growing in bodies
known to them as inhabitable expressions of 'binary code'[ii] Are
we populating the early years of a eugenic century with a nightmarish
biotechnological singularization of humanity? Are we also participating in
the first years of a new society of biomaterial freedom, an architecture of
the self that will allow (and demand) new reflexive practices of bodily
expression and purpose?

As allegory, the genetic turn animates several contemporary architectural
projects. But as tactile and textile materiality, and as a sociocultural
unconscious that underlies every 'program,' the eventual impact of genetic
technologies can hardly now be measured. Recombinant architecture is a
radical requestioning of the most fundamental programmatic assumptions about
the logical affordances of built space. When both architecture and the
bodies that inhabit it are themselves both organic and inorganic, when both
are materially alive and not-alive, when the natures of both are understood
as artificial and artifactual, the first premises of their interactions in
space and over time are reopened.

Genetic Architecture: Algorithmic Biomorphology the conception of
architectonic forms in the image of genetic, biomorphic corporeality
(architecture as physiognomic index of the posthuman
The genetic imaginary has insinuated itself across architectural
investigation in a variety of ways, and drives several experimental
approaches.[iii] Incursions into genetic architecture elaborate
the epistemic centrality of a now genomically self-conscious body as a
methodological index of structural investigation. The genetic body names and
contains multiple, incongruous animate forms to be given architectural
expansion. For each, attention is paid to genetics and genomics as
figurative principles that transcend and extend purely biological processes
into more comprehensive bio-technical systems.

For Karl Chu, organic and inorganic phyla intermingle in mutually
constitutive limit-horizons of informational materiality. These
territorializations emerge in vivo across the physicality
of earth-surface as multiple algorithmic transvaluations.

"Genetic space is the domain of the set of possible worlds generated and
mitigated by the machinic phylum over time. This is the zone of emission
radiating out from the decompression of reality, a supercritical explosion
of genetic algorithms latent with the capacity to exfoliate out into genetic
space. This is not a passive receptacle but an active evolutionary space
endowed with dynamical properties and behavior of the epigenetic

 According to Chu's theory of a hyperzoic space, laws of physics that
ordinate the play between genotype, phenotype and environment, are
themselves evolving, and are condensations of multiple manifest and virtual
modulations of genetic-algorithmic enunciation. Chu names the emergence of a
Hyperzoic Era, in which information-as-capital and capital-as-information,
condense and decode into manifold species of artificial life.[v]

Manuel De Landa, now teaching in the architecture and planning graduate
school at Columbia, maps the promiscuous intraevolution of geologic,
linguistic, biological and mechanical intelligences across multiple sites of
intensification and convergence. Within De Landa's transversal history of
polyscalar incorporation, architecture becomes a site for the manifestation
of multiple concurrent evolutionary vectors: semiotic, military,
meteorological, and viral. This evolution of forms is realized by the
differential interrelations of genetic replication and dynamic environments.
The plural agencies of design are located across the two: in the incremental
durations of singular life spans and in the limit trajectories of impact
they have on the habitat. Environmental history persists -is translated and
miniaturized- in both the genetic signatures of the traits for which it
selects, and in the species-bodies animated by those same genetic

This animation inscribes the inhabited, material world according to mediated
parameters of use, exchange, signification and symbolic excess. How a given
form comes to occupy a given position within the actor network of human and
inhuman agency, from the microbial to the continental, and the contingent
durations of those variant occupations, is the architectonic horizon of

Mutation, noise within the infogenetic signal, locates the principle of
variation (innovation) within the bioinfomatic code that always already
contains its own contradiction, its own possibility for random alternative
iteration. But any mutation (any innovation) has duration only to the extent
that it has mediation, that it can sustain a circuit on a given
environmental scale. To do so entails a transfiguration of value between
bodily limit-form and environmental limit-horizon - a reterritorializing of
the machinic architectonics of inhabitation. These take place on multiple
temporal scales, from nanoseconds to millennia, and as a Geology of Morals
fabricate with us the condition of durable space.

