The RIBA President's Medals Student Awards

Next Project
Commendation -
In the digital era our information no longer takes the form of the physical, but that of a electronic file stored in ‘the cloud’. Our collective history is quickly effaced from this fragile and ephemeral domain, a computer crashes, formats are quickly obsolete, a hard drive is lost and all is gone. With our attachment to physical objects and mementos becoming increasingly superseded by our relationship to information, what will we leave for future generations?

The project employs design speculation as a critical tool to explore the potential ways in which architecture and landscape may respond to our ever evolving digital fascination. ‘Data Fossils’ has evolved as a series of fictional scenarios grounded in technically rigorous physical and computational investigations. Real techniques have been developed for encoding digital information in the physical world at both individual and collective scales.

Advances in biocomputing are allowing the possibility of storing data in living, physical forms. As the division between our bodies and the digital becomes increasingly blurred, the bone’s ability to remodel itself, in response to stress, can be hacked to provide data storage. Polyps of calcified binary code become written onto our skeleton, recounting our digital identities- a poet’s finest sonnet is read like Braille through his skin; an Internet glutton’s hoarded browser bookmarks cripple his every movement, our remains become an archaeology of memories.

Our collective history can be deposited in columns and strata of earth – where once archivists trawled the library stacks, data geologists now roam the Icelandic landscape. Hoards of machines traverse the lava deserts, scraping loose sand from the surface, and under immense heat transforming it into elaborate glass like geometries, within which our recent internet activities are encased. Topsoil blown by the harsh arctic winds soon gathers in the lee side of these immense structures, the grounded geological layer sprouting grass and moss.

Over time, habitats will grow in the glimmering hollows as fields of data slowly reverse Icelandic soil erosion. Local Islanders read the growth of this landscape from afar, whilst archaeologists look close ,using advanced MRI scanners, searching for insights into our past. And while tourists might flock to see history in the making archaeologists will read the dull fragments of frozen silica as records of our digital pasts.

Tobias Jewson


We have always regaled ourselves with unnerving tales of a day yet to come. Our culture is full of stories of a natural and technological world out of control however our anxieties about our future are really chronicles of the flaws and frailties of the everyday. Within the studio students have been exploring the design of their own fictional scenarios as a means to critically engage with the conditions of today through speculation about the coming of tomorrow.

This year the unit voyaged to the edge of the world, ‘the last wilderness’ of the arctic circle, a site where a number of our anxieties about the future are projected. In southern Iceland Tobias found a ravaged landscape of eroding lava deserts- a desolate crust hiding beneath it extraordinary geothermal resources that now support huge investments in an emerging national industry of data storage and server farms. Tobias saw the potential to rehabilitate this damaged landscape by co opting these investments in technology and reimaging the Icelandic typology of data archives. The cultural anxiety about what happens to our collective history when everything is digital is explored through the physicality of our changing landscapes and bodies. For tobias the physical artefact is like the fragile ecology- something precious to be redeemed through technology.

Tobias has envisioned an entire world for this project. From the intimate and personal attachments that we may develop for the data fossils that calcify on our own bones to the vast digital geology of an internet archive cast into layers of volcanic glass across Iceland’s deserts.

The work gains its critical edge by being both a wildly imaginative speculation on the cultural value of the physical artefact in a digital world and an utterly original technical investigation into the potential roles and applications of digital technologies in architecture and ecology. The project is rigorously pursued as a dialogue between physical material testing and digital experimentation. Tobias developed a suite of his own software applications that subvert existing digital prototyping machines to encode the ephemera of the digital world into ever evolving architectural landscapes.

It is a critical and timely project that asks us to contemplate a future that is laden with fears and inconsistencies yet at the same time proves to be ripe with unknown escapes and wondrous possibilities.

Kate Davies
Liam Young
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