Liam Young, 18 02 15

This new publication by Sonic Acts is inspired by geosciences and zooms in on planet Earth. Fundamental to The Geologic Imagination is the idea that we live in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. For the publication author Tim Maughan interviews Liam Young and Kate Davies on board a container ship travelling through the South China Seas during the Unknown Fields Expedition. You can order the book here.

Human activity has irreversibly changed the composition of the atmosphere, the oceans, and even the Earth’s crust. Humanity has become a geological force. Consequently, the perspective has shifted from humans at the centre of the world to the forces that act on timescales beyond the conceivable. These ideas challenge us to rethink our attachments to the world, and our concepts of nature, culture and ecology. With this book Sonic Acts examines how art and science map and document new insights, and how the changes and transformations that occur on a geological scale can become something humans can feel, touch, and experience.

The Geologic Imagination features new essays by Timothy Morton, Douglas Kahn, Paul Bogard, Michael Welland, and Raviv Ganchrow; there are interviews with Dipesh Chakrabarty, Matthew Coolidge, Liam Young, Noortje Marres, Kodwo Eshun, Kurt Hentschläger, and Mario de Vega; and visual contributions by Femke Herregraven,Mirna Belina, Ellsworth & Kruse, the Center of Land Use Interpretation, Marijn de Jong, and BJ Nilsen & Karl Lemieux.

You can read a few fragments from Tim Maughan that didn’t make it into the final piece-

Liam: Because like I was saying, it is quite extraordinary, like I was talking about the technological sublime. We see it in all these places we go to, we stand at the world’s largest gold mine, it’s a hole in the ground the size of the Grand Canyon, so big it generates its own weather system and planes have to divert around it otherwise they’re sucked into the wind vortex that it creates. We’ve done this…we’ve built the machines that have dug this fucking hole. People travel from all over the world to go and see the Grand Canyon, to go to this fucking hole in the ground. It’s the same kind of thing, it’s actually more impressive because that took millions of years of wind and rain and erosion to create it and we did this in 15 years ‑ that’s pretty amazing. So we used to paint the sublime which was about the fear and order of nature, and now we have the technological sublime where we approach the same kind of landscapes, we have the same kind of feelings about technological and industrial landscapes that we once did looking across the savanna, or looking across the grand canyon, or standing on a peak and seeing the amazon jungle unfolding in front of us. We stand underneath of a crane in a mega-port and we have that same sense of awe and wonder.

Tim: I was standing on the bridge, and the lights on one of them suddenly fired up and it slowly passed over me…a dozen little suns beaming on me, bringing daylight to the night.

Liam: And you get fucking goose bumps, you know what I mean? Like the artificial night when you see a factory on the horizon…it creates this strange kind of synthetic aurora and it’s desolate ‑ it’s utterly seductive. That’s our era’s great art…people used to do the Nazca Lines and we go to the oil pipelines.

Tim: That’s funny you say that because I went to Machu Picchu back in April, and it was fantastic. And then a few weeks later I went to Detroit. And that was fantastic too. And they both seemed strangely similar to me. And I couldn’t quite decide which impressed me more.

Liam: [laughs]

Tim: And they’re two of the same things, right?

Liam: Yeah. Two ruins of a civilisation.


Liam Young, 21 05 13

Sign Up Now! Applications close June 14th. Open to All.

Tomorrows Thoughts Today’s Liam Young’s co run studio the Unknown Fields Division is launching the call for applications for their 2013 summer expedition to Madagascar. The Unknown Fields Division is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes – the iconic and the ignored, the excavated, irradiated and the pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives. Each year they navigate a different trajectory as we seek to map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures.

In times past an anarchist community of pirates called Madagascar home.  It was an island beyond the law and off the map, a place of rogues, booty and bounties. These were outlaws moored on a marooned ecosystem. Set adrift 88 million years ago, the island is a castaway in the Indian Ocean, inhabited by a band of ecological stowaways. In this splendid isolation it has evolved into an unparalleled wonderland of the weird and unique, diverse and unbelievable.

A political coup in 2009 left the country adrift once more – isolated from the international community, deprived of foreign aid and conservation funding. One of the planet’s most precious ecological treasures is home to one of its poorest nations and it raises difficult and complex questions about the relationship between necessity and luxury. Amidst political uncertainty, the island’s fragile and unique ecology is being smuggled out illegally, boat by boat, gem by gem. Rare tortoises leave in rucksacks, forests are carved into the ebony fingerboards on Gibson Guitars or $1million rosewood beds sold in China.

