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Dr Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa

Info

  • Carolina Ramirez-Figueroa is a Research Tutor in Design Products at the Royal College of Art. She is an architect, designer and researcher working at the intersection of design and living systems. She is also a visiting tutor at the Research Cluster 7 of the B-Pro graduate programme specialised on design computations.

  • Biography

  • Prior to joining the RCA, Carolina worked as Research Associate at the Bartlett, School of Architecture at UCL. Her work on the AHRC-funded NOTBAD project operates in the context of contemporary efforts against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and looks at the way materials can alter and improve health and the human microbiome. 

    Carolina’s research explores the challenges and opportunities found when living systems are understood as matter. She believes that living matter transforms the discipline and practice of design and has devised a research design methodology, biomaterial probes, to delineate these changes. The methodology draws on art practice and feminist philosophies to get a better understanding of the cultures, practices, tools and economies of working with living systems and produce cartographies to navigate the challenges of access and knowledge. 

    Collaboration is crucial in Carolina’s research and creative practice. She has worked with scientists, artists and designers, and her work has been exhibited internationally in countries including Finland, Taiwan, Denmark, The Netherlands and the UK. Her research career has also seen her develop new material composites and bio-materials, including the development of soft actuators based on bacterial spores that respond dynamically to humidity. 

    Carolina’s creative practice and research are also connected to her practice as an educator. She worked for two years as a teaching fellow in in the School of Architecture at Newcastle University, where she co-tutored the Experimental Architecture studio and ran design briefs around bacterial based materials. The module drew on live research and looked at the use of bacterial spores in kinetic facades. Her work at Newcastle also includes module design and delivery for Programming for Design and Interactive Space Design, which integrated technical skills teaching within a studio setting. She is currently a visiting tutor in the Research Cluster 7 of the Bartlett Prospective programme, where she supervises design projects and thesis that deal with bio-integrated design. 

    Carolina completed a PhD by creative practice at the School of Architecture, Newcastle University, which explored the use of living and semi-living matter in design contexts. The thesis is articulated by a series of interventions and projects that examine and probe how design practices change when micro-organisms are understood as design matter. 

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  • Practice

  • Carolina’s creative practice is closely woven to research, emerging from a similar set of questions and complementing her critical discourse. Her work combines material explorations and critical discourse to interrogate the possibilities at the intersection of living systems and design. She believes that considering living systems as material has profound consequences for the discipline and aspires to develop a practice around non-deterministic approaches which engage with the non-human on an equal footing. 

    Carolina believes in design as an activity that transcends discipline boundaries and draws on a variety of epistemologies. She has collaborated with scientists, artists and designers to explore pressing issues related to the use of living systems as matter for art and design. 

    She is also interested in the way that design can make understanding living matter more accessible, convinced that living systems can be approached and understood outside the epistemological boundaries of biology. 


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  • External collaborations

    • Collaboration with Richard Beckett from the Bartlett School of Architecture in the development of NOTBAD.
    • Visiting tutor in Research Cluster 7 of the Bartlett Prospective programme, specialised in design computations.
    • Collaboration with Dr Katja Peijnenburgh and her research group at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre. Carolina is currently working on a project that explores the material and everyday dimension of Ocean Acidification. 
  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Publications

    Journal papers

    • Dade-Robertson, M., Ramirez-Figueroa, C. and Zhang, M. (2015) ‘Material ecologies for synthetic biology: Biomineralization and the state space of design’, Computer-Aided Design, (0).
    • Dade-Robertson, M., Ramirez-Figueroa, C. and Zhang, M. (2014) ‘Radical vernacular: Bacterial architecture on Mars’, JBIS – Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 67(7).
    Selected conference papers
    • Ramirez-Figueroa, C., Hernan, L. & Lin, P.-Y. (2018) The Biological Unseen: Producing And Mediating Imaginaries Of Protocells. Conference, T. image. [Online]. 
    • Hernan, L. & Ramirez-Figueroa, C. (2018) The technological invisible — image making and dynamics of power. Conference, T. image. [Online]. 
    • Dade-Robertson, M., Ramirez-Figueroa, C. & Hernan, L. (2017) Bio-materialism: Experiments in biological material computation. Conference, Research through design [Online]. 
    • Ramirez-Figueroa, C. et al. (2016) ‘Bacterial Hygromorphs: Experiments into the integration of soft technologies into building skins. In ACADIA 2016 – Posthuman Frontiers: Data, Designers and Cognitive Machines [Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) ISBN 978-0-692-77095-5]. Ann Arbor, 27–29 October, 2016, pp. 244–53
    • Dade-Robertson M., Mitrani H., Wipat A., Zhang M., Corral J., Ramirez-Figueroa C. and Hernan L. (2016) Thinking Soils: A Synthetic Biology approach to material based design computation. In ACADIA 16: Posthuman Frontiers, and Cognitive Machines [Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) ISBN 978-0-692-77095-5] Ann Arbor 27–29 October, 2016, pp. 460–9
    • Ramirez-Figueroa C., Dade-Robertson M. and Zhang M. (2013) Synthetic Biology as a material design practice. In Praxis and Poetics: Research Through Design Conference. 3–5 September 2013, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK.
    • Ramirez-Figueroa C. and Dade-Robertson M. (2013) Adaptive Morphologies: Toward a Morphogenesis of Material Construction. In ACADIA 13 – Adaptive Architecture [Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA)ISBN 978-1-926724-22-5] Cambridge 24-26 October, 2013), pp. 51–60
    • Ramirez-Figueroa C. and Dade-Robertson M. Recombinatorial personal spaces of knowledge. In Digital Research. 2012, Oxford, UK.

