School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

Staff Profile

Dr Martyn Dade-Robertson

Director of Masters in Design and Emergence (MA_DE)

Background

Introduction


The trajectory of my research and teaching to date has been underpinned by a conviction that architectural design theory and practice have a significant contribution to make to contexts beyond the built environment. I have also looked to move past technological speculation in areas such as digital technology and Synthetic Biology to develop and explore experimental prototypes, seeking to ground speculative discourse in practical reality. Through the development of core research programs in technology and scientific areas such as Synthetic Biology, my aim is to develop a rigorous intellectual engagement with new types of material systems and practices.

I am Co-Director (with Katie Lloyd Thomas) of ARC (The Architectural Research Collaborative) and and Editor for ARQ (Cambridge University Press - Architectural Research Quarterly). I have published more than 20 peer reviewed publications including the book The Architecture of Information (Routledge 2011) and received more than £400,000 in research income working on projects which span architectural design and digital technologies. My research group Synbio Construction is the basis form both my research and teaching and more information can be found here.

I am always keen to talk to promising prospective PhD students in areas of Architectural Design and Computation and Architecture and Synthetic Biology. I have a particular interest in design and emergence through computational and biological systems.

Data Portraits

I also run a University service called Data Portraits which uses data visualisation to map websites and generate printed artworks. The work is featured here and has been publicised in Wired, BBC News, Fast Company, The Telegraph and National Geographic.  




Research

Research Interests

My main interests lie in the relationship between architectural design and computation in two specific areas:

Information Architecture 

Through the study and development of ‘architectonic systems’ which can, in contrast to ‘linguistic systems’, be see as the way in which the spatial environment and our articulation of it are used to communicate information. My research examines the broad culture of architecture and knowledge representation from mnemonic architecture through to the origins of storehouses of knowledge such as museums and libraries and I apply this knowledge to the design of computational systems, whether hardware or software, which use space (physical and virtual) as a way of articulating information and knowledge.

Synthetic Biology

Through studying the relationship between the design and engineering of biological systems and material practices in architecture and other fields of design. Specifically this has involved collaborating with Molecular Biologists, Computer Scientists, Materials Scientists and Experimental Anatomists on morphogenesis and biomineralization with the aim of exploring new material possibilities for architecture. To this end I have also been an advisor for Newcastle University’s iGEM (international genetically engineered machines competition) team am a member of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Bioexploration.  

Current Projects

Computational Colloids

I am the PI for the EPSRC funded project Computational Colloids (EP/N005791/1). This project investigates how Civil Engineering may be integrated with the emerging field of Synthetic Biology. Combining these fields has potentially transformative implications for both and may generate a new field of Engineering Design.

Imagine a column of sand saturated with billions of engineered bacteria cells. As a force is applied to the top of the column, bacteria in the sand detect an increase in pressure. The bacteria respond by synthesising a new biological material to bind the grains together and resisting the load. The resulting structure would consist of a material where sand grains are only cemented where the forces through the material require.

We are building a proof of concept to show how we might design a manufacturing process where the material itself acts as manufacturer and designer, modelling and responding to its environment. Such a technology would push well beyond the current state of the art and challenge a new generation of engineering designers to think at multiple scales from molecular to the built environment and to anticipate civil engineering with living organisms.

Bacilla Spore Actuators

When conditions are not favourable for their growth (i.e. there is a lack of nutrients) some types of bacteria cells are capable of entering ‘spore’ form. This is a state in which their metabolism is almost entirely shut down and they are no longer technically alive. Spores can remain stable for hundreds of years and (some have speculated thousands of years) and are very robust and they preserve the DNA of the organism in challenging times. However as soon as the conditions are right they are able to convert back to living and viable cells. Spores are interesting to us as architectural designers for two reasons:
1 Spores encompass the idea of a system which is dynamic and responsive to its environmental context – optimised for its energy and nutrient conditions. Something that we often strive to achieve in architecture through the use of dynamic actuated and responsive systems but something which we are unable to do with such elegance.
2 Bacteria sores themselves may also offer the direction for a new architectural technology.
Very recent research has shown that bacteria spores combined with an elastomer like material can be used create very powerful hydromorphic material. Hydromorphic materials can respond to changes in humidity by changing shape. There are a number of hygromorphic materials and most work by combining two layers – which have separate rates of expansion in the presence of moisture. As one layer expands it forces the other layer to change its shape causing the material to bend. In architecture there has been experimentation with timber based hygromorphic materials but, as yet, the bacteria based hygromorphic materials have not been considered by architectural designers.
We have begun to experiment with the basic materials and configurations of Bacilla Spore actuators and, through a Stage 3 (3rd Year Undergraduate) studio begun to work with mechanism that may translate the power the hydromorphic material to mechanisms which may form parts of a dynamic building skin.

