Following the wave of futuristic worldbuilding that AI programs have sent us on to, SPACE10, IKEA’s research and design lab, invited participants to apply new AI tools in 'Regenerative Futures' — a part competition, part open-source research, that encouraged play and imagination to create visual concepts of future homes, communities, and cities to help address the challenges facing everyday life. One of the winning projects from the competition was by the Indian architect duo Takbir and Abeer Fatima called WombHome: Decolonizing Nature, a symbiotic neighbourhood and community where humans and nature thrive.
Instead of artificial construction systems that cannot be recycled, WombHome proposes a gentle carving of space within natural structures. Designed in collaboration with Midjourney and ChatGPT, this imagined cave provides shelter and safety, without consuming excess energy or creating harmful emissions and construction waste. WombHome is naturally cooled and ventilated, lets in sunshine, and features semi-open courtyards for vegetation to grow and cohabitate with humans.
When asked about the possibility of a structure like WombHome in the present, Takbir & Abeer referred to Magaret Atwood who said "The fiction we create is based on something that has already happened somewhere." Despite the limitless prospects of AI, Takbir & Abeer chose to look at existing models of communities that could thrive together, and ways to reduce construction waste and labour. Cave dwellings; spaces that burrow into the earth itself like the Ajanta Caves where sophisticated spatial planning and understanding of structure were involved in carving out spaces from the mountain was something they talked about.
"In Hyderabad, where we primarily work, the rocky terrain of the Deccan Plateau has dictated architecture for decades. We commonly find houses tucked between giant boulders and using the rockface as walls. Our charity school project, Hilltop School, was built on the side of a cliff inside the Golconda Fort, and embraces the rock without modifying or damaging the existing site topography. Our experience with this project also informed the design of WombHome", shared the architect duo.
Takbir & Abeer visualized the spatial relationships of WombHome from an idea of a series of interconnected “rooms,” like burrows, tunnels and crevices in a cave, that naturally change shape, size, height and texture as you move through them, with interstitial spaces that open up or enclose, sometimes darkening and sometimes letting in sunshine, and common spaces that are sometimes quiet and vacant, sometimes busy.
"Humans are at once social creatures and individualistic, and require dwellings spaces that cater to our need for social connection, as well as our need for solitude. Independent houses are increasingly silos disconnected from one another and gated communities that are detached from the urban fabric of the city. Apartments, on the other hand, have little space for reclusion or interaction. We imagine WombHome as a system rather than a building, a kind of spatial synecdoche: the floor turning into walls that turn into the ceiling; smaller crevices morphing into large spaces, dwellings melding into one another to form a neighbourhood, all in one continuous material form. With digital fabrication techniques like 3D printing, creating complex topological built forms is entirely possible", they further explain.
On the debate of AI vs human creativity, the architects share, "We believe GenAI tools should be augmenting human intuition, and not replacing human imagination. The best feeling in the world, to us, is when we get a new idea. Why would we want to outsource that? GenAI tools cannot create something from nothing. They require access to what exists. The human mind, though, is unbridled this way. The machine can replace human grunt work and labor (which is welcomed), but it cannot replace human creativity, because the human mind continues to grow and evolve, and as machines become more intelligent, so do our minds. Humans will only become more and more creative, and also build more intelligent machines; this is how we were designed. It only makes sense to see GenAI as a creative collaborator rather than a creative adversary."
At the core of WombHome lies the essence of community. Whether it's urbanization due to unequal spread of opportunities or differentiation in terms of class and generational privilege, according to Takbir & Abeer, the disparity in the distribution of resources and shortage of affordable housing can be countered by communal spaces interspersed with dwelling to create a higher standard of living and a holistic lifestyle, envisioning a mixed-use environment that is pluralistic and inclusive, rather than closed residential communities that are homogenous and exclusionary.
We have already seen, in the younger generation, a rising interest in communal living; sharing a home with their friends and getting old together as opposed to singular, isolated family systems. Loosely based on the buried cities from ancient civilizations and designed with a futuristic vision, WombHome uses architectural design to mark a socio-cultural point in our journey towards a topic society.