At first glance, we weren't entirely sure what Radiant Soil, a massive installation by architect Philip Beesley, actually was. An industrial-sized Lite Brite crossed with a giant set of K'Nex maybe? A sentient being sent here to lord over us? Either way, it's mesmerizing—and we wouldn't mind being beamed up inside of it.

Radiant Soil is on display right now the Espace EDF Foundation in Paris. It absolutely looks like something from another planet—and it acts like it, too, moving and reacting to human touch like some alien organism. But what exactly are we looking at here? Let's let Beesley himself explain it properly:

Radiant Soil forms interlinking clouds of industrial design biomimetic components of polymer, metal and glass, arranged in suspended filter layers contain a near-living carbon-capture metabolism. Frond-clusters fitted with shape-memory alloy mechanisms react to viewers as they approach, flexing and setting off bursts of light that stimulate the protocells and trigger chains of motion that ripple throughout the environment. Scent-emitting glands attract viewers and encourage interaction with the system, providing stimulus that increases air circulation and protocell formation.

Basically, the installation mimics a living, breathing biological system that actually interacts with people. Visitors to the installation are invited to touch it, which spurs all kinds of different reactions—from palm fronds that slowly unfurl to "glands" that actually emit smells. It's easy to forget that this eco-system is actually totally synthetic, built out of high-tech alloys and plastics. Make what you will of the project's deeper meaning, but to us, it's totally amazing. [Philip Beesley via DesignBoom]