In the run up to the country’s first election since the coup Unknown Fields heads to Madagascar to catalogue the push and pull of economy and ecology and to trace the shadows of the world’s desires across the landscapes of this treasured island.  Along our way we seek to uncover some of the complex value negotiations that play out across this unique island and craft new stories from statistics, data, predictions, projections, measurements and offsets.

The Division will venture through wild west sapphire towns and mining landscapes and trek through rainforests ringing with the song of the Indri in search of rare and undiscovered treasures, a menagerie of preciousness and scarcity, of rubies, minerals and exotic spices, of ring tailed Lemurs, ‘octopus’ trees, and carnivorous plants; of pigmy chameleons, tomato frogs and moon moths. We will travel by plane and pirogue, train and taxi-brousse, from rough roads to rough seas, to fishing villages and up rivers silted with eroded soils. Unknown Fields will reimagine a territory that is equally wondrous and scarred as we follow the trail of global resource extraction into the heart of the most unique ecosystem on the planet.

Joining them on tour will be international collaborators from the worlds of technology, science and fiction, and together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions and impromptu tutorials that will be chronicled in a publication and film developed en route.


The Unknown Fields summer expedition is open to all architects, designers, artists, writers and interested parties, students or professionals.  A portfolio or CV is not required, only the online application form and payment.


The deadline for applications is 14 June 2013. Application forms and additional information are available online at: and applications can be submitted to: or contact for questions. All participants travelling from abroad are responsible for securing any visa required. After payment of fees, the AA can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop.

All inclusive Expedition fee: £1500, which includes flights from London, all internal transport, accommodation, entrance fees, meetings, consultants, workshops and all other group costs (excludes meals). Please note: If you are based closer to Madagascar you can meet Unknown Fields on location in Antananarivo and we can arrange a reduced fee that excludes return flights from London.

+ £60 Architectural Association Membership. If you are already a member of the AA, this is not required.


Liam Young, 17 04 13

For VOLUME issue 35 Everything Under Control: Building with Biology scientist and broadcaster Adam Rutherford sat down with speculative architect LiamYoung in the basement recording studio of the journal Nature to discuss the mythical beasts of synthetic biology. Rutherford recently worked with the BBC on a series called ‘The Gene Code’ which explored the consequences of decoding the human genome. Recognizing the potential externalities of communicating science poorly, Rutherford works at conveying the misunderstood field of synthetic biology to a broader audience. Download the pdf here or read the pages below.  (more…)


Liam Young, 25 11 11

Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today’s Liam Young has been announced as the first recipient of San Francisco’s Headlands Art Centres ‘ new Architecture/Environment Artist in Residence award, supported in part by Seed Fund. Set in a refurbished Military base the residency focuses around ideas of the larger environment, sustainability, urban planning, architecture, land use and public space.

Liam’s residency will begin with a series of sorties through the surrounding landscape to survey the ecology and obsolete military technologies of the Marin Headlands. Large scale maps and drawings will form the basis for a series of small robotic installations and architectural prosthetics which will be installed on site as a new species of dynamic inhabitants, responding to the fluctuations and deviations of the surrounding landscape. Existing somewhere between biology and technology these delicate devices will imagine alternate strategies for intervening within natural systems. The residency will conclude with a series choreographed aerial robotic drone performances titled ‘Birds of Prey’ launched from the abandoned Nike missile silo sites. The residency will conclude in June with an intensive interdisciplinary design workshop and curated storytelling event in the surrounding woods.

Photography by Claus Langer


Liam Young, 05 05 11

Liam Young and Kate Davies, leaders of the Architectural Association’s award winning Unknown Fields Division, have announced a recruitment drive for their new annual nomadic studio which will run from 11-22 July. You have until May 20th to SIGN UP! You can check all the costs and arrangements on this flyer and then you can sign up now to join them on an extraordinary design research expedition through the unknown fields that lie between nature and technology and collaborate with Volume magazine and Phillips Technologies on the production of an annual publication and touring exhibition. This first year takes them on a cross section through landscapes of obsolete futures from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, through the Ukraine and the oil fields of Azerbaijan to rocket launch pad of kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrone.

THE UNKNOWN FIELDS DIVISION is a nomadic studio that sets off on an annual expedition to the ends of the earth exploring forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and obsolete ecologies. Each year we navigate a different global cross-section and map the complex and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures. We are both visionaries and reporters as the sites we encounter will afford us a distanced viewpoint from which to survey the consequences of emerging environmental and technological scenarios.