It is precisely on the fissuring cusps of such convergences and divergences
that Marcos Novak locates the evolutionary logic of architecture itself. For
Novak, the emergence of the digital as a sovereign space constitutes a novel
speciation within the genealogy of architectonic investigation. Far from
being mere tool, digital spatiality is a new body, a new environment and new
condition of intra- and interselective pressures of ecto-, exo-, xeno- and
allogenesis as architectonic event-machines. [vi] Building and
hyperbuilding become phenotype, a manifestation of form according to the
conditional pressures of transitory economies of space-habitation. Because
digital architecture constitutes a vector of epistemological speciation from
purely molecular architecture, allogenetic processes can be anticipated.
Modulations of systemic form that emerge on the digital savannah will in
turn be spliced into the host bodies of physical architecture. The
precondition of this hybridization is the evolutionary differentiation of
the digital as a discrete axis of code-form-selection, and its ability to
thereby generate otherwise unforeseeable mutations to be later recouped.

Greg Lynn's Embryological House, likely the most publicly appreciated
genetic architectural project, reimagines dwelling according to genetic form
as a first principle of iterative animation,

"You can start with a primitive (in other words, highly symmetrical) form,
like an egg, and start to develop rules for breaking the symmetry, is the
strategy I took with the Embryological House. It's designed as a roughly
spherical form, which has all the linkages and connections of components to
it, and then you set maximum and minimum limits for each of those
components, and then the interaction of all of those things is what gives
you the endless possibilities of mutation."[vii]

The House's double skin reacts and anticipates sunlight and environmental
variables according to data received and adjusts itself accordingly. Like an
animal body, the House-body modulates its posture to any surface, and
architectonic apertures are really orifices; "the door is sphincter-likeSand
irises open and shut."

In important ways Embryological House (and perhaps Genetic Architecture as a
whole, as of this moment) remains too beholden to traditional architectural
problematics. For all its very real merit, the Embryological House is an
icon of the genetic metaphor in architecture, and in its signaling of bodily
forms and human morphologies for building systems remains, it remains at
this stage of its evolution, allegorical of genetic processes. The dwelling
system looks like the outcome of genetic processes, the biological body, but
is it itself a genetic process? It is undecided whether Embryological House
is yet genetic architecture, or rather still architecture about genetics.
The SF story that ends Embryological House leaves all the mutation on the
architecture.[viii] But we, the corporeal inhabitants, want to be
part of the mutation too! Nevertheless, for recombinant architecture, the
clear brilliance of Lynnıs project will be more fully realized when the
Embryological House is (a) grown in a dish, and/or (b) when it is able to
sexually reproduce.

Post bodies the deliberate fashioning of recombinant bodily forms (genomic
entities in the image of architecture).

Recombinant architecture presumes the wisdom of these projects and is an
elaboration of them. But where genetic architecture in these instances
infers or applies genetic grammars into the moment of creating formal
architecture, recombinant architecture looks to the figure of the
artificially designed body (genomically, surgically or otherwise realized)
as a cyborgian measure of both structure and inhabitant. To locate the
genetic turn in flesh, and not just in replicant codes or bodily signifiers,
is based on comprehensive precedent. The body is the first architecture: the
habitat that precedes habitation. Architecture looks toward the body for its
telos, its image of unified singularity, its continuous historicity. The
condition of embodiment and its material poetics of scale, temperature,
solidity and pliability, reproducibility and singularity have located the
horizon of design from Vitrivius to Virilio.

But bodies, sliced into component subvariables and statistical
predispositions, are imaged now as genomic territories, as cities of
DNA-events. Bodies, fleshy viscous bodies, are now not only the first
architecture; they are practically the first digital architecture. DNA is
binary code: it is a computational principle, and it images of the body as a
mutable infomatic field. But the body-as-digital-medium, still at the
foundation of the architectural imaginary, is like other digital media
available to cut & paste mixology. A recombinant architecture conceives the
design of the built environment according to the discursive technology the
genome, "DNA makes architecture." The bodily forms it produces are
themselves architectonic in the highest order. These genomic manifestations
are like other naturally occurring architectures, both incredibly perfect as
they are, and also available to the modifications that practical and
symbolic habitation makes from them.

