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Architecture (MA)

Angel Li

Born in Hong Kong and based in London, Angel is interested in challenging assumed traditions in our built environment and translating obscured narratives into spatial qualities. 

In her first year at RCA, she researched diminishing historical crafts and experimented with the digitisation of age-old ritualistic and culturally significant objects made and used by indigenous communities. This year, she examined the significance of microbes in architectural thinking and explored the implementation of probiotic understandings to the co-living environment. Her projects have encompassed a multidisciplinary methodology, often combining films, animation, physical models and material experimentations.

Prior to joining RCA, Angel was an undergraduate architecture student at the University of Bath. She worked as an architectural assistant in London and Hong Kong when she was involved in various mixed-use residential and façade design projects, as well as architectural competitions.

Statement Image

“On any possible, reasonable or fair criterion, bacteria are—and always have been—the dominant forms of life on Earth... The overwhelming majority of bacteria are harmless to humans or animals. Many are beneficial.” - Stephen Jay Gould (1996)

With the influence of Pasteur’s germ theory in scientific thinking, the ubiquity of antibiotics and the global experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have lost sight of the myriad of beneficial bacteria that are present in the urban environment and within the human body. Indeed, from an architectural perspective, given that microbes have been historically linked to disease and decay, separating and isolating indoor spaces from nature (i.e. the external natural environment) has traditionally been regarded as healthier than exposure to it.

Should we pay more attention to the relevance and implications of microbes within the built environment, these invisible aspects of architecture, given their impact on users of the building? How can we reconsider our urban buildings to reflect our understanding of beneficial microbes? This project seeks to subvert the fear of microbes that has arisen following the Covid-19 pandemic and suggests that it is essential to (re)introduce beneficial bacteria into our built environment to improve the health of inhabitants.

Polaroid Kitchen
Polaroid photos of the kitchen and bathroom under UV light
Polaroid Bathroom Floor
We live in an Age of Bacteria. Bacteria, while invisible to the naked eye, are all around us. They attach to and are formed within the built environment and become visible under UV light.
Animation of the biofilm formation of Bacillus subtilis, a beneficial bacteria that forms biofilms on natural surfaces such as plant roots.
Probiotics include fermented food and beverages, such as apple cider vinegar and kimchi. Under the microscope, we can see the beneficial living organisms that are present.


Photography, Film, Animation
Gut Textiles
unwrapped gut
The unwrapped parts of the gut: stomach, large intestine, and small intestine
The Gut in the Human Body
The gut in the human body

When microbes are rooted to a person or an object, the latter becomes a host. In one sense, the human body is one of the most significant hosts of microbes. The gut has the largest colony of beneficial microbes, which aid metabolism and immunity and generate nutrients and energy.

Mirroring the digestive process whereby bacteria breaks down carbs, fats and proteins to reveal their formative components, essential parts of the gut such as the stomach, small intestine and large intestine are unwrapped, revealing their expandable surface areas which are used for the absorption of food. 


Textile Printing, UV Mapping
Kefir Soap
Handmade kefir soap
Probiotic Cleaner
Handmade probiotic cleaner and cleaning cloths

I have developed a set of handmade probiotic cleaning tools. The probiotic cleaner was naturally fermented, non-toxic and contains live microbes that digest dust and dirt. The cleaned surface remains populated by these beneficial microbes. The soap was made of kefir, which replenishes the skin using beneficial bacteria and prevents the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 


Kefir, Oil, Microbes, Apple Cider Vinegar, Citric Acid

In a co-living space, the microbes of different residents interact and collide with each other and also with those found in the built environment, resulting in potentially higher microbial diversity. The shared home environment thereby becomes understood as an intricate microbial ecosystem, involving the interaction of multiple hosts. These microbes are also influenced by diet and lifestyle. As residents ingest probiotic food, beneficial microbes travel along the gut in a quasi-cleansing process.

Site Map
The site is located at Woodberry Wetlands in Hackney. The wetland is notable for its wide variety of wildlife and plants, which can contribute to the microbial diversity of the residents.
The sloping site creates a varied landscape of different levels. A ramp in the learning area forms a nexus with the existing landscape. Residents are encouraged to walk around the building, which has height differences across surfaces. Forming these height differences are earth walls and soil surfaces, wrapped around the building, enabling diverse plants and bacteria to be grown.
Specific beneficial microbes are hosted in each area, depending on the area’s primary use. For instance, Nitrobacter is hosted in the earthen floor space (the Doma) to convert nitrites into nitrates, which can be used by plants to make growth-enhancing proteins.
A continuous soil road traverses the landscape, showcasing an intricate mosaic of rocks. Light-transmitting concrete is layered across the roof, offering a visually striking contrast to the soft kombucha fabric, which facilitates the ingress of natural light.
The building features an in-house laboratory where microbiologists are able to conduct research on bacteria. A curated selection of plants is scattered throughout the landscape.
Spotlight on in-house laboratory
In the residence, family members of different generations will interact and have different roles to sustain the intricate microbial ecosystem.
Spotlight on dining room
Dining Room
Consuming probiotic food in dining room
top view
material showcase
Kombucha Wet

The fabric lining is grown using tea, sugar and kombucha scoby. Following fermentation by bacteria, we have a flexible and biodegradable material that contracts and hardens around a physical form as it dries.  


Kombucha scoby, Bacteria, Tea, Sugar