body architect lucy mcrae is going to grow babies in space

Full of contagious energy, Lucy McRae is the kind of person you want to be friends with. She looks almost angelic in her all white dress-meets-labcoat as she explains the project she’s presenting at the London Design Festival and hands us a pale pink...

by Francesca Dunn and Adam Fletcher
29 September 2014, 10:55am

Tell us about the technology that you're presenting here today…
The brief, by Dezeen and MINI, was THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY. I trained in classical ballet and have a background in architecture, and what I like doing is looking 100 years into the future. So my take on the future of mobility is exploring the implications zero gravity will have on the body; in terms of beauty, fitness and simply being able to withstand living long-term in weightlessness. This study is based on an invention by NASA in the 60s called Lower Body Negative Pressure Device that was used to assist astronauts by pumping blood to their lower extremities because the heart wasn't strong enough to do that. Essentially it's a vacuum chamber, which I recently discovered have these incredible therapeutic outcomes; they can drain the lymphatic system, send fresh oxygen to the blood cells, increase blood circulation, get rid of cellulite and improve skin appearance. So I had been doing these experiments in my studio with a vacuum cleaner and a plastic membrane with no idea that it had massive scientific and medical undertones. It's a beautiful combination of art and science coming together. I've created the astronaut aerobics institute where we are looking at changing and preparing the body for zero gravity.

Is it quite hard to move around in the vacuum?
Not at all. I'm currently working with Olympic synchronised swimmers because I sincerely believe that they're the closest elite pedigree of athlete to withstand weightlessness. What I wanna do in the future is to put sensors on the body and be able to sense what's changing.

When are you personally planning on going into space?
My artistic prediction would be that within 15-18 months I'll experience weightlessness, whether that's 30 seconds on the vomit comet or with Richard Branson in his Virgin Galactic.

And when do you think space travel will be a part of everyone's everyday lives?
Well I think it's really interesting because the rate that technology is evolving is so fast that it's just gonna get more affordable. If tomorrow we say 10 years, by next week, it might only be 9.5 years. It's all happening so quickly. 

Where do you see technology taking the future of fashion?
Personally, I'm really interested in surpassing wearable technology and thinking about second skins. When you're in zero gravity, cosmic rays and radiation are a big problem, and the best way to combat radiation is with water, with hydrogen. So, what I've been experimenting with - and what I did for Robyn - is creating a liquid second skin. I'm looking at where technology enters fashion and permanent second skin that becomes part of your body.

Some people think that catwalks will soon be redundant. But surely with new technologies, they'll just get more exciting and complex?
For me it's all about challenging the barriers. Already we're seeing that on a human level with dance and choreography, but I think it will go on to involve 3D mapping, avatars, augmented reality, oculus rift, etc. It's really interesting that art can merge with really smart technology, creating a whole new hybrid. I mean, it's already creating this collaborative culture - the old Burberry CEO is now working at Apple. I think that's the future of technology: creating hybrids. 

Talking of which, you invented a swallowable perfume! Do you think we'll all end up popping pills in order to smell nice?
I think it'll definitely become a product in the future. There are been certain pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies who have set up trans-dermal laboratories and are developing edible technology. I was inspired by Ray Kerswell, a utopian technologist who said that we would be able to reprogramme our internal biologies away from disease and aging. At the time I was looking at smell and pheromone secretion and that the healthiest babies come from opposite immune systems, and when you sweat it's the smell of your immune system. So I was like, okay, how can we genetically manipulate our immune system and create a biologically advanced perfume? So it's kind of combining all of these things together. 

And rumor has it that you plan on growing babies in space. How're you going to do that?
So this all started when I met an economist from NASA on a bus, who told me that NASA was concerned with the complications of growing a fetus in zero gravity. So that's what I'm doing now! I've been working with Lynne Harper who's a space biologist and has been working with a team of people who are sending fish and frogs and mice up into space. There are synthetic wombs that are being developed and I'm in conversation with various experts and exogenesis developers, so it's really in its infant stages. 

What do you predict the world will be like in ten years time?
I really hope that it's not alien and that it's really organic and familiar but obviously progressed. I think diversity is really important for all humans to remain diverse and stay out of our comfort zones - I think it'll change the path of who we meet and how we evolve. I think that we'll come along and pick up certain things have been left behind by masters from years back. I'm reading a book at the moment by Phillip Ball and he looks at the concept of invisibility, so I think things like that, poetry and philosophical developments can be injected with technology that they never had back then. 

Do you hope to live in space in the future?
I don't think I'll permanently live there but I'll definitely be taking work, some concepts and myself into space. There are some big fashion related things in development within the sports industry. If we've done yoga and pilates, what training techniques will we be using next? What will we be wearing? What will we be eating? What will we be drinking? It's within the realm of how the body will evolve and what we will wear, specifically for weightlessness. 


Text Francesca Dunn

Lucy McRae
Richard Branson
francesca dunn