>From Prometheus to Rabbi Loew and from Victor Frankenstein to Stan Lee,
hero-villain creators are signatories of the complex condensations of body,
biology, technology, and myth that appear as quasi-human icons of emergent
technological systems.[ix] In 1995, Dr. Joseph Vacanti, a
transplant surgeon at Harvard, cultured a human ear under the skin of a
mouse. The workable ear was removed and the mouse survived in tact.
Vacanti's mouse is a genesis figure for an era of radical elective
restructuring of what bodies are as machines, and machines are as bodies ­
an origin myth for multiple new design practices. This startling transgenic
being-object is a contemporary Chimera, is partially magic.[x The
image of the Ear Mouse is an icon of radical tissue engineering, of the
creative violence of science, and of the biological body now recombinant
architectonic form.

For legal, ethical, and technological reasons, the ultimate realization of
genomic digital auto-fabrication may never be fully realized, but at the
level of primary mechanics the ultramodern Body is already a highly
recombinant form. Even a cursory read through the advertisements for
innovative elective surgeries in any newspaper makes this clear. Extreme
body modification is a decidedly architectural discourse and practice. It is
a deliberate renovation of that first habitat (of the self), and of the
public production of performative space (of the singular Other). This
practice takes many guises that each constitute qualitatively different
architectonic visions, some toward a radical alien, others toward a singular
standard, though often what appears at first to be one, turns out to be the
other. From piercing fads to elective surgery, the financial and symbolic
economies of radical body modification are the precursors to a potential era
of radical genomic self-fashioning.

But where piercing, tattooing, or even more radical modifications like
implants and other plastic surgeries, are interesting in their location of
structural redesign in the flesh, it is the She-Male that most decisively
signals the sort of Chimeric complication toward which recombinant
architecture always gravitates. The She-Male, the both/and of human
bio-sexuality, is more that an affective refinishing of the corporeal form,
s/he sites the reconfigurability of even the most primary and significant
structural elements of the body. For recombinant architecture,
transsexuality is a key design index. It situates technobiology as a
malleable and reflexive structural language that can be articulated in
deliberately novel ways. Transsexuality also complicates the alibi of deep
function that accompanies speculative research into recombinant
technologies. The surgeries are not exactly medical procedures, nor are they
merely cosmetic. They are metamorphoses into innovative liminality, and
productive disruptions of the categorical universals that arbitrarily
determine the premises of both architecture as body, and body as

The body around which we situate the premise of recombinant architecture is
reconfigurable, but not necessarily organic. Bruno Latour's work locates the
production of structural agency inside and across both human and non-human
actors. These organic-inorganic circuits mutually contextualize and activate
each other in practical performance. These actor-networks also locate the
sites where desire flips from organic to inorganic modes of investment and
back again, from the incremental artificialization of the sensual body to
the sensualization of the anthropomorphic artifact. That is, correspondent
to the surgical refiguring of plasticized performative-aesthetic self is the
eroticizitation of the inorganic matter.

Recombinant architecture re-designs the built environment both as and with
artificially derived biomaterials. This is only possible because it first
understands the primary figure of biomateriality, the habiting organism, as
itself an architectural event. As ever, buildings become bodies only as
bodies become buildings. Because we look at architecture as genetic bodies,
we look at genetic bodies as architecture [xiii]

This conversion is also one between newly confused axes of interiority and
exteriority. As we come to imagine building systems in the terms and
technologies with which we understand our own bodies, as expressions of
genetic code, and also come to imagine our bodies as expressions of
architectonic-aesthetic criteria, a kind of symbolic cannibalization takes
place. The body eats the space, as the space eats the body. This omnivorous
circuit will only intensify as we come to realize ­for reasons practical and
affective- architecture that you can literally eat.

Genomic spatial systems: the application of artificial biomaterials in the
construction of the built environment (architecture as the result of genomic

As the application of genetic material engineering to the design of physical
habitats (and the reconceptualization of the material body as a now
configurable architectonic entity) recombinant architecture collapses
literal gaps between body and architecture, and names the emergence of
artificial/ artifactual genomic habitats. An ever-growing library of
structural biomaterials, genetic and genomically designed fabric systems,
measured in nanometers and kilometers, is being employed in medicine,
agriculture, military and even conceptual art. Recombinant architecture
activates these as architectural media for the purposes of making durable
human habitats.

