Nature by Default: Bioreceptive Design for Architecture and Urban Development

Last November, I traveled to my parents’ house to spend Thanksgiving with family. During dinner, my aunt recounted how terrible a day she had when her son’s iPhone broke. How could he possibly go through an entire day without it?! How could she possibly get through the day without being able to call her son’s personal phone?! I was surprised by how emotional my aunt and cousin became while describing that day.

Between Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, I went looking for my two youngest cousins who had finished eating and left the “kid table” well before those at the “adult table.” I found them sitting side-by-side on the floor of a hallway, nose-to-screen. No wonder it was so quiet. Past family holidays were punctuated with screams of laughter and singing as my younger cousins prepared shows to perform for the adults, or chased each other around the house in their active interpretation of the game hide-and-seek. That holiday I realized the screen-centric world of Black Mirror wasn’t as extreme a view of the future as I’d thought.

Bioreceptive magnesium phosphate concrete for panels on building exteriors (from the BiotA Lab [1])
As a biodesigner, I’d like to create another alternative view of a future; one that replaces screen time with nature time. When we walk outside in modern cities today, we have to go out of our way to walk through natural environments. Some cities have large parks that provide havens of green space in densely populated places, such as New York. Other cities line the streets with trees and build around bodies of water, such as Seattle. Nevertheless, these experiences of nature are constructed. Unless your parents send you to an outdoor education program or you go hiking through the woods, as a city dweller, you miss out on natural outdoor experiences.

Sketch concept: how bioreceptive panels applied to existing urban houses could support mycorrhizal networks

Using tree houses as inspiration, my group and I will show a future in which living with nature becomes the default. Today, sustainable lifestyles require expensive solar-panel installations, rooftop gardens and green walls. We’ll show how bioreceptive design [1] can re-introduce nature to our cities. If the walls of our buildings support ecological habitats the way tree bark does, we could overcome the barriers to nature engagement that negatively affect our health, both physical and mental [2] (see “nature-deficit disorder” and related research). Then, perhaps we could create mycorrhizal networks in cities, integrating these networks that trees use to share nutrients in forests [3] into urban environments. Integrating nature into cities by default would create healthier lifestyles for plants and for people.


[1] Cruz, M., & Beckett, R. (2016). Bioreceptive design: a novel approach to biodigital materiality. Architectural Research Quarterly, 20(01), 51-64. doi:10.1017/s1359135516000130

[2] Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., & Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2014.05.036

[3] Bingham, M. A., & Simard, S. W. (2013). Seedling genetics and life history outweigh mycorrhizal network potential to improve conifer regeneration under drought. Forest Ecology and Management, 287, 132-139. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2012.09.025


Plant support lattices. Currently many majors’ cities follow new trends in urbanization. One increasingly more common feature is including elements of vegetation into design patterns. …

Materials that live, and die.

Plastic bag floating underwater at Pulau Bunaken


We live in a planet with finite resources and a sensitive ecosystem. Yet, we keep producing waste of all sorts, and some of it will never degrade itself. While it is common knowledge that the situation is alarming, there are no palpable solutions in the forefront. In fact, just a few days ago, the Doomsday Clock has been moved to two minutes before midnight, and while it regards both nuclear threat and climate change, it hasn’t been that close since 1953.

Due to the urgent character of the situation, creative industries attempt to respond to the challenge, and one of various examples is how designers reuse plastic waste as new forms of material, such as in Neill’s Gyro Table, or Starck’s Broom chair. Whereas the rationale behind these products is valuable, it is non-feasible that all non-degradable waste will eventually be repurposed as design pieces once day. We should not have to pick up waste and make products out of it, but rather not produce any permanent waste at all.

In a context of landfills in developing countries and plastic waste imports, it is imperative that we stop producing non-degradable materials. Our responsibility towards our planet should not only come from our consumption behaviours, but actually start with our production methods.

These are the main reasons why our group is interested in the idea of living materials that can disappear once their purpose has been fulfilled.

The idea of introducing death to living materials, and consequently to the goods they compose, can raise many questions. What kind of products would be produced? When and how should they die? Do they have a life expectancy? Are they effectively “killed”? If so, who pulls the trigger? What are the social and ethical implications around it?

Although our concept can raise many others questions, other than aforementioned ones, we like to imagine the possibility of living in a world where the likes of packaging, obsolete technology, or anything else that has no use or value should not exist.

If this theory were to become a reality, the world would dramatically change, not only in economical and environmental terms, but also in the way we value and interact with the items that surround us. We like to believe that like living beings, materials should die.




Koran, L. (2018). ‘Doomsday clock’ ticks closer to apocalyptic midnight. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2018].

Brodie Neill. (2018). Gyro Table, 2016 – Brodie Neill. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2018].

Moore, Z. (2018). Broom Chair by Philippe Starck for Emeco | Dezeen. [online] Dezeen. Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2018].

Laville, S. (2018). Chinese ban on plastic waste imports could see UK pollution rise. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2018].

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