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Investigating the philosophy behind near-living architecture

At a glance
The challenge

Conveying the merits of an emerging style of architecture

The solution

Apply philosophical theories of emergence and what it means to be living

The outcome

Philip Beesley Architecture publishes new book and obtains a conceptual analysis to inform future installations

What's next?

Philosophy department to launch a new practical degree program

In the summer of 2014, University of Waterloo graduate student Ty Branch started a Mitacs Accelerate internship as a philosopher in residence at the architecture firm Philip Beesley Architect Inc. (PBAI). The project, a first of its kind partnership between Mitacs and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo, focused on how ‘near-living’ architecture interacts with its environment.

Near-living architecture is an emerging style that incorporates biological features to make environments more responsive to occupants in that space. PBAI’s installations are mini ecosystems — chemically infused and biologically active layers — that perform biochemical reactions like osmosis. They literally react and change in relation to inhabitants of the space.

The roots of this concept lie in hylozoism, the ancient belief that all matter has life. Ty’s research asked such questions as what it means to be living and what applications near-living architecture might have to theories of emergence. Even the terms used to define near-living architecture are important because they speak to fundamental questions of what “living” means. In addition to her research, Ty helped edited the publication of PBAI’s latest book.

There’s something to being in these spaces and working on these problems with the intention of communicating your experience that you can’t read in a book. Having this experience will make me a more competitive candidate on the job market,” says Ty.

Through Mitacs Accelerate, PBAI had access to a direct and personalized assessment of the philosophical themes of their work, as well as recommendations for how they convey the merit of their work.

“Mitacs Accelerate is effective in drawing together the ingredients that make collaborations with academia really productive. Ty brought a type of conceptional analysis from her background in philosophy that had very specific value for us. Investing in philosophy has produced a tremendous enhancement of the outcomes of our work,” says architect Philip Beesley.

As a result of her internship, the Department of Philosophy at U of W is looking to create a practical Philosophy degree; they’re using Ty’s Mitacs experience as a framework to approach it.  

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program and the Government of Ontario for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.