The premise of recombinant architecture is not simply for artificial
biomaterials to replace traditional materials in the formation of
traditional forms, spaces, and programs (box, room, dwelling, house.) It is
not satisfied by 'biomorphic chairs,' nor even chairs made of genomically
designed materials. The premise rather is to explode the sitting-machine
into new bodies of spatial narrative, new modes of habitat-circuit, new
questions, and not just new answers. This redefinition of program 'from the
DNA out' will undoubtedly result in several recognizable forms. Buildings,
like bodies, have membranes, and the vocabularies of 'skin' should only
become more pronounced. Buildings, like bodies, have orifices, and the
materialities of interiorization/ exteriorization should likewise become
further pronounced, even as bodily-programmatic conventions based on them
(kitchen/ bathroom, for example) mutate beyond recognition.

The deliberate material design of tissue engineering is a far more advanced
practice than many readers in the architectural community may realize. The
range and precision with which structural biomaterials can be elaborated in
the laboratory is astonishing. Pigs may even soon fly.[xiv]

Tissue Culture Project has made pig wings. For reals. Guy Ben-Ary, Ionat
Zurr and Oron Catts are genetic artists at the University of Western
Australia in Perth. In 2000 they took umbilical pig stem cells and cultured
them into and across a sort of biopolymer net. Like ivy growing into a
lattice, the cultured pig cells multiplied and grew along this biopolymer
infrastructure shaped into the form of little wing. The pig wings will be
animated (flapping?) by muscle tissue harvested from rats. Next on the
agenda for Tissue Culture Project is to grow steak in a dish from cells
taken from a still-living sheep. They plan to eat the steak in the immediate
vicinity of the donor animal. Welcome cruelty-free meat.[xv]

If 'mammalian' flesh can be conceived, designed and constructed with this
level of precision, we anticipate that media that can be done at two inches
by two inches today could be realized tomorrow at twenty inches by twenty
inches, then twenty feet by twenty feet, then even two hundred feet by two
hundred feet. Witness a dramatic debut of the structural-architectural
career of flesh, in which the bodily matter interacts with structural
systems to create highly intricate material forms.

But Tissue Culture Project is far from the only radical gambit. Makoto
Asashima if the Institute of Medical Technology at Tokyo University led the
team that grew frog eyes. These were grown from stem cells and implanted
into blind tadpoles, which could see after the implantation. The now-sited
tadpoles grew into frogs, which could still see with their artificially
realized eyes.[xvi]

Nexia Biotechnologies of Quebec have injected a spider's gene into a goat
named Willow. Willow's milk will be processed so the protein can be used.
This silk, called Biosteel, is many times stronger than steel and has a
breaking strength of nearly three hundred thousand pounds per square inch.
It is also 25 percent lighter than synthetic petroleum-based polymers.
Another advantage of spider silk is that it is compatible with the human
body. 'BioSteel could be used for strong, tough artificial tendons,
ligaments and limbs. The new material could also be used to help tissue
repair, wound healing and to create super-thin, biodegradable sutures for
eye- or neurosurgery.' Nexia anticipates the production of very large
quantities of BioSteel the material could be used to create microscopic,
super strong sutures for operations, or as aircraft skin, or in bulletproof
clothing. Biosteel could also be used as architectural media.[xvii]

Projects like Nexia's afford architectonic machines through the merging of
genetic material from different species. This transgenic system frames the
genetic landscapes of multiple species vast territories of recombinant
media. Even organic and inorganic incorporations are mutually constitutive
within and across transversal evolutionary striations. Organic and inorganic
machines, animal and machinic phyla, are already coordinated forms in mutual
evolutionary constitution. Accordingly, xenotransplantation, should  be
comprehensively conceived not just as transgenic (between genus)  but also
transphylic (between phylum).. Reflexive architecture manifests from the
indiscrete incorporation of the genetic-machinic codes of these multiple

One step toward realizing that incorporation as an architectonic medium is
to realize it as an organic one. In January, scientists at Kinki University
near Osaka announced that they had spliced spinach gene into a pig. By
splicing the spinach FAD2 gene into a fertilized pig egg, then implanted
into a pigıs womb, scientists were able to convert about a fifth of the
piglets' saturated fatty acids into healthier linoleic acids. The first
clear advantage is that these pigs, now yet further translated into pure
pork-machines, are healthier for humans to eat. The blending of animal and
vegetable code allows for the production potentially more radically
combinatory 'materials,' which may be appropriate for eating, living in, or

