[ The way geopolitics has impacted the way we build and the materials we build with ]


The main argument of the paper is The arrival of the terrestrial within the architectural field through living matter, by analyzing Bruno Latour’s political ‘attractors’: the  Local, the Global and the Terrestrial from an architectural standpoint (‘Down to Earth’, 2018)

This paper explores the emerging correlations between the arrival of Latour’s ‘New Climatic Regime’ of the Terrestrial (2018) and the advances within a new transdisciplinary architectural field.

Bruno Latour’s essay, ‘Down to Earth’ (2018), serves as the core for defining three geopolitical ideologies: the Local, the Local and the Terrestrial. This paper acts as an interpretation of Latour’s three agents within the realm of architecture, employing them as a reference for the governing factors that guide the way we build and the materials we build with.

It does not aim to formulate a definite answer, but rather to act as a theoretical base for opening an explorative architectural discourse about how the manifestation of the Terrestrial could be materialized within the architectural discipline.

Specifically, it derives from the hypothesis that the integration of the notion of biomateriality – through living mattercoincides with the outset of a Terrestrial Architecture. Thus, the Terrestrial, no longer regards matter as a passive or inert element, but as one that is alive (DeLanda 2007).

Building upon Latour’s idea that the unfolding of a new climatic age necessitates defining “a new set of values upon which the societies of the future must be built” (2018), the paper sets to investigate those corresponding parameters that could define a Terrestrial Architecture.

By going back to the idea of the title of living matter, we are attributing this characteristic to the context and viewpoint we are presenting the argument though. Geo – not as a location, a space that we occupy, but as an active participant in history, a land that is occupying us

By underlining the main focus on climate change that Latour discusses, we correlate it with existing climate crisis and key political events that have impacted the relation between humans and the environment. By looking at two political events the paris agreement and Brexit we can start understand the denial of the current climate crisis and the idea of preserving identity through territory.

Examining the issue of climate change from the concept of inequality, Latour emphasizes that the separation of classes serves as the core for its denial. The idea of ‘land’ is perceived within the archaic, traditional sense of ‘property’. Here, the topic of segregation derives from a social division, in which the “leading elite” can not “share the earth with the rest of the world” if they are to continue living in comfort


We analyzed Latour’s diagrams of the 3 attractors and their reorientation towards the modernization front, and we created our own diagram, be redefining what the local, the global and the terrestrial could become within an architectural context


How can architectural materiality resonate with the idea of TERRESTRIAL?

Addressing the key question by proposing one solution / a starting strategy to  Integrate biomateriality/ living matter within architecture.

Within the established context, this essay will address the theme of ‘living’ on three scales. The scale of geopolitics, the scale of ‘land’ / soil, and the scale of matter. This will offer the opportunity to also redefine those terms, by regarding them as participatory entities. In addition to being a representation of proportion, the proposed scale follows the logic of a gradient from immaterial to material. The three agents constantly affect each other and are thus part of an active system of reaction. Additionally, we define criteria for identifying case studies that belong to the Local, Global and the Terrestrial, categorizing them further by their living matter, materiality and responsiveness properties.



Based on the understanding of Latour’s 3 attractors, we define key words / criteria according to which we can evaluate the proposed case studies.



We divided the criteria in 2 main categories to exemplify what a local architecture meant: the first one focused on the idea of fighting to preserve the physical borders of their nation, by segmenting their territory

The second one consisted of imposing the idea of nationalism, by building monuments of power

The materiality of the local architecture was only an embodiment of the spirit of nationalism, a desire to exhibit an image of the government to be understood by the governed. Within this attractor, the only relationship between human and environment (or soil) follows the same hierarchy of power: nothing here is regarded as alive, there is only an urge for ownership and resources. While fighting to preserve the physical borders of their identity, the locals failed to account for the natural agents, that know no borders: “migrations without form or nation that we know as climate, erosion, pollution, resource depletion, habitat destruction. 


the criteria we established for the Global includes:a utopîc ideology, that aimed to create a universal language for mass production but failed in terms of the environment

Looking at key modernization movement and their materiality, this movement became a universal statue that was used worldwide. The key terms that were implied within this reality is the utopic vision for a universal  architecture. Their is this need to reimagine how humans would live, work and interact with the environment.

THE TERRESTRIALThe criteria we defined for the terrestrial includes the idea of a new materiality, that is developed in a very real, pragmatic manner. It also integrates the architectural field within a transdisciplinary collaboration with the field of sciences and biotechnology

Entering a new realm, a new age of THE TERRESTRIAL

“It is not men who make Nature; Nature has always existed and has always already been there; we are only discovering its secrets.”

(Latour, Bruno, and Catherine Porter. We Have Never Been Modern. Estados Unidos: Harvard University, 1991. 30)

To introduce the theoretical framework of the terrestrial, we analyzed the notion of Earth as a ‘living organism’, by starting with  James Lovelock’s proposal of the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ in 1972.  the theory argues for the reactionary capacities both living organisms and their inorganic surroundings.

We also extracted key words and phrases from Latour’s essay that helped us build onto the criteria for a terrestrial architecture strategy, by looking at the ideas of ecology, materiality and its relation with technology, as well as the responsive capacities of those materials.