This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and space Suits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. BBeginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete.

Joining us on our travels will be a troupe of collaborators, photographers and filmakers from the worlds of technology, science and fiction including the Phillips Technologies Design Probes research Lab and Archis/Volume magazine.

Together we will form a travelling circus of research visits, field reportage, rolling discussions, and impromptu tutorials.  Across our journey The Unknown Fields Division will identify opportunities for tactical intervention and speculative invention that will be chronicled in an annual publication and travelling exhibition. It is a unique opportunity to be a part of an extraordinary research project that will examine the Unknown Fields between cultivation and nature and spin cautionary tales of a new kind of wilderness.

Enlist now before all the postiions are filled! Email l.young (at) with any questions.


The workshop is open to anyone from anywhere. No pre requisites are necessary.


The deadline for applications is 01 June 2011. Application forms and additional information are available online here and more information can be found   All participants are responsible for securing any visas required for entry to Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan and are advised to contact their home embassy early. After payment of fees, the AA School can provide a letter confirming participation in the workshop. Applicants are advised to contact the AA as soon as possible in order to apply and confirm a place, as space is limited. Places can only be reserved upon receipt of a completed application form and full fees, sent to Sandra Sanna, Administrative Coordinator of the AA Visiting School at

Schedule & Venue

The school runs from 11 to 22 July and will begin at our London rally point before travelling by land, sea and air on a landscape cross section from the Chernobyl Exclusion zone in the Ukraine to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazaksthan. This is an immersive, travelling studio with a fixed itinerary requiring full-time participation. Workshops will be conducted en route at a series of unique venues conducted by an ensemble of collaborators who will be joining us on the expedition.

Accommodation & Costs

The AA Visiting School requires a fee of £650 per participant which includes a £50 Visiting Student Membership, made payable to the AA School of Architecture. As a unique travelling studio Unknown Fields has packaged all costs of our extensive travel itinerary including all flights from and returning to London, internal travel from Chernobyl to Baikonur, all accommodation, entrance fees, permits and workshops into one additional fee of £900. Participants need to bring their own laptops, camera equipment and working materials. Please ensure that all equipment you are bringing is covered by insurance. The AA School takes no responsibility for items lost or stolen whilst travelling to/from or attending the workshop.

More Information

Programme Directors: Liam Young and Kate Davies
Academic Coordinator AA Global School: Christopher Pierce:
Global and Visiting School Coordinator: Sandra Sanna

T          +44 20 7887 4014


[image credit Baikonour- NASA/Bill Ingalls, Chernobyl- source unknown, Azerbaijan- Crude Awakening]


Liam Young, 18 10 10

Tomorrows Thoughts Today’s Liam Young and Liquid Factory’s Kate Davies have just launched the 10/11 Diploma 6 programme for their Unknown Fields Division studio at the Architectural Association. The studio outline is below.

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Arthur C. Clarke

This year the Unknown Fields Division continues to enter into new relations with the territories of science, nature and fiction. We explore the complex, rich and contradictory realities of the present as a site of strange and extraordinary futures and probe our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world. In our  Galapagos Island studio we mused on evolution,  last year in the Arctic we contemplated the end of the world and now we look toward strange new beginnings as we embark on a voyage to bear witness to the reinvention of nature through technology in the Australian Never-Never. 

The Division will head off on a dust blown road trip across Australia, into the vast and mysterious interior of this remote island continent in search of its ancient tribal hinterlands and its vast techno-landscapes. This land of rich resources and sparsely inhabited expanses houses huge feats of engineering; technological incisions into the narrative landscape of the Dreamtime – the creation mythology of the indigenous Aboriginals. Stories and ceremonies of dreaming beings that once shaped the sacred sites of mountain ranges and river-beds are now spun with the ghosts of modern technologies. 

Here beneath the Southern Cross, telescopes listen to the beep-beep from alien worlds, solar arrays track the sun, observatories scan the Milky Way and all the while, machines harvest the earth for the precious ingredients of our daily lives. We will venture ‘out back’ into a hidden terrain – a strange landscape behind the scenes of modern living – visiting the vast mines of the interior, stalking mechanical beasts the size of buildings and exploring excavations the size of cities. Violent gestures of accelerated geology employed across these vast expanses create landscapes of erasure, excavation and re-articulation. Towering mountains of tailings, articulated valleys and vast lakes emerge from these incisions; re-made as new nature.  We will be both visionaries and reporters, critically engaged with the conditions of today through speculation about the coming of tomorrow. Clambering over the wreckage of the future, our architecture will operate in the no-man’s land between the cultivated and the natural: a new Dreaming for a new kind of wilderness.