Genomic Affect and Instrumental Sustainability: Bio-Ethics of Multiplication
and Singularization

The social, cultural and ethical implications of these questions raised by
human, mammalian, or living organic materials as architectural media are
enormously complex. This literally organic architecture can be benign, such
as Paul Laffoley's vegetable house, or horrific, such as the human skin
lampshade of Buchenwald.[xx]

 But the risk of very real danger can't dissuade us from activating genomic
technologies and making potentially crucial design interventions. The vision
of a truly sustainable architecture extends the responsibility of the
designer to the molecular and genetic levels of materiality. Accordingly,
architecture as a deliberate organization of matter into durable form must
locate its perspective as accountable to every possible option for the
ecologies of production-as-consumption and consumption-as-production. Guided
by this principle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart explain how
products can be "designed from the outset so that, after their useful lives,
they will provide nourishment for something new. They can be conceived as
'biological nutrients' that will easily reenter the water or soil without
depositing synthetic materials and toxins. Or they can be Otechnical
nutrientsı that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials
within closed-loop industrial cycles, rather than being 'recycled' --
really, downcycled -- into low-grade materials and uses."[xxi]

But simultaneous to the utopic logic of this vision, is also dangerous
technologization of biological expression, a reduction, in a Heideggerian
sense, of  material (animal, vegetable, mineral) not just to
genetic-chemical retention cycles and matrices, but to something
artificially ³available² to what we might call a 'post-natural attitude,' a
utilitarian reduction of the 'givenness of being' to an instrument of
recombinant invention[xxii] One of the foci of recombinant
architecture's focus on the body is a foregrounding of desire as both an
engine and benchmark of good design, Will the architecture that results from
the 'sustainable' eradication of material/symbolic expenditure be more
livable, or just more rational? After Heidegger, Paul Rabinow characterizes
this later potentiality as one that turns all the world into resource, into
fund.  But the irreducibility of affect finally makes the instrumental
reduction, however well meaning as in the case of McDonough and Braungart,
always incomplete, always in need of further alibi in order to circumvent
the functional excessiveness of expressivity.[xxii]

Anthony Vidler characterizes contemporary space in the terms of a
post-existentialist estrangement, an inability to ever be at home. The
dweller, now a dark cyborg, cycles from one uncanny displacement to another.
In Vidlerıs view not one but many derangements of body and space
characterize the modern and post-modern conditions. It is an open question
as to whether the recombinant hyperintegrations of body-as-structure into
structure-as-body signal, a delicate new intradependence between building
and inhabitant, will bring therapeutic transformative reintegrations of self
and space, or further anomie, or somehow both.[xxiv] We may find
ourselves in recombinant habitats simultaneously more similar and responsive
to our sensate bodies, more intimately incorporated with our biological
presence, and also entirely unrecognizable to us as architecture, let alone
as homes. As programmatic criteria are recalibrated according to their deep
corporeal-genetic forms (kitchen as interiorization zone, bathroom as
exteriorization zone, etc.) structural disruptions are inevitable. No more
houses, no more offices, no more chairs, no more bathrooms. Instead
impossible space/form machines that distribute these 'uses' across manifold
monstrous surfaces, orifices, membranes, circulation and detoxification
networks; some inside of us, some outside of us, some we are born with, some
we fashion.

When architecture becomes genomic, the ecological circuit between human
immune system and a buildingıs immune system is raised to primary
importance. The notion of a sick building syndrome takes on unimagined
ethical ramifications. Whether or not we come to eat our architecture, we
will internalize it on a micrological level, as we would the viruses,
bacteria, diseases of any complex organism with which we share close
quarters. When we get sick, the building gets sick. When the building gets
sick, do we get sick? Is this the hypermodern  uncanny, in Vidlerıs sense,
or the precise opposite ­ a radical reconnection with space on the most
fundamental level? And if our architecture is another sensate body with
which and in which we live, spend our most intimate moments, connect with on
a most intimate way; what kinds of erotic desire for our habitats are then
inevitable? What kinds of desire will it have for us? Will we fuck our
architecture, and if not, what good is it? Will our architecture sexually
reproduce, with us or on its own?[xxv] What selection variables
might pressure our architecture to move toward parthenogenic strategies?