Past Funded Projects

  • 2010-2013 £1.4 million pound EPSRC funded project called PATINA (Personal Architectonics through Interactions with Artefacts) which builds on the ideas developed in The Architecture of Information by examining the relationship between physical and digital research spaces. 
  • 2012  EPSRC (Impact Award, Internally Allocated): £42,854 I was a Co-investigator for ‘Enabling Simple Public Voting and Consultation in Local Communities’,  a project to extend an existing research project to develop a mobile voting system for Newcastle Council in the context of their ‘U-Decide’ program. The project is also in collaboration with the polling company YouGov. I act as a design adviser on the project.
  • Faculty REF Fund: £2,370 Small faculty grant to support the creation of my research group and to develop the PATINA project proposal (described above).
  • 2010 - 2013 European 7th Framework (Marie Curie Program): £190,200 I am a Co-Investigator, in collaboration with Philips Research and Newcastle University School of Computing,  on a project entitled Balance@Home which aims to help in the development of intelligent environments for healthy living. The income supports the employment of two post-doctoral reserachers based in computing. 
  • 2003 - 2006 AHRC PhD. Studentship: approx. £45,000 Funded fees and living expenses for a three year PhD. entitled ‘Information Architecture in Screen Based Semantic Spaces’.
  • 2002 AHRC Masters Studentship: approx. £15,000 Funded fees and living expenses for a one year MPhil degree in ‘Architecture and the Moving Image’.Industrial Relevance
  • My research involves the design of digital artefacts and systems and, as such I have collaborated with companies including Microsoft Research and Philips Research.


Teaching

I am currently Director of the MSc in Experimental Architecture. This has involved creating a new curriculum and three new modules:

Current Teaching for 2015-2016

ARC8028 Programming for Design

Introducing students to the principles and practices of software creation in design with a particular emphasis on creative application through the use of programming environments such as Processing and Grasshopper.

ARC8082 Research through Design

A research methods course based on using design as part of a research methodology. The course will include a spectrum of topics from material practice in scientific experiments to experimental practices in creative arts.

Stage 3 Studio: Experimental Architecture

Past Teaching

ARC1001 Stage 1 Design (Module Leader)
ARC8068 Linked Research Project (Project Leader)
Developed a Stage 5/6 research studio based on the theme of Architecture and Interaction Design
Additionally I have been a guest tutor and reviewer for projects throughout the undergraduate and graduate design programs and a dissertation supervisor. I have also been nominated by my students for two Student Union led university wide awards for teaching innovation.

ARC8015 Architecture in the Information Age (Module Leader)
Lecture and seminar based module for Stage 5 and other post graduate students on principles and philosophies of architecture in the age of digital methods and media.
ARC8027 Interactive Space Design (Module Leader)
Masters level design based module for Stage 5 and other post graduate students introducing the foundations of interaction design in architectural and urban contexts.

Stage 1 project module (BA Architectural Studies) introducing core skills in Computer Aided Design and digital media as well as graphic design and communication.

Stage 6 Studio: Architecture and Synthetic Biology

Complete PhD supervision as primary supervisor:

  • Dr. Reham Abdelatif – Design Reviews in Second Life – Completed June 2012

Ongoing PhD supervisions as primary supervisor:

  • Abdelatif El-Allous – The urban effects of digitisation of municipal services in Tripoli (to complete September 2016)
  • Luis Hernandez – Architectural tether objects in physical interactions with digital technologies (to complete 2016)
  • Carolina Figueroa – Synthetic morphologies in architecture (to complete 2016)
  • Javier Rodriguez Corral - Computational Colloids (to complete in 2019) 

PhD examined as an internal examiner:

  • Dr Islam Abohela – Effects of Roof Shape, Wind Direction and Building Height on the Position of Roof Mounted Wind Turbines. 
  • Dr Amina Batagaraw – Assessing the Thermal Performance of Phase Change Materials in Composite Humid/Hot Dry Climates: An examination of office buildings in Abuja – Nigeria.

Publications