Collaborate with other sectors to address our common challenges

Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architechture, Newcastle University

In my work I take an alternative approach to environmental design that couples the computational properties of the natural world with the productivity of soils. I call the synthesis that occurs between these systems and their inhabitants “living” architecture. I believe converging multiple disciplines in this way offers us the best way of achieving sustainable innovation.

Through shared experiments that meaningfully connect with other disciplines, science can become fundamental to our wider culture. While “solution finding” often remains the focus of scientific investigation, multi-disciplinary experimentation offers us a means of asking better questions regarding our common challenges. In this way, we may improve and expand upon common visions for human development that speak to grand ambitions, while keeping their realization within reach.

Science has a particular approach to experimentation that it can bring to the table in collaborating with a spectrum of disciplines that embrace the arts, design and humanities. Through such multi-disciplinary collaboration, we can create an inclusive platform for our imaginations, values and ethics, which are core to civilized society. By testing our ideas and prototyping them, such partnerships can go beyond current modes of innovation that create and extend divides between technological “haves” and “have-nots”.

Encouraging scientific collaboration with all areas of society can bring about a new way of thinking for humanity that is concerned with knowledge sharing over product making. Keeping ethics at the core of its activities it may also be possible to rethink how we produce the materials to sustain society while empowering people through their choices and differences.

When science works outside its own areas of expertise it may be possible to establish ways of producing and living, which are more compatible with our local opportunities, social conditions and resources. Can scientific ways of thinking and making can lay the technical foundations for innovations that allow our planet to begin to recover from the intense, natural resource intensive practices that have characterised the present industrial era, and distribute these practices more widely across the globe.

In this way, we may begin to invent alternative futures for humanity, which work in concert with our natural resources and subvert the present extinction scenarios that characterise the Anthropocene. Through an expanded community of multidisciplinary collaboration and experimentation, we can mindfully embark on a journey of shared discovery towards a new, more sustainable era.

Rachel Armstrong is Professor of Experimental Architecture at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University. She was a Rising Waters II Fellow with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (April-May 2016), TWOTY futurist 2015, Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and a 2010 Senior TED Fellow. 

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