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Vienna-based studio MAEID's 'Magic Queen' looks to the future of living spaces

Conceived by MAEID, Magic Queen at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 presents a pioneering approach to architecture, and integration with our natural environment.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Oct 06, 2021

MAEID is a hybrid studio based in Vienna. I use the word hybrid for the lack of a better term to encompass the spectrum of interests the studio finds itself invested in. I suppose one might say their work is interdisciplinary, but MAEID works more laterally and in many layers, rather than simply hopping from one media to the next, hence the word ‘hybrid’ simply feels more apt. The studio is led by Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme, both of whom are architects. Their curiosity is piqued by the relationship between human, space and performance. These interests spill over into robotics, design and environment. The studio frequently collaborates with other creators, developing a dynamic and inspired approach. Recently, at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 they shared Magic Queen, a live installation made with robot technologies using natural materials. The event runs till November 21, 2021.

Magic Queen integrates botany, mycology and architecture | Venice Architecture Biennale | MAEID | STIRworld
Magic Queen integrates botany, mycology and architecture Image: Courtesy of MAEID

The 17th edition of the International Architecture Exhibition by La Biennale Di Venezia is curated by architect and scholar, Hashim Sarkis. Owing to the multiplicity embodied by MAEID’s practice, their work Magic Queen fits right in as it opens the doors to the future of built environments, and human engagement. The duo of Mitterberger and Derme talk to STIR about the installation Magic Queen and the perceptions that drive its conceptualisation. Magic Queen employs robotics and three-dimensional printing technology to construct a living installation which explores the entanglements between architecture, nature and human interaction. The work grapples with the issue using botany, architecture and technology to create a prototype on the potential they envision.

The artists say, “The building industry is currently confronted with a significant responsibility towards sustainability, which requires a paradigm shift in the way we build, manufacture, select and use materials. Contemporary design practices have a partial view of the life cycles and process of construction and destruction of those materials involved. Combining botany, living systems architecture, and technology allows us to create new prototypical architectural spaces. The theme of the garden articulated in Magic Queen is, in our eyes, a very architectural one. It relates to a spatial condition entangled within a particular context of resources, species, and their relationship. A garden mediates the artificial with the natural, using living materials to support life cycles. In our understanding, architecture should shelter the human body and support and foster other lifeforms (plants, animals, germs, and humans).”

Sensors capture real time data from the live installation | Venice Architecture Biennale | MAEID | STIRworld
Sensors capture real time data from the live installation Image: Courtesy of MAEID

Magic Queen is an example of art created with nuanced sensitivity to its environmental impact. MAEID places emphasis on the use of endemic and organic materials. They share details of the installation process itself saying, “All materials used in the Magic Queen, running from binders, soil, and mushrooms, are entirely biodegradable. The structure was built altogether in-situ with local soil. Throughout the entire installation and the duration of the Biennale, the structure changes as the material are ‘alive’. Plants and mushrooms grow on it and decay; the surface texture reacts to the changes in humidity and temperature. If you look closely, one might find even small insects that made Magic Queen their home. The components were tested chemically for their complete biodegradability; therefore, after the exhibition, the soil goes back to the garden where we got it from.”

MAEID uses local materials for the installation | Venice Architecture Biennale | MAEID | STIRworld
MAEID uses local materials for the installation Image: Courtesy of MAEID

The installation explores interdependency as a philosophy to construct successful habitation systems. In this particular case, it is considerate of fungi, flora and other microbiology living in the soil. In a larger context, its concerns will extend to human, animal and plant as well. In this experimental design, success is defined as a positive, thriving living environment for all beings involved. It looks to redefine the role of living systems in architecture, and pioneer new perspectives to the normalised industry. As the team puts it, “The project explores the deeper meaning of the relationship between nature, technology, and living systems favoring the creation of an ecology of non-human subjects.”

02 mins watch A closer look at Magic Queen | Venice Architecture Biennale | MAEID | STIRworld
A closer look at Magic Queen Video: Courtesy of MAEID

They continue, saying, "Magic Queen" uses sensors, responsive technologies, and machine learning to create continuous feedback between sensing, virtualising, and induced change. The inhabitable indoor environment of Magic Queen combines visual, auditory, olfactory, and haptic features to capture the sensual experience of this new mediated form of nature, which evolves around and within different media and forms of representation. Nothing in Magic Queen could exist without the presence of the other, underlining the nature of interconnectivity in biological entities. The fungal flora and the soil structure depend on the robot to water them. At the same time, the robot relies on its existence to move. The ambient sound is generated through the interconnectivity and performativity of all elements, accompanied by a visual interface uncovering the otherwise invisible stream of impact and growth.”

As someone living in a forest, further away from the urban experience than even a rural dweller, I feel excitement at the prospect of deeper alignment with my insect and fungi neighbours. In contrast, I reflect upon the sterilised nature of contemporary cities and ponder their reaction to the same. Living systems are generally rooted in inherited culture, something which is deeply ingrained and hard to let go of. When these designs are presented as practical solutions, will we be ready to step out of our conditioning and into the future?

MAEID blurs the lines between systems of nature and technology | Venice Architecture Biennale | MAEID | STIRworld
MAEID blurs the lines between systems of nature and technology Image: Courtesy of MAEID

Click here to read more about STIRring Together, a series by STIR that introduces readers to the many facets of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021.  

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