Sometimes while joking with my old friends who work as architects, I’ll offer my own summary of the entire history of the profession: “Let me just go ahead and boil this down for you: it was built to keep the poor people away.” It’s an absurd summary, and is far removed from the reality and concerns of practicing architects. More rational people might summarize the recent history of architecture (since Modernism) using either popular dictum from Mies van der Rohe, “less is more,” or another from Le Corbusier that describes architecture as a “machine for living in.” But, more recently, there seems to have been a shift toward thinking of buildings as organisms. I can’t think of a snappy saying associated with this shift, although I think the cover of the first Mark Magazine was getting somewhere with, “Let’s Build Trees!”
That’s why it’s no surprise to see that the recently completed La Trobe University Institute for Molecular Science described in biological terms. The façade of the building is not the façade, but rather the skin of the building, and the skin of this particular building is cellular. Cellular as in the “cellular exterior of the building is derived from ideas about expressing the molecular research that is being undertaken within the building.” This exterior is dominated on its two largest sides by hexagonal window patterns. The hexagonal molecule that immediately comes to mind is benzene, while the only hexagonal cells I can come up with are these hexagonal cells grown by smart folks in Boston. The description of the molecular research center goes on to say that the “cellular concept also creates a framework for a number of distinctive spaces for students to occupy or for research staff to meet and collaborate,” which are the cantilevered spaces extruded from the matrix of cells that make up large swaths of the building’s skin.
The building was realized by Lyons Architecture, in a part of Australia where I imagine all of the insects are lethally poisonous. And, to some, the cellular expression of this project may resemble a kind of malignancy. But that seems like a shallow reading of this project, which must function in ways more than skin deep to be successful. Only time will tell if the building ages gracefully, or sits around like an obsolete fax machine before someone pulls the plug. For now, the students using the building are the ones breathing life into it. Even if research buildings are just dressed up cages of mechanical systems, they are cages where people interact and learn. So when students course through the halls or interact in the spaces beneath its skin, they turn the building into a living machine, which is a kind of organism if you ask me, even if that organism will inevitably become senescent.
Found through designboom