Ravensbourne Postgraduate | Alberto Villanueva – Mars UTOPIA
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Alberto Villanueva – Mars UTOPIA

Living in (much-debated) Anthropocene era, this geological epoch is one arguably defined by human activity and its impact upon the planet. Those in climate-change denial should look away now. Mars Utopia: What Happens if you Make a Mistake With a Planet? is the title question of Alberto Villanueva’s MA in Environment Design project, which advocates an interdisciplinary approach and creative responsibility when it comes to designing architectural structures and spaces for a future shaped by ecological decline.

 

What Happens if you Make a Mistake With a Planet? sets out, quite controversially, by citing the 19th century conservative English scholar and economist Thomas Malthus. Neo-Malthusian thought still claims the same misanthropic fixation on population control, but Villanueva’s project utilises this thinking in order to reject it. If, according to such a view, the planet is comprised of finite resources and Earth is full to human capacity, contaminated, out of possibilities and beyond all repair… What to do? Move to Mars!

 

Villanueva’s proposal is, of course, in part, tongue-in-cheek, but whether it’s an ambitious or outlandish provocation, this project deals with interesting questions, and concludes that solutions to these will undoubtedly emerge through the cross-pollination of ideas from various fields.

 

Gaining inspiration from other projects that have employed fictitious scenarios in order to solve real-life problems, Villanueva looked to The Living Mountain, a city skyscraper structure by Anna-Maria Simatou and Marianthe Dendrou. The Living Mountain project is imagined in the hostile desert landscape of Taklamakan, in the north-western region of China. Likewise, Project Rocinha by Emily von Moger, explored how overpopulation by 2064 could result in political and social volatility, increased pollution, lack of natural environment, and unsafe living conditions.

 

New technologies already exist which maybe key in the effort to futureproof habitats against the ravages of climate change. For instance, a microbiologist at Delft University, Hendrik Jonkers, has developed a self-healing concrete, potentially reducing the need to rebuild structures and buildings. By introducing a particular strain of bacteria into building materials, rain activates the limestone-producing bacteria to effectively ‘heal’ small fissures in the concrete. There is hope in the implications of these technologies for landscape remediation, or for working with hostile landscapes, for instance.

 

What Happens if you Make a Mistake With a Planet? looks to these emerging solutions, with research into microbial materials and uses of bacteria and fungi, alongside new 3D printing technologies as tools for predicting how architects of the future might respond to the very real possibility of needing to adjust, acclimatise, and build again in newly hostile landscapes and environments.