The integrations of recombinant, nanotechnological and pervasive
computational technologies into a indiscrete hybrid of digital, mechanical,
and biotechnologies drive radical shifts in our perceptions of body, family,
collective, space, city, region and environment. As a momentum of
desolidification, this techno-genomic modernity is of course about much more
than architecture per se. These integrations and disintegrations reopen
Ocodeı to radical, even monstrous modes of experimentation that leave us
without adequate Oexpert systemsı to arbitrate them, and without certain
capacity to adjudicate in advance our own inevitable involvements.

 A few months ago, when asked by a New York Times reporter about the ethical
difference between genomic design and eugenics, I said that ³projects which
singularize our standards of beauty are probably bad, and projects which
multiply our standards of beauty are probably good.² Bioartist Adam Zaretsky
wants blue-skinned children, and why, ultimately, is that worse than wanting
blue-eyed children?[xxvi]


[i]  This essay summarizes the research agenda of a seminar I
am currently teaching at SCI_Arc, The Southern California Institute of
Architecture, Summer 2002. Thanks are due to Karl Chu for helping clear the
institutional ground for this unusual investigation, and to my students for
their support and criticism. Thanks also to Ed Keller, Willea Ferris,
Barbara Huang, Norman Klein, Adam Eeuwens, Kazys Varnelis, Roger Friedland,
Robert Sumrell, Alexi Bourbeau and Autolux, Lev Manovich, Christian Moeller,
Miltos Manetas, Richard Metzger, Coco Conn, Jane Metcalfe, Marcos Novak,
Silvia Rigon, Jessica D'Elena, Steve from Critical Art Ensemble, Ruth West,
Barbara Kruger, Sean Crowe, Josh Nimoy, Lida Abdullah, Michael  Speaks, Paul
Petriunia, Mark Pauline, Bruna Mori, Richard Widick, Eric Owen Moss,
Victoria Vesna, Katharine Wright, and especially Adam Zaretsky for the
conversations that lead the to formulation of these premises.

[ii] Genomic infomatics as the new mirror stage: Lacanıs theory
of the mirror stage narrates the construction of self in developmental
relationship to its reflection, its specific inscription as an optical
auto-response. Contemporary and emergent technologies of genomic imaging
(genetic screening, mapping and differentiation, among them) may work to
produce an axis of martial differentiation of the social body (the Gattica
scenario) but also a inscription of self-image that displaces the literal
Omirrorı as primary info-architectural device of self-becoming.

[iii] While our contemporary moment, one in which fundamental
understandings of body and matter are being redefined before us, is
historically specific and radically unique, it is important to understand
that the recombinant imaginary is a transvaluation of deep and varied
mythological, scientific, literary and practical histories of the biological
body as a Chimeric and hybrid machine. A current favorite of mine the
Lamb-Tree. I quote Claude Douret's early 17th Century description,
"a zoophyte, or plant animal, called in the Hebrew Jeduah.  It was in form
like a lamb, and from its navel, grew a stem or root by which this Zoophyte,
or plant-animal, was fixed attached, like a gourd to the soil below the
surface of the ground, and, according to the length of its stem or root, it
devoured all the herbage which it was able to reach within the circle of its
tether. The hunters who went in search of this creature were unable to
capture, or remove it, until they had succeeded in cutting the stem by
well-aimed arrows, or darts, when the animal immediately fell prostrate to
the earth, and died. Its bones being placed with certain ceremonies and
incantations in the mouth of one desiring to foretell the future, he was
instantly seized with a gift of divination, and endowed with the gift of
prophesy."  ( Claude Douret, Historie Admirable des Plantes, 1605)

[iv] Karl Chu, "Genetic Space"

[v] Chu, "The Unconscious Destiny of Capital (Architecture In
Vitro/ Machinic In Vivo)" in Neil Leach, ed. Designing For the Digital
World. Wiley-Academy. West Sussex, 2002. pp. 127-133.

