Plug-in Habitat

Paula Nishijima

24 November 2022 – 25 February 2023

Plug-in Habitat is an artistic research project developed by artist Paula Nishijima during a residency period at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial as part of EMAP (European Media Art Platform).

Plug-in Habitat is named after the famous ‘Plug-in City’ (1963-66) by the neo-futuristic architectural group Archigram. ‘What happens if the whole urban environment could be programmed and structured for change?’ was the driving question of the architect Peter Cook.

This notion of an architecture that adapts to change—present in their vision of a mutable city orchestrated by prefab removable dwelling capsules—is embodied in the intelligence of plants, whose structure is modular and distributed, without a central control, but with a cooperative organisation that adjusts to altering conditions in their context.

In Plug-in Habitat, the artist investigates these adaptive strategies of plants as well as their relationship with other species and the environment. Through a biodesign-imagining approach, she creates modular units inspired by this research, which are connected among themselves and relate to each other in a symbiotic way, adapting together to changes in the environment.

Nishijima works in collaboration with Asturian architect Marlén López, co-founder of Laboratorio Biomimetico, a research and training space in Ladines. The Redes Natural Park—considered a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO since 2001—was the place where they did field research into local species and their biological strategies to adapt to the harsh climate of mountains. An investigation into biomaterials was also incorporated to the project, whose physical components are made of bioplastic. The artist also received input from Prof. Tobias Seidl, full Professor of Bionics at the Westfälische Hochschule in Bocholt, Germany, with whom she developed the functional architecture of Plug-in Habitat.

Plug-in Habitat is an interactive installation, a hybrid system composed of one living organism, a cushion plant located in the Atlantic Botanical Garden in Gijon, and two artificial modules. The modules in the exhibition receive information from the plant about how it adapts to the changes in the environment—and respond to each other in a feedback loop of interactions that regulates the whole system.

The artist chose cushion plants as inspiration and source of data since these are known for their capacity of regulating parameters such as humidity and temperature, within their ‘cushion’ form, serving as a microclimatic shelter for other species. They are the model for one of the modules created during the residency. The second module is inspired by the widespread presence of thorns and spiky structures of local vegetation of Asturias. These famous ‘pinchos’ are important adaptive tools that not only defend the plants from other animals that eat them, but also help reducing water loss.

Faced with the current challenges of human and nonhuman life on Earth, adaptation is key to tackling climate change and the environmental issues. While architecture is a human concept that entails planning and control, in nature everything is about growing, spreading, adapting, and persisting.

Plug-in Habitat aspires to a more organic, self-organised way of building through change—instead of resistance to it. It imagines a living system that embodies conceptual utopian architecture projects. It addresses the idea of an evolution that reinforces the relationships and interactions between agents—rather than the neo-Darwinian logic of the survival of the fittest.


Exhibition images