What if you could paint your bedroom with a color that could “eat” the carbon dioxide you breathe out every night? What if instead of using gas or oil heat to make your mother’s tea, you could “fire up” a device that used living things to boil the water?
Dr. Rachel Armstrong, a medical doctor who has a PhD in architecture, is working on these sorts of “what-if” technologies. “Our homes are not just part of our well-being, but a resource,” she told the Toronto Star newspaper. “Imagine [that] your house could feed you and clean your water.”
If we could create tiny organisms that can grow, create heat, and trap sunlight, we could use them in our homes and buildings. Today she’s developing protocells, chemical agents that act like living cells and that could be used to build new structures and restore old ones we want to save.
Her Future Venice project proposes using protocells to rescue the Italian coastal city, built centuries ago on wooden beams, anchored deep in the lagoon. Many of those ancient supports are rotting away— her proposal is to cover the underwater supports with limestone and grow an artificial reef. And save Venice from sinking into the Adriatic Sea forever.
But Dr. Armstrong is also looking way, way ahead. Working with the Icarus Interstellar, she is devising a new kind of environmental design for a starship research platform, to be put in orbit around the Earth within 100 years!
What does she think is most important for kids who want to design starships and decide what the world will be like 100 years from now? Don’t worry about the right or wrong way to learn or to do things, she stresses. Our imaginations are the most valuable tool we have for designing the future.
“Nurture your creativity,” she says, “and find something that matters!”
Hope interviews Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University, at the Barbican Conservatory, London.