Tissue Architectures: Sabin+Jones LabStudio

Curator's Note

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.  


Jennifer, fascinating post, thank you for bringing this work to my attention. Specifically this is of interest for me concerning, as you state, "generative design." One way I might understand this phrase, perhaps mistakenly, is how confrontations and interactions between bodies are always a form of intensive absorption. That is, bodies--human or not--all have some capacity to engage and absorb the interaction with entities in an environment, and this confrontation places stress on the design of a given body. This call for "tissueness" or "cellness," then, would also seem to be a call for an even greater plurality of stresses invited by various alternative "spatial and temporal registers." What would seem generative in this case, and for my own interests, would be the capacity to confront, engage, absorb, and grow from such interactions that would allow the design of things to remain both plastic and expansive at all times.

This is a wonderful post, Jennifer-- thank you for always offering such provocative ideas. It's particularly interesting following Rosalind's discussion of the "unseen pocket of time." I wonder if we might make a connection between the pocket of time and the scaffolding developed by Sabin+Jones LabStudio, which, as you say, is as significant "as the forms themselves." For both examples, the hidden-- the unseen-- the shadow-- structures how the visual or the formal appear. Both cinema and architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries have similarly been obsessed with what lies between. I'm reminded here of Norman McLaren's famous description of animation as "the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames." That Sabin+Jones LabStudio must use animation to illustrate its undertakings (here, ECM) points to the connections between animation, film, and science as well as modern and contemporary architecture's movement toward transparency, plasticity, media objects, and, eventually, biological forms. Ensuring the presence of empty space, room to breathe, might produce what Adam suggests as the ability to remain expansive: the ongoing growth of forms biological, aesthetic, cinematic, architectural, and human.

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