In this article, we describe a novel hardware-software design framework for prototyping cellular architectures in hardware. Based on an extensible platform of about 200 FPGAs, configured as a networked structure of processors, the hardware part of this computing framework is backed by an extensible library of software components that provides primitives for efficient inter-processor communication and distributed computation. This dual software-hardware approach allows a very quick exploration of different ways to solve computational problems using bio-inspired techniques. To demonstrate the validity of the method, we present an example of how a traditional parallel system such as a cellular automaton can be modeled and run with this perspective. In addition, we also show that the flexibility of our approach allows not only cellular automata but any computation to be easily implemented on a cellular substrate.