3D printing is advertised as technology for everyone, but it is not. It does not change the consumptive paradigm, Rachel Armstrong recently claimed during a master class on the ecological human in the 21st century in Eindhoven.

We are thoroughly trapped in the ideal of industrialization, Armstrong told participants. We have become completely dependent on the technical manufacturing process. 3D printing and all the manufacturing tools are great, but they are incredibly polluting and proliferate consumption, and are entirely isolated from the environment.

The master class on the ecological human in the 21st century was organized by artist-designer Arne Hendriks and designer and scientist Rachel Armstrong at Baltan Laboratories – aka Natlab – in Eindhoven. Armstrong is one of the speakers at WDCD14.

If renewable energy were free for everybody, Armstrong said, we would consume even more and faster. The bottleneck of the material realm is the concept of the parasite as the driver of social relations. Everybody wants to take, but not to give something back. What we need is long-term mutual engagement, not short-term solutions for crises. Finding an alternative to the machine could be a starting point. We have new ways of thinking, but they are being constrained and pushed back by prevailing norms. We need to dig more into this.

The ecological being

‘The ecological being’ is a way to rethink what we are, who we are, and what our relationship with ecology should be. This requires a holistic approach, in which bio-mimicry by appearance is not good enough. Works like those of Dunne and Raby, or the Nanomarket by Next Nature, are great examples, but they are all about making products.

Things are not always about design, and design is not always about things, Armstrong said. There are also ideas, concepts and science fictions. In order to interrogate this field, we have to immerse ourselves in the matter. Action should be about involvement, not just about sitting and thinking. Design can create a vision of possibility. While biodesign has huge potential, it risks being re-simulated back into the program of industrial production and machines.

In Armstrong’s vision we must consider all aspects of the ecological being, ecological technology, ecological city and ecological community in order to reconnect with all the beings in the world.

Cover image: Protocells, from Armstrong’s research into ‘Living Architecture’

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