Peter Lloyd Jones is a spatial biologist and pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Jenny Sabin is an architect and designer, now at Cornell University. In 2006, they formed Sabin+Jones LabStudio, a unique research and design collaborative that visualizes and fabricates structural systems across both architecture and cell biology. Together, Sabin and Jones are interested in producing variable structures at both micro and macro levels that are cinematic in their dynamic behaviors exhibited over time, and performative in their responsive interactions with changing environmental contexts. Their approach lends a living complexity to the burgeoning field of generative design that algorithmically develops emergent variations in form.
When Sabin’s background in textile development, weaving and computation intersected with Jones’ research on the non-linear feedback loops between a cell and its local environment, LabStudio’s research turned towards in the form and function of the extra-cellular matrix, or ECM. The ECM is a connective tissue that provides the structural support to which cells anchor and through which they move. Its intricate micro-architecture acts as a complex scaffold that regulates a range of cell behavior and function, governing communication between cells, their growth and development, and the speed and direction of their migration. Through their research in three broad areas – cell surface, motility, and networking, all influenced by changes in the surrounding ECM environment – Sabin and Jones continue to challenge the form and function of architecture, materially and temporally, at both the micro and macro scales. Surface boundaries are no longer fixed, but tend towards the semi-permeable; structural forms don’t always stand still, but rather move with and against each other; and the interconnecting matter between these forms are as significant structurally and functionally as the forms themselves.
As Sabin and Jones suggest in a report to the American Institute of Architects: “perhaps architecture can take a cue from biology in matching the complexity of its generative design models to the very dynamic features of the living environment and organic milieu in which the architecture is a part. Or, perhaps architects might learn from these biological models so that architecture acquires ‘tissueness’ or ‘cellness’, and is not merely ‘cell- or tissue-like’.” Perhaps, indeed – as we begin to think about architecture in other scales, with other spatial and temporal registers, and from other trans-disciplinary vantage points.