    Selected Exhibitions and performance

    • Living with adaptive architecture, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, UK, 2018
    • Bio-material probes, design engagements with living systems. Newcastle University, UK, 2017
    • Living ashes II performance
    • CLICK Festival, Contemporary art, science & technology, Helsingør, DK, 2016
    • Bio Apartment 3—Succession. National Taiwan Museum, Nanmen Park, Taiwan, 2016
    • Making Life, Living Ashes. Lasipalatsi Gallery, Helsinki, 2015
    • Ordinary Takeover. Architectural Association, School of Architecture, London, 2014
    • Praxis and poetics. Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, 2013
    • Designs from the Future. MUNAL Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City, 2005

    Competitions 

    • Drifter, Whisper, Trickster, Bio Art and Design Award – finalist
    • In collaboration with Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, The Netherlands, 2017
    • Competition for the refurbishment of the Mexican Naval Academy Awarded, Mexico, 2007
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  • Awards and Grants

    • Drifter, Whisper, Trickster, Architecture Research Fund, UCL The Bartlett School of Architecture, £3,000 
    • Niches Of organic Territories in Bio-augmented Design, Named researcher AHRC project, approx.  £200,000
    • Naturalis Biodiveristy Center (NL), Martin Fellowship, approx. €2,600
    • Biomaker Challenge
      Ultrasonic plant height system for high throughput plant phenotyping, £1,000
    • Bench-top Controlled Environment Growth Chamber for Speed-Breeding and Crop Transformation, £4,000
    • Making life workshops and seminars organised by the Finnish Society of Bioart, £1,200
    • AHRC and Newcastle University, PhD studentship, approx. £45,000
    • Latin America Scholarship. Newcastle University, approx. £3,500
    • Excellency Award. Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Ciudad de Mexico (ITESM), approx £6,000 

Selected work

Research

Research interests

Carolina’s research explores the challenges and opportunities found when living systems are understood as matter. She believes that living matter transforms the discipline and practice of design and has devised a research design methodology,  biomaterial probes, to delineate these changes. The methodology draws on art practice and feminist philosophies to get a better understanding of the cultures, practices, tools and economies of working with living systems and produce cartographies to navigate the challenges of access and knowledge. 

Living matter and design
Understanding the way that using living systems as direct matter for design has profound consequences for the discipline. 

Emergent materials
Exploration of biological based and smart, emergent materials.  

New materialism, feminist studies and philosophies
Understanding of how New Materialism and Feminist Philosophies can provide novel design engagements with a changing material landscape. 

Digital/biological interface
How living systems interface with physical and digital computation in sensing and actuation. 

Designerly ways of knowing
How design constitutes a distinct, privileged mode of enquiry. 

Current and recent research

NOTBAD (Niches for Organic Territories in Bio-Augmented Design)
2017 – Ongoing

NOTBAD is a multi-disciplinary research project exploring the notion of ‘Probiotic Architecture’ in which materials are ‘seeded’ with beneficial microbes to modify the microbiome of its users. The project looks at fabrication techniques to control the chemical makeup of materials and their porosity landscapes, optimising them to host specific bacterial species. The microbial communities in each material are fostered to outcompete microbes that cause diseases and prevent the development of ‘super-bugs’ that are resistant to antibiotics. NOTBAD takes a humanistic and design-led approach in looking at the integration of seeded materials into wider cultural narratives and imaginaries of health, disease and filth. 

Bacterial Hygromorphs 
2015–17

The project explored composite materials that integrate bacterial spores and respond dynamically to humidity changes in the environment. It involved the development of laboratory protocols to integrate bacterial spores with a variety of materials, and exploring their use in different design scenarios. Part of the research project involved an undergrad themed design studio which looked at the development of architectural facades using bacterial spores.