Therme Art Program

From Non-Extractive to Regenerative Architectures: Growing a Symbiotic City

Non-Extractive Architecture is a manifesto and project conceived by design research studio Space Caviar and architect and curator Joseph Grima that calls for major social and operational reform of the architecture sector to design buildings that avoid exploiting humans, non-human species, and the planet. It seeks to address how we can re-design the chain of processes commonplace in architecture, to switch from extractive practices towards renewable ones.

“Zero-carbon buildings aren’t going to be much help, even if they’re made out of carbon-capturing cross-laminated timber if their production is dependent on massive monocultural reforestation that depletes ecosystems or displaces communities and then needs to be hauled across continents by trucks that require massive infrastructural projects to make transportation cheap.”
Joseph Grima

Touched upon above, non-extractive architecture as a working methodology holds meaningful implications and potential. However, its label presents a complication: what could it mean to introduce an architecture that is not only non-extractive or neutral, but that is also re-generative? Often times the inactivity of neutrality simply contributes to the failures of the system more than it can resist them. Moving beyond this neutrality, how can we develop solutions that also generate abundance sustainably? Nature’s most aspirational quality is its growth. As cities expand, it is crucial that this growth works in collaboration with the surrounding natural environment.

Therme Art’s “Wellbeing Culture Forum”, launched by its Head Curator Mikolaj Sekutowicz and was conceived to catalyse knowledge production and action towards an enhanced vision of the city and its cultural activity in symbiosis with the natural world. The programme is greatly inspired by the recent work of the scientist and botanist Stefano Mancuso and the previous work by scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis that introduced the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s, which posited the Earth as a living, breathing organism that thrives from interspecies cooperation. “The theory has encouraged a radical shift in how we approach design processes: if planet earth is a self-regulating system, creating the macro and microclimates and regulating its temperature, we need to move from “building” cities to “growing” them. This will require the same radical shift in our cultural adaptation and perspective as was provided in the 1920s through the Bauhaus movement.” – says Mikolaj Sekutowicz, Therme Art’s CEO and Chief Curator.

The Non-Extractive Architecture Book, Space Caviar 2021 © Dezeen

This “growing” is exactly what Therme’s recently launched Wellbeing City initiative with international afforestation organisation SUGi hopes to amplify in architectural discourse.

Sprouting from the Wellbeing Culture Forum, Therme’s Wellbeing City urban redesign project is founded on an understanding of the city as a living organism in active exchange with its environment. It envisions to develop an urban city plan that invites all levels of the population to evolve with the common understanding of self-care and social responsibility, understanding sustainability as a life commitment. In the wake of the pandemic, at a time in history when new, creative ways of interspecies cohabitation are desperately needed, this talk will elaborate on potential applications of non-extractive and re-generative architectures in the Wellbeing City and the world at large, analysing pre-existing policy and infrastructural frameworks, while also developing new ones.

A tree takes from the roots but is not considered to be extractive because it gives back to the soil. Extraction is not inherently negative when it is coupled with reciprocity. The current architectural codes as they stand now do not encourage this symbiosis, which is why reform is now crucial to our collective progress. In thinking about scientist and botanist Stefano Mancuso and his installation Mutual Aid, which explores the social implications of plant communication, how could urban planning evolve if we were to read nature like a book, learning from the reflexive systems of root networks and applying them to urban space?

The intersections between non-extractive and re-generative architectures are manifold. Both methodologies cannot function ethically or productively without the other. Bringing together experts from the fields of architecture, activism, art and design, and science, this talk aimed to articulate this interdependency and locate its practical applications within the future of urban life.

Key Questions

1. How can we move from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance?

2. In what ways do non-extractivism and re-generation depend on each other?

3. How can we apply the underground networks between plants to cultural and social infrastructures above ground?

4. What next steps would be needed to motivate relevant stakeholders to step into this next dimension of architectural reform?

5. How can we instigate a culture of social and environmental reparations?

6. How can forest agriculture transform the organisation and quality of food within our cities?

7. How can we develop a city with resources that are simultaneously being consumed and re-generated?

8. What will it take to move away from a human-centric perspective of reality to one that is inclusive and non-hierarchal?


Sarah Wilson (Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History, Courtauld Institute of Art)
Simon Schäfer-Stradowsky (Managing Director, IKEM)
Jeanne de Kroon (Social Entrepreneur, Designer, Activist)
Nina Gualinga (Environmental and Indigenous Rights Activist)
Alexander Voigt (Physicist, Founding Director Solon, Managing Director Lumenion GmbH)
Robert C. Hanea (Founder and CEO Therme Group)
Stefano Boeri (Architect)
Joseph Kosuth (Artist)
Joel Dietz (Cyberfuturist Author and Founder of ArtWallet)
Joseph Grima (Architect, Critic, Curator, Editor and Co-founder of Space Caviar)
Dr Noah Raford (Futurist-in-Chief and Chief of Global Affairs, Dubai Future Foundation)


Monilola Ilupeju (Artist and Curator)
Mikolaj Sekutowicz (CEO and Curator Therme Art)

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