[vi] See Mark/Space:
Exogenesis: "genesis from anterior source," "genesis from outer space;" see
Ectogenesis: "genesis outside the womb", "genesis is artificial or exterior
womb architectures" see

Xenogenesis: "sexual reproduction with aliens, different species," "the
supposed generation of offspring completely and permanently different from
the parent" see

Allogenesis: "xenogeneis from two species that share ancestors," sexual
reproduction between two gene groups after speciation has divided them."
Novak's application cites the differentiation of the digital realm from the
purely molecular architecture as a genetic speciation, from which future
allogenesis will occur. See

[vii] See Mark Deryıs article for ArtByte and Lynn's
forthcoming Architecture for an Embryologic Housing, Birkhauser
Architectural., 2002.

[viii] Quoted from Dery, "At 4:15 A.M., it breathed in. It
awoke to the faint burning of a flickering blue light in its gullet and a
general feeling of indigestion. It rested fitfully, as if it had eaten a bad
meal the night before, with the persistent feeling that an agitated animal
was living in its gut. The irritation of a muffled grinding sound from
within itself continued, until it was inevitable that the day would begin in
the dark. Its surface began glowing as electrical impulses crisscrossed its
skin. Warm water began coursing through the capillary tubes beneath its
surface and its body walls began to radiate heat. The acrid smell of brewing
coffee wafted from its pores as its skin began breathing out the previous
night's stench. Its iridescent skin shone as the morning's coating of dew
formed on its metallic curves. It would be several hours before the sun rose
and penetrated its scaly protective skin for the first few hours of the day.
Until then, squeaking with the sounds of an awakening digestion system, it
would twitch and hum in its earthen nest, warming and activating from the
inside out."

[ix] Prometheus: Greek mythological hero who stole fire and
gave it to the humans. He also, fashioned the first humans out of clay.
Pausanias describes the tablets that "smell like human skin." The locals
nearby a temple, which may be to Prometheus, claim these are those from
which Prometheus fashioned the first humans.
Rabbi Loew: According to Judaic legend, the 16th Century Rabbi  who
constructed the Golem, a hulking manservant, out  of clay. In Paul
Weggenerıs 1914 film version, Der Golem, it defended the Jews of Prague from
a King who would have them expelled.
Victor Frankenstein: Mary Shelleyıs early 19th century doctor-alchemist who
created a living humanoid from an electric assemblage of cadaver parts. His
tumultuous relationship with his Creation, animated variously by fear,
jealousy, hatred, admiration, and murderous rage, is itself a persistent
metaphor for scientific hubris and avarice.
Stan Lee: the mind behind Marvel Comics' multiple mutant-heros, including
Spider-Man and the X-Men.

[x] Partially magic, and also primordially unclean in the sense elaborated
by structuralist anthropology; see Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An
Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Danger, Routledge, New York and
London. 1984.

[xi] Brother-doctors Joseph and Charles Vacanti claim several
spectacular culture transplantations and are (perhaps) the Beverly and Eliot
Mantle of tissue culture engineering.  See
<> and also David Cronenberg's
1988 film, Dead Ringers.

[xii] Transexuality complicates primary categorical thinking
in such a way, that the very generative power of the 'category' as a
technology of knowledge is both cast in relief and called into question.
Analogous to this the entry that for Foucault "shattered all the familiar
landmarks of his thought." We may very well use this list as a new system
with which to categorize emergent bio-sexual differentiation! In "The
Analytical Language of  John Wilkins," "Borges describes 'a certain Chinese
Encyclopedia,' the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it
is written that animals are divided into: (a) those that belong to the
Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs,
(e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those included in the
present classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j)
innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l)
others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that from a
long way off look like flies."

[xiii] The momentum toward this postnatural design logic
inspires extremely optimistic and pessimistic assessments in the extreme.
This split is currently manifested in popular science culture by dueling
best-selling books by (optimistic) Gregory Stock, Redesigning Humans: Our
Inevitable Genetic Future, Houghton-Mifflin, New York, 2002; and
(pessimistic) Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the
Biotechnology Revolution, Farrar, Straus & Girpaux, New York, 2002.