Image credit: Space Project by Vincent Fournier


Liam Young, 29 06 10

From the 9-17 July Liam Young will be coordinating a design studio for the Architectural Association visiting summer school in Madrid with Ricardo de Ostos principal of Naja & de Ostos and Tobias Klien of Horhizon. Shadowy forces have conspired to put together this axis of evil teaching lineup drawn from the most twisted and kinky studios the AA has to offer.  It will be a rock n roll 10 day intensive design studio including lectures, workshops and prototyping. Places are still available and you can sign up here.

The studio theme will be ‘Bleaching Green’ which will explore the relation between architecture and energy use in dense cities in the near future. The Bleaching Green workshop will venture into uncharted territories blending design intuition and technological invention. By casting a critical eye on current sustainability and environmental strategies, the course objective is to investigate architecture as a hybrid of artificial and natural systems.


Liam Young, 06 03 10

I am pleased to announced that Wen Ying Teh and her project from the Menagerie studio at the AA ‘Necessary Monsters’ run by Liam Young and Kate Davies has been awarded the RIBA 2009 Bronze Medal. The studio have trawled the wilds of genetic modification, augmented bodies and neo biological invention to query today’s idealistic and preservationist views of the natural world. For three weeks we voyaged south, following Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands and South America. We discovered a precious and fragile wilderness teetering at the point of collapse, an ecology in crisis, bearing the scars of a ravenous tourist economy. Projects were developed in this context as critical tools to instigate debate and raise questions about architectural practice in relation to the social and political consequences of various environmental and technological futures.  Read below for an exert of the project or explore it in full on the RIBA website. (more…)


Liam Young, 21 09 08

This is Gurmail Virdee’s student project form a Diploma Thesis studio I ran last year. The project was just submitted as a silver nominee for the RIBA Presidents Medals. you can view the entry online here. An extract from his work follows.

The project is developed as an experiment in the tangible applications of complex system theory by designing an intelligent, collective corporate organism.

Scripting and animation studies inform the swarming and parasitic behaviour of a designed ecology of schizophrenic robots. By responding to daily, weekly and seasonal cycles the robots aggregate to create volumes and surfaces supporting both the corporate and public life of the surrounding city. The result is a ‘strange nature’ of emergent species, a bio-artificial wilderness of interactive environments and habitable digital landscapes.

Design strategies are tested in the real context of Wall Street, across three ascending scales, from the individual robot specimens and their local interactions to the generic office floor plate and ultimately the adjacent New York streetscape.

It is an intriguing project that poses questions and probes uncertain possibilities. It is both unfamiliar and novel but also unquestioningly relevant and architectural.


Liam Young, 11 09 08

anthony crossfield_foreign bodies

Foreign Bodies by Anthony Crossfield

 “Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.” J.G. Ballard

This year I will be running a design studio at the Architectural Association in London with Kate Davies from Liquidfactory. Work from the studio will be posted as it develops. 

The studio begins by exploring the dark menagerie that inhabits the pages of Borges’ “Book of Imaginary Beings”.  This register of curious specimens forms a zoo of mythology, a miscellany of ‘necessary monsters’ that are imbued with the dreams and fears of those who conjured them.  These monsters inhabit both the realms of nature and culture ‘slipping suggestively’ between the actual and the imagined – a ‘combinatory capacity’ of infinite and unsettling possibilities. 

Necessary excursions into myth and play can disrupt the surface of the familiar to reveal gaps of useful uncertainty.  We can then wander off the map, through the speculative landscapes of science fiction, on a future safari into brave new worlds that have mutated from our own.

The studio will navigate this critical space between the real and the imagined, a space where architecture can enter into new relations with the territories of science and fiction.  Surveying fields whether literary, biological or electronic and experimenting with devices such as futurology, film and gaming you will be encouraged to consider the mythic dimensions of emerging technologies as a way of critically engaging with the conditions of today and the coming of tomorrow. (more…)


Liam Young, 21 07 08

Archibett Veterinary Cente. Photo by Scott Burrows

Taking advantage of global networks and blurred boundaries between suburb and city, archibett’s brisbane veterinary specialist centre is a productive addition to ideas of the ‘local’.

view the full article online at Archiecture Australia