For most architects, moss and lichen growing up the side of a structure is a bad sign. Building materials are designed specifically to resist growth, and much research has been done to develop paint treatments and biocides that make sure the concrete and wood and bricks that sheath a building aren’t colonized by living things. But a new group is trying to change all that. Instead of developing surfaces resistant to moss and lichen, the BiotA lab wants to build facades that are “bioreceptive.”
BiotA lab, based in University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, was founded last year. The lab’s architects and engineers are working on making materials that can foster the growth of cryptograms, organisms like lichens and mosses. The idea is that ultimately they’ll be able to build buildings onto which a variety of these plants can grow. Right now, they’re particularly focused on designing a type of bioreceptive concrete.
Marcos Cruz, one of the directors of the BiotA lab, says that he has long been interested in what he sees as a conflicted way of thinking about buildings and beauty: “We admire mosses growing on old buildings, we identify them with our romantic past, but we don’t like them on contemporary buildings because we see them as a pathology,” he says. Cruz says that he wants the BiotA project to push back against the idea that cleanliness is the ideal that buildings should strive for. “Architects were wearing a straightjacket, that only in the last 20 years architects started shredding off.”