CULTURE CULTURES

SPECULATIONS ON THE BIOSENTIENT CITY

New York, 2050. The agenda of the Smart City is to collect information from the vast datascape that saturates urban environments and render it actionable. Seeking an information system beyond that of the digital “Smart City,” we look to biological data, specifically that of the microbiome, the six pounds of bacteria present in every person with a signature more unique than DNA. By tracking microbes we observe that the data between bodies and bodies as well as bodies and spaces is in constant exchange.

New York’s existing air monitoring infrastructure consists of a few static sensors which are only able to provide broad pictures of city air quality to a select group of people. We propose to instead use these sites as dispersal centers for aeroborne bio-sensors. Bio-sensors or “wetware” are genetically engineered bacteria capable of sorting data with a degree of resolution and reacting with a pre-programmed behavior. By blanketing the city with a cloud of bioagents capable of sensing high concentrations of toxicity and changing color, information regarding environmental quality is not only more thorough and specific to every block but is also immeadiately accessible and visible to any citizen.

 

What scenarios that might occur in this world? Will properties become more valuable in areas with high winds that allow the environment to be tested more frequently? Perhaps the city will employ the air blown out of subway grates to redirect wind to more polluted parts of the city or write new zoning laws to create incentives for more aerodynamic architecture. 

A new consciousness of what constitutes “body” will generate new patterns of behavior and subsequent design across urban, architectural, bodily, and micro scales. New typologies such as the Pharm, a public facility where bioagents are grown, collected, and released, will emerge as a strange hybrid between doctor’s office and public park. Interfacing with the biosensitive microtextures that compose the architectural assembly, visitors donate their microbes to the architecture which, in return, sniffs and trembles as it exchanges information with bodies. Health becomes a monitoring of not only a body but a collective of bodies and environments. 

Through this exchange, we expect many issues to arise: questions of privacy, of resistance or compliance, speculations on policies, debates of top-down versus bottom -up, promises of material, challenges of “natural versus artificial.” If we coat New York with enough of these agents can the city truly behave as a living, growing organism in which the collective bioagent population registers change and reacts accordingly? Culture Cultures explores the emergent cultural trends of a city beginning to grow as a biological culture.

2015

In collaboration with Zherui Wang

Degree Project | Pratt Institute

Advisors Jason Lee + Michael Chen

Awarded the Lee and Norman Rosenfeld Award for Best Thesis

Exhibited at the Center of Architecture for their "Architecture Schools" Exhibition

TITLE

Body of Text

Timeline. Future

Manual. This new world would manifest in changes on multiple scales - from the microscopic to the urban.

Section. Walking through the city data is exchanged and quantified through architecture and public exchange

Scenarios. Image

Models. Image

MOLLY MASON

All rights reserved, 2020.