[xiv] Ted Krueger makes a similar argument in the paper
³Heterotic Architecture² given at Roy Ascott's Center for Advanced Inquiry
into the Interactive Arts, Newport, Wales, UK. 1998
"This paper argues that an adaptive and responsive architecture may be
developed by the incorporation of biological materials in bulk as
functioning devices. Techniques of tissue culturing may be used in concert
with genetic manipulation to produce functioning biological materials with
properties appropriate to architectural media. Hybrid techniques leveraging
the capabilities of both organic and inorganic materials will lead to the
development of a heterotic architecture. The hybrid develops not through the
inorganic augmentation of living material, but vice versa. It is expected
that higher-order phenomena such as cognition and consciousness may most
readily arise within the hybrid condition."

Another Tissue Culture Project venture of particular interest to Recombinant
Architecture is "Oculus Latus." From their web site :" We (grow)  tissue
culture over three-dimensional miniaturized replicas of technological
artifacts. The results were presented in various media such as: Digital
prints, video, web site and three-dimensional artifacts. Oculus Latus "tells
the story of transformation of existing technology into the unknown realm of
a possible future in which living biological matter will seamlessly interact
with constructed systems to create the tool of the future - Semi Living
Object. This work explores themes of cutting edge technology, new approaches
to surgery and the major developments that would dramatically change ideas
and perceptions in regard to surgery and health care in particular and human
relationship with living biological matter in general."

[xvi] Artificial Frog Eyes. See the Institute of Medical
Science at the University of Tokyo
<> for a
description of the project.

[xvii] Biosteel. See Nexia Biotechnoloiges at <>
<> for a
description of the project.

[xviii] See Manuel De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent
Machines, Zone Press and MIT Press, New York and Cambridge, 1991; Bruno
Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
1993; Donna Haraway, Modest Witness at Second Millennium.
FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. Routledge. New York
and London, 1997. Octavia Butler, Dawn, Warner Books, New York, 1997.

[xix] See Kinki University Faculty of Agriculture at

tm for a description of the project.

[xx] <#_ednref20>  On the vegetable house, see Paul Laffoley.
"The use of cultured human skin as an architectural material clearly has
unacceptable cultural implications." From Ted Kreuger, Heterotic
Evidence introduced at the war crimes trial of Ilse Koch, matron of
the Buchenwald Nazi death camp. On the right is a lamp she commissioned with
a shade made from human skin. Sometime between 1954-57, serial killer Ed
Gein of Plainfield, Wisconsin fashioned a full head-to-toe suit of human
flesh, complete with mask and breasts. After his arrest for the murder of
Bernice Warden, police discovered his house to be full of furniture and toys
fashioned from human bodies, including  à la  Ilse Koch, a lampshade of
human skin. Geinıs story inspired in part the films, Psycho, Texas Chainsaw
Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.

[xxi] From publicity material for their forthcoming book,
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press, 2002

[xxii] Gail Weiss maps this reduction as one that erases
temporality,  from Obody to organism to genomic assemblage.ı See "The Durée
of the Techno-Body" in Elizabeth Grosz, ed. Becomings: Explorations in Time,
Memory, Futures, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2000. Critical Art
Ensemble sees genomic engineering as an internalization of the War Machine.
See The Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and the New Eugenics,
Autonomedia, New York, 1998.

[xxiii] See Brian Massumi, ³The Autonomy of Affect,² in
Parables For the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Simulation. Duke University
Press, Durham, NC. 2002. pp. 23-45.

[xxiv] Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in
the Modern Unhomely, MIT Press, Cambridge. 1992; and Vidler, Warped Space:
Art, Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2000.

[xxv] "Fuckable design" already, of course, exists. See .
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari ask, ³what is the relationship between the
bicycle-horn machine and the mother-anus machine?² Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism
and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis. 1972 (1983). P.2.

[xxvi] Late, late night conversation.


Benjamin H. Bratton is a Principal of The Culture Industry. He teaches at
SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture) and at UCLA. His
work traces vectors between the production and reproduction of mediate
spaces, the political anthropology of software, and the fleshy
architectonics of post-humanism. He can be contacted at

 (323) 646-8071 (mobile) | (323) 661-2691 (office) | (213) 613-2260 (fax)

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