MoMA in New York has a new exhibit exploring what can be done with American’s only seemingly inexhaustible resource: foreclosed homes and sparsely inhabited suburbs. Nature-City, a proposal by WORKac, turns the cookie-cutter town of Keizer, Oregon into a model city that incorporates just about every on-trend proposition in urban planning. There’s farmer’s markets, rooftop farms, and fuel cells integrated into the buildings’ design.
After this, however, Nature-City has some clever tricks up its sleeves. A water tower housed at the top of an apartment block cascades down as an indoors waterfall. Buildings are equipped with cut-outs and internal parks to encourage animal migration. The strangest structure might be an enormous dome that uses methane from the city’s waste to heat public swimming pools. As an update on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, it’s playful, utopian, and probably a nice place to live.
For more photos, visit Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 
In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.
With the advent of ‘living technologies’ , which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.
We’ve previously featured architecture that imitates nature by opening its walls like a flower, or drifting like a cloud. However, maybe this is not imitation enough. The next award-winning example by designer Stanislaw Mlynski shows a building made of the Re-cell ecological wall, which promises to turn a high-rise into an ecosystem. The cells use organic waste as an input, and produce filtered water, grow plants, and reduce C02. Now apartment-dwellers get to experience nature outside their windows. Decide for yourself: Does this project offer a promising future, or does it merely replace nature?
Everywhere we go, we conquer the land and shape it to our preferences. The next place to build might as well be the clouds. Tiago Barros, designer and architect, has decided to move away from our hectic schedules on Earth’s surface and design a cloud where we can carelessly float around.
The Passing Cloud is a series of zeppelin-like spheres with a fence-like structure on top to keep us from falling back to our stressful routines. The only resource needed is the stainless steel and nylon that form the spheres. Practically no power is needed to move the structure but the wind. But once we board Barros’ floating city, where is it headed? Only nature can tell.
Ever wished you could take a shower with pigeon poop? Artist Tuur van Balen proposes changing pigeons from flying rats to cleaning agents. A speculative, specially engineered bacteria, as harmless to pigeons as Lactobacillus is to humans, could potentially change pigeon excrement into biological soap.
For Pigeon D’Or, van Balen built a coop that clips to a window, which would allow future apartment dwellers to harvest their very own fresh, pigeon-made soap. Another version of the perch extends over a car’s windshield, inviting the birds to come and rain detergent on glass in need of cleaning. Van Balen’s “bespoke urban disinfection” won him an 2011 Ars Electronica Award of Distinction.
Tuur van Balen will be presenting at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th. Though he won’t be bringing along any sudsy pigeons, he will be teaching the audience how to make their own anti-depressant yogurt.
If you felt like building a 2,000 meter mountain in the Netherlands, which features would you like to add? Journalist and accidental landscape visionary Thijs Zonneveld wants to know. Suggestions have included everything from hydroelectric power to affordable housing to a vast, dark interior that would shelter the first cave habitat in Holland.
If you still don’t take this latter-day Babel seriously, rest assured: as of September 27, the Die Berg Komt Er became an official foundation. What began as a joke has now turned into an enthusiastic movement, with serious proposals from architects, chemists, green energy experts and transportation advisors. The rhetoric may be techno-utopian, but the outpouring of support indicates that Zonneveld touched on a real longing for a nation-scale project. After all, when was the last time God asked the internet for suggestions on creation?
Thijs Zonneveld will be at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5th to show us how to build a mountain from scratch.
Image via Sick Chirpse.
Renegade architect and futurist Rachel Armstrong has proposed that our cities, currently constructed of dead trees, baked mud, and refined ore, need to be coated in a layer of glowing, hungry bio-goo. Bioluminescent bacteria could be “painted” on walls, billboards, and sidewalks to provide a low-energy means to bathe city streets in a peaceful blue-green light.
Wild bioluminescent bacteria like Vibrio phosphoreum (pictured above) aren’t bright enough to provide light to read by, but it’s possible that they could be genetically engineered to produce more vibrant light. Of course, delivering nutrients to an entire city of blueish bacteria, especially ones that currently live only in water, could prove more of a challenge.
Armstrong also suggests that building surfaces could be fortified with carbon-hungry bacteria to soak up local C02 emissions. Even if hers is a decidedly sci-fi vision, it’s vital to our planet’s health (and our own) to push for over-the-top solutions. Breaking out of a 12,000 year old architectural paradigm will require thinking outside of the steel-and-concrete box.
Rachel Armstrong has previously been featured on Next Nature for her proposal to save Venice using protocells that grow and accrete like a coral reef. She will be presenting her views on synthetic biology at the Next Nature Power Show on November 5.
Artistic duo Robococo, aka Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders, have embedded a group of autonomous robots in the walls of a gallery. Wielding hammers and creepy electronic eyes, the robots have been methodically breaking apart their confines for the last few months. While the artists say the piece represents “a stealthy invasion of digital surveillance,” it looks more like the ‘bots just can’t believe your taste in wallpaper.
Japanese artist Tokujin Yoshioka does not sculpt his work, but grows it. His Venus chair was created by immersing a plastic mesh substrate into a tank filled with a chemical solution. Gradually crystals precipitate onto the substrate and give structure to the chair. It might not be the most comfortable place to take a seat, but it’s a great example of guided growth. Yoshioka has experimented with various other crystalline structures ranging from Greek sculptures to entire rooms. Maybe a scale replica of the Fortress of Solitude isn’t too far off.
More images after the jump.