Within an ecological context, we are defining how the terrestrial could define the interactions between living and non living matter within the built environment.

What the terrestrial is NOT:

“If modernist formalism veered too far towards the utopian purity of the autonomy of art, then sustainability has radically tilted the scales the other way—that is, towards the ontological primacy of the bio-environment” (Cohen and Naginski,2014)

To understand what the Terrestrial Architecture  implies, we need to also understand what the Terrestrial is not, by distinguishing between the ‘dream’ and the ‘reality’ of the current implementations of the idea of sustainability


It was not the notion of ‘growth’ that was a global utopian dream


The current ‘global application’ which is  commonly represented through a ‘green façade’:  a universal system where plants are added as an additional element to the existing façade structure.

What the terrestrial could be:

In the Terrestrial, matter is no longer a passive or inert element but it is alive.

We categorized the case studies into 4 main categories, looking at research groups, material research, project and practices.

We will characterize those principals into three categories: the ‘living matter’, the ‘materiality’, and the ‘responsiveness. The living matter infused within the architectural process could form the foundation of Latour’s idea of the Terrestrial’s embodiment of the ‘power of the sciences. In this case the adaptation of material prototypes is encompassing  the idea of an ecological cohabitation. Bio address the idea of ‘growing materials’, by implementing manufacturing strategies that consists of mycelium biocomposites. The projects could be regarded as prototypes for a new materiality that acknowledge the environment as a living organism in a scientific, methodical manner that could help set the grounds for advancing biotechnology research.



The second category of ‘materiality’ engages in the Terrestrial realm by proposing the return to raw, natural materials, with the implementation of new biological models and advanced knowledge of digital fabrication techniques.

The Mediated Matter group has been conducting extensive research into the domain of biomateriality, Undertaking the theme of  living organisms’ as a model, they utilize materials found in nature, such as cellulose, chitosan, pectin, calcium carbonate, and silk.By understanding their biological and chemical properties we can start seeing the material performance and the structural behaviour capabilities imbedded within organic matter. Biomateriality is aware of its environmental constraints, while encompassing biodegradable and renewable properties as well as using advanced fabrication methods to further reduces the negative environmental impact

The ‘living materiality’ suggests a level of ‘responsiveness’ to the surrounding environment and an engagement of the biological process to an applied system. Thus, through this lens of the Terrestrial, ‘living matter’ is able to interact and change its physical and structural properties according to its habitat.The Bio-ID team has been researching ‘responsive mechanisms’ through the use of ‘algae’, allowing them to tackle various environmental issues, such as filtering toxic chemical dyes and heavy metals out of water (‘Indus’, BioID) (fig.13) or achieving photosynthesis and absorbing air pollutants (‘Bioreceptive Concrete panels’) (fig.14).The research groups aim to use ‘living matter’ as resilient organisms that are capable to adapt and address current climatic issues, through a multidisciplinary approach of both biological spectrums and fabrication processes.


By understanding biological systems and the mechanism underlying their resilient nature, the built environment can start applying the ‘living matter’ and the ‘responsive materiality’ within its fabric, in a realistic, terrestrial manner, further engendering the integration of climatic conditions.

The terrestrial as new multidisciplinary field that encompasses the ecological awareness within construction

Ultimately, the discussion on ‘living matter’ and its resonance to the Terrestrial is one way of addressing our current environmental crisis. From the inert materiality to the alive we can start understanding how these self-regulating systems have been working in nature till now and use this within the development of the architectural discipline. However, this can only be done through a multidisciplinary action, where architects, biologists, ecologists, engineers, theorists, and others collaborate together.By interpolating Latour’s understanding of the Terrestrial and defining key terms that defines the Climatic regime, current projects and research areas under development are tackling this climate crisis and seeing the opportunity in this field for further work to evolve.

By understanding our land and our natural resources available, a new materiality can start to arise and address our current needs. This emergence of ‘living matter’ within the transdisciplinary architectural field could grow towards a of the way we build and what we build with for an environmental ecology.


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COGDELL, CHRISTINA. 2019. TOWARD A LIVING ARCHITECTURE?. [Place of publication not identified]: UNIV OF MINNESOTA Press.

Cohen, Preston Scott, and Erika Naginski. 2014. The Return Of Nature. New York (N.Y.): Routledge.

DeLanda, Manuel. MATTER MATTERS. DOMUS Magazine

Gissen, David. 2012. Subnature. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press

Latour, Bruno. 2018. Down To Earth. Cambridge: Polity Press

Latour, Bruno. 1991. We have never been Modern. Harvard: Press

Pollini, Jacques. 2013. “Bruno Latour And The Ontological Dissolution Of Nature In The Social Sciences: A Critical Review”. Environmental Values 22 (1)

Wallace-Wells, David. 2019. The Uninhabitable Earth. New York: Tim Duggan Books.*


Theory and Knowledge//Living Matter(s) in the age of the Terrestrial  is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed in the Master in Advanced Architecture 2020/21 by:

Student: Stefana Zapuc, Léa Garguet-Duport

Faculty: Jordi Vivaldi, Manuel Gausa