The following page showcase the current state of advancement of a project I have been conducted in the Framework of the Mindspace Initiative of the European Commission. It is a work in progress documentation and it should not be understood as a finished project.

As a part of the STARTS Initiative, Mindspace aims to foster innovation through collaboration between industrial, academic, and artistic partners.

This international consortium work on a project of an agent-based computer-aided design (CAD) set of tools aiming at simulating human agents in architectural design processes.
My role in the project is to provide an artistic exploration of these technologies.


If the potential of agent-based simulation in planning has been demonstrated through many uses cases (optimization of evacuation procedures, traffic management and resource allocation), I decided to take the process out of its human-centric approach and apply it to non-human agents.

Weaver Ants

We only know of two species in the genus Oecophylla in the world, but they are ecologically dominant in the forests of three continents. Oecophylla longinoda occurs across Africa while Oecophylla smaragdina is found in Asia and northern Australia.
Their success results mostly from their ability to build nests in tree canopies by bending and weaving leaves together.

If the human-built environment operates through of the addition of inert and standardized parts, following precise orders, social insect constructions are built from more plastic and irregular components, and their assemblage results from distributed processes of self-organization with little to no supervision.


My goal is to produce a design framework in which simulation of these stigmergic decision processes informs the design of ants-activated materials.

The application of these technologies goes as follow:
First of all, the project aims to highlight the importance of using wildlife and ecosystem simulation in the process of large-scale architectural planning to produce designs that blend with ecosystems in seamless ways.
The project queries the fields of non-human manufacturing through algorithmic design: by simulating ants behavior, I produced a design framework automating the iteration process on design artifacts embedding interactive cues (such as attractors and repellents) for non-human agents.
The general goal of such a process is to consider materials designed with the purpose to be activated by interactions with non-human life forms (bacterias, plants, insects, etc...)
In particular, this project highlights the opportunity for computational ant-based assembly.

To achieve this goal, 3 machines need to be designed and build:

  • A simulation tool allowing for iterative design processes.

  • A bioPlastic 3d printer for the manufacturing of artificial leaves with structural density gradients working as attractors and repellents

  • A bio-reactors monitoring the ants' environment and the assembly process.

Simulation tool

The simulation tool is based on a Unity scene. It queries a leaf geometry to a Rhino.compute server (allowing to run grasshopper directly on a remote or local server and return a geometry based on inputs from the simulation).

[Genetic Algorythm workflow]

The first query is based on random parameters
Ants are simulated and the efficiency of the design is measured.
Analysis tools (heatmaps) are extracted and saved.
A custom made genetic algorithm is optimizing the parameters in an automated manner.

If this project is pointing toward technical experimentation, it is also aiming at participating in the construction of a conceptual culture that considers symbiosis between architectural forms and ecosystems while producing a genetically mimicked, Computationally based, morpho-genesis tool for cultural artifacts.

Artificial Leaves

The generative software is optimizing for the design of the artificial leaves.
For reasons relatives to manufacturing capabilities, cost and potential cultural application described further down, I am researching ways of making these artificial leaves out of biodegradable plastics.
I am currently experimenting with processes involving Chitosan, cellulose, Pectin, Charcoal and Caragenee Iota.
(Massive thank to the resources available on Materiom)

3d Printer

A custom syringe based 3d printer (hacked together from a desktop laser cutter) based on learning from experimentations with bioplastic recipe is under


A bioreactor to host the ant's colony and conduct the leaf bending experiment has been produced.
It is comprised of a system that allows for temperature and humidity control and cameras.
A web interface, allowing for remote control of the reactors as well as monitoring the state of the system has been developed.

Interaction principle

Weaver ants like warm and humid environment (around 30°C and 80% humidity).
By connecting two climate-controlled bio-reactors, it is possible to incentivize the ants to migrate from one reactor to the other by modulating the humidity/temperature parameters.
This process allows the experimenter/designer to add new artificial leaves into the reactors without disturbing the ants.
Furthermore, as the humidity drop, the leaves dry. In natural conditions, the weaver ants are used to migrate from their nest or to add new leaves into the structure when these dry (indeed, in a natural environment, a leaf drying is a leave dying, and therefore, becoming more permeable to outside threads).
By making them travel back and forth process, it is, therefore, possible to time the manufacturing events of the ants.

Attempt to make the artificial leaves "computation ready" is being conducted.
As the leaves are made of a composition of bio-plastic recipes, some of these material properties will vary in terms of stiffness/flexibility, thus driving the shape that the leave will take (in an origami like manner) when folded by the ants.
I also consider the potential for using a mix of conductive and non-conductive materials, therefore allowing for logic systems to be triggered and sensed digitally when the leave is bent and weaved by the ants (establishing a contact when a part of the leave touch another)

Cultural implications

Weaver ants are grounded in several cultural and food practices around the world.
In Thailand, they are harvested for human consumption of their larvae (Wiwatwittaya U& offenber, 2008).
In Indonesia, they are farmed to be transformed for bird food, often referred to as Kroto (Cesar, N., 2004)
Their behavior is also used as an indicator of the beginning of monsoon (Bagchi , 2015)

They have also proven to be excellent natural pest control in African agricultural exploitation, with traces of usage of this strategy across Asia (Rwegasira et al., 2020, Thurman, Northfield, & Snyder, 2019)
As pointed out, these ants can be used as a non-chemical pest control agent in agriculture. Their use is promising as it is less invasive and harmful for the soil, ecosystems and human consumption of the final product than chemical-based pest control.
However, the exploitation of these ants in this context often makes use of plastic bottles as an artificial nest (Van Itterbeeck, 2014).
The method of production of artificial nest involving bio-plastic proposed in this project would allow for the production and use of bio-degradable artificial nest, at marginal cost and with locally sourced materials: Cellulose and Chitin are the 1st and second most abundant polymer in the natural world (Desbrieres, 2002, Science Direct)


Sribandit, Wissanurak & Wiwatwittaya, Detcha & Suksard, Santi & Offenberg, Joachim. (2008). The importance of weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina Fabricius) harvest to a local community in Northeastern Thailand. Asian Myrmecology. 2. 129-138.

Césard, N. (2004). Harvesting and commercialisation of kroto (Oecophylla smaragdina) in the Malingpeng area, West Java, Indonesia. In K. Kusters & B. Belcher (Eds.), Forest products, livelihoods and conservation. Case studies of non-timber product systems (pp. 61-77). Bogor: Center for International Forestry Research. Number of 61-77 pp.

Rwegasira, G. M., Mwatawala, M. M., Rwegasira, R. G., Rashidi, A. N., Wilson, N., & George, W. (2020). Economic Rationale of Using African Weaver Ants, Oecophylla longinoda Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) for Sustainable Management of Cashew Pests in Tanzania. Climate Impacts on Agricultural and Natural Resource Sustainability in Africa, 429-445. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-37537-9_25

Bagchi, S. (2015). Weaver ants as bioindicator for rainfall: An observation. Scholars Research Library.

Thurman, J. H., Northfield, T. D., & Snyder, W. E. (2019). Weaver Ants Provide Ecosystem Services to Tropical Tree Crops. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7. doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00120

Van Itterbeeck, J. (2014). Prospects of semi-cultivating the edible weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina.

J. Desbrieres. Chitin and chitosan [Chitine et chitosane]. Actualite Chimique, 2002, pp.39-44. ⟨hal-01585442⟩

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© Michael Sedbon 2022