Agency of Matter : First Prototype


Concept: The Agency Of Matter

Before I could start addressing the question around whether we can use life as a discourse to create architecture, I wanted to address the questions of what the building blocks of life are and how this defines what living or nonliving means. For me, this is a metaphysical as much as a physical question and has been asked by philosophers and scientist for centuries before me.

Lucretius, a Roman poet and philosopher was one of the first to identify that we are all made up of the same essential building blocks. He called this the ‘seed of things.’ John Dalton later  verified this concept and called it the atom. Alan Turing then spoke of how homogenous bits of matter react to create differentiation in a process called morphogenesis.


This concept, that we all stem from the same basic elements, that then differentiate through patterns and reactions to form groups that display collective  behavior in a complex system (also known as emergence) is what I would like to use to support my argument.

One cannot, however, consider the composition of entities as a pre-determined occurrence informed by DNA or chemical reactions. The outward expression of matter is an affective response to the environment or system that it find itself within and will grow and adapt to this environment. Thus the form, dimension and identity that an entity will take is only partially determined, but it is the subjection to affect that ultimately gives it agency.

What is it about the affective response of nature to create form, dimension and identity that we so often find universally beautiful? Is this the key to the agency of matter?  I started this investigation on a fairly metaphysical level and will investigate it more on biological and physical level moving ahead.


Platonic Solids







The ideas of Sacred Geometries, Platonic Solids, Fibonacci, the golden ratio, all reference ways in which recurring patterns in nature seem to hold a key in creating the ‘aura’ or beauty of a thing. Plato reduced the world to 5 basic solid shapes that represent the fundamental world elements. The ‘vesica piscis’ represents the the spiritual dimension that creates a ‘sympathetic vibration’ at the point where two or more vortices of energy meet. Anu in Sanskrit is a sacred deity that is both infinitesimal and universal and represents “a centre of potential vitality, with latent intelligence in it”.  Anu as a symbol is also represented as a double vortex




Flower of Life







These concepts are all ways in which we have been abstracting cosmic meaning from mathematical forms in nature. They speak of a mathematical ideal, a perfection, a truth.

There seems to be a desire in the human condition to find a universal truth, the Philosopher’s Stone as it were. Some seek this truth through practical methods and consider the world to be quantifiable; made up of basic shapes, platonic solids and atoms. On the other end of the spectrum, some believe in a more metaphysical truth often searching as far out as the 13th dimension where they believe one finds Convergence that is represented by complex mathematical symbols and representational models. But wherever one lies within this spectrum, there seems to be a mathematical concept that represents this search and is often visible as a natural occurrence in nature or replicated in the built environment. The forms, structures and beauty derived from these models are often not only perceived as beautiful, but also holds the key to structural and functional integrity on the highest level.

As my first prototype I was thinking about these mathematical concepts and what they represent to create a simple, paper exploration of the double vortex, a symbol as mentioned above that does not only hold spiritual meaning, but also occurs in the minutia of biophotons, to water masses and air patterns and to the expanses of the cosmos.


Phi Vortex Paper Cutout

I wanted to create an object that investigates these elements, but also represents a potential architecture. Although the shape does not take into account the function, it does take into account the wealth and knowledge one can gain from understanding the world we live in from both a physical and metaphysical level.

I also wanted to investigate simple structures that though efficiency in materials and physics can create maximum structural integrity; and more often than not when one gets this balance right this resultants in a form and volume that is considered universally beautiful. (Other examples are hyperbolic paraboloids, voronoi cells, fluid dynamics etc.)

Parametric design often used in 3D printing and design employs this technique to minimize material, maximise structure and draws inspiration from patterns in nature.

I have since moved on to a second iteration of prototypes that look at how these building blocks differentiatie and then start working together to create different expressions of form and structure that would help me develop my thesis concept. I looked at the properties of hyperbolic growth in nature and started to investigate the structures, responsivity and potential uses of biomaterials. (I have included natural inspiration next to each prototype.)

Hyperbolic growth:

Self-generating structures that can grow (or be erected) rapidly really interest me and I have done some experimentation in chemical reactions that expand to create structure-like and life-like forms. I also want to look at how performance and growth are optimized by physical properties or chemical reaction in the environment.

Cellular Foam

  • Chemical Compound:  Triethanolamine (surfactant), Butane (propellant)
  • Chemical Reaction:  Actuation through agitation or fermentation
  • Occurrence in Nature: Sea sponges, corals


foam from AnnA KollA on Vimeo.

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Membrane Filled : Pneumatic (Or Hydraulic)

  • Chemical Compound:  Air or water in tensile membrane
  • Reaction:  Structure stabilized by pressure.
  • Occurrence in Nature: Hydrae, Algae, Mushrooms

Pneumatic from AnnA KollA on Vimeo.

FungusTreeEar01 FungusTreeEar02 (1)


Tree Ear Mushroom ‘deflated’ to survive during periods of drought and expanded during the rainy seasons.




  • Chemical Compound: Sodium Acetate
  • Chemical Reaction: Supersaturation – change in balance or environment sets off the reactions.
  • Occurrence in Nature: Crystals


Crystalike from AnnA KollA on Vimeo.



Biological materials:

I need to start investigating the properties of natural biology and I started with elements that I have knowledge of. Although not traditional prototypes, they are growth experiments that reveal behavioural and structural patterns. Unfortunately as with all biological materials they take a while to grow and therefore making something out of the material takes planning and patience.


  • Composition: Acetobacter & Yeast
  • Uses: Create a leather-like fabric by drying the ‘mother’ or scoby.
  • Form: Takes on the form of container that it is in.
  • Occurrence in Nature: Any environment where ethanols are formed : Vinegars, Wine, Plants
  • Responsivity: Metabolizes sugar to produce alcohol



  • Composition: Cellulose Structure
  • Uses: Can be used for bio-reactors, fabrics and food.
  • Form: Many
  • Occurrence in Nature: Water bodies
  • Responsivity: Photosynthesis. Cell walls are made up of cellulose structure.

 asd alga pic0002

Algae from under my microscope, the last photograph is algae treated with alcohol that denatures the algae and leaves only the cellulose. Cellulose can be used in bioplastics.


  • Composition: Chitin Structure
  • Uses: Can be used for insulation, biobricks, food, fabric. bioplastics.
  • Form: Many
  • Occurrence in Nature: Mushrooms
  • Responsivity: Rapid growth, metabolizes toxins, chitin in skin similar to that of crustaceans, very resilient and hardy.

pic0008 pic0009


Mycelium from under my microscope showing the mycelial strands and the chitin of the cell walls.


At present my research is still very topographical, but I am hoping to delve a bit deeper as my own expertise grows.  For the next step in my research I want to investigate areas of disaster to see if the remnants will be suitable for creating new structures and what the chemical or biological requirements would be to create these new materials and structures. I also want to investigate more practical considerations such as access or creation of  communications, transport, tools and energy and how to mobilise the survivors to contribute to rebuilding the areas.

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