"Growing a city from the bottom up" could save the human race

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: developing "living architecture" could help humanity survive, claims senior University of Greenwich lecturer Rachel Armstrong, who is investigating how we could grow a city in space.

Visualisation of living architecture by Dan Tassell
Visualisation of living architecture by Dan Tassell

"The world in which our cities are situated is lively," says Armstrong. "A living city could confer survival strategies and some form of adaptation to our buildings."

Living buildings could "absorb pollutants and carbon dioxide," she claims, and even offer better protection against natural disasters.

"In an age when we're faced with repeated flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, I think that to design for instability is a really powerful thing."

Illustration of what the starship Persephone might look like by Phil Watson & Jon Morris
Illustration of what the starship Persephone might look like by Phil Watson & Jon Morris

Armstrong, who is also a senior TED fellow and founder of research group Black Sky Thinking, is currently investigating how we would grow cities from soils as part of a project called Persephone. Led by the Icarus Interstellar foundation, the ambition of the project is to achieve interstellar space travel by the year 2100.

Illustration of what the starship Persephone might look like
Illustration of what the starship Persephone might look like

"Persephone is the design and engineering of the living interior of a starship," Armstrong explains. "This is a world ship. It contains human inhabitants and therefore the interior of this space needs to support these peoples for the duration of their journey, and that could be hundreds, potentially thousands of years."

Visualisation of synthetic soil on the starship Pershephone
Visualisation of synthetic soil on the starship Pershephone

She continues: "The architectures within this space will be grown from the bottom up, using the soils. The soils themselves will not be made inert like they are on earth – like bricks. In Persephone the culture would be to keep the liveliness of everything. So we will be extruding structures from soils. In some ways I can think of them being like the caves in Cappadocia in Turkey."

Cappadocia caves, Turkey
Cappadocia caves, Turkey

While Armstrong admits the realisation of such a "world ship" is far off, she believes research into biological buildings and construction methods is important for life on earth.

"This might seem quite esoteric and 'out there'," she says. "But Persephone is essential for us because it asks us questions about what survivability and sustainability is on our planet right now."

Rachel Armstrong
Rachel Armstrong

The music featured in the movie is a track called Everything Everywhere Once Was by UK producer 800xL. You can listen to more original music on Dezeen Music Project.

The movie features additional footage from Dan Tassell's The Battersea Experiment.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is a year-long collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers