What Autodesk’s Acquisition of “The Living” Means for Architecture

The Living’s “Hy-Fi” installation at MoMA PS1. Image © Kris Graves

Software giant Autodesk has acquired forward-thinking design studio The Living, headed by David Benjamin. The Living will become the latest addition to ’s research network, in a move which Benjamin says “will enable The Living to do more of what we are already doing and super-charge it.”

Among the practices which Autodesk could have bought, The Living may at first glance seem like a counter-intuitive choice; the practice most recently made news with the opening of their ‘Hy-fi’ installation at MoMA PS1 last Friday. Why would a company that produces software be interested in the work of a studio that grows bricks out of mushrooms? Isn’t that all a bit too… biological? Not exactly. Read on after the break to find out what Autodesk has up its sleeve.

The Living’s “Hy-Fi” installation at MoMA PS1. Image © Kris Graves

The simple answer is that the worlds of software programming and biological construction materials are not as far removed from each other as you may think. It’s been over a year since Autodesk added Andrew Hessel to its research team; as described by Bloomberg Businessweek, Hessel is a “Synthetic Biology evangelist”, whose work in Autodesk’s ’Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter‘ research group aims to program the DNA of micro-organisms a little like the software in a computer – creating microscopic machines that work to create whatever you tell them to.

In his interview with ArchDaily last year, Hessel talks excitedly about synthetic biology as “software that makes hardware”, and of buildings that could grow from a pre-programmed seed. It’s an interesting idea that might seem little more than a pipe dream, but it’s an idea that Autodesk wants to get behind. I an interview with India’s Economic Times, the Chief Technology Officer of Autodesk Jeff Kowalski said “if I had to pick [an area of research] that I think is really provocative – and it’s in the really early stages – I have to say that it is design for synthetic biology.”

The Living has also been involved in this area of research before: within the same research group in which Andrew Hessel works, they were collaborators on Project Cyborg, a software platform of cloud-based design tools which, among other things, provides “multi-objective design optimization”. This design optimization can be seen in the concept video below, where a bacterial system designed to manufacture biological building materials is optimized for factors such as material use, sustainability, structural strength, and cost.

What’s more, Autodesk is not content to invest time on research then simply let that research gather dust. In addition to its host of research teams, it has a dedicated group to work on ‘research transfer’. Their website states: ”Our researchers are proud to have a dedicated team of professionals to help move research outcomes from their prototypes and publications into real products. We gain great satisfaction from helping people to solve their problems faster, better, and more intuitively.”

With all this in mind, it looks like this move to acquire The Living might be a move to turn the pipe dreams of Andrew Hessel into real, buildable solutions. Could this be the time for synthetic biology in architecture?

Cite: Stott, Rory. "What Autodesk’s Acquisition of “The Living” Means for Architecture" 01 Jul 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=522532>
  • David Hard

    And yet they STILL don’t offer 3DS Max for the Mac.