Barrier, heal thyself

Paul Raven @ 16-09-2010

Add some bacteria to your concrete mixture, and you get walls that heal themselves:

The researchers found just the right candidates: a hardy bunch of spore-forming bacteria belonging to the genus Bacillus that make a great living in the alkaline soda lakes of Russia and Egypt. Jonkers and his colleagues placed the spores and their food source, calcium lactate, into small ceramic pellets to prevent them from being activated prematurely by the wet concrete mix and adversely affecting the integrity of the material. The spores remained dormant until the formation of a crack allowed water to sneak in, waking the bacteria and their appetite. As they began to chow down, gobbling up the calcium lactate and water, they also began to pump out calcite (a very stable form of calcium carbonate), which quickly went to work filling up the holes. Now that they’ve successfully tested the bacteria’s mettle, Jonkers and his co-workers plan on comparing the strength of their natural concrete to that of the real thing.

Regular readers may remember that this is an idea we’ve seen before.

Three-course specials at The House Of Longpig

Paul Raven @ 09-07-2010

The lines between futurism, architecture and conceptual art continue to blur and fade (if they ever existed anywhere other than our own minds, that is); a chap called Mitchell Joachim is working on making a house from meat. Yes, a house. Made – grown, to be more precise – from in vitro tissue culture. A meat house. House made of meat. [image ganked from INHABITAT]

The In Vitro Habitat... AKA "meat house"

While we’re talking about in vitro meat, Wired UK turned over the mic to Warren Ellis, as they do on a monthly basis, and he decided to talk about cannibalism. Fans of Ellis’ reputation-making series Transmetropolitan will remember that The City was full of places where you could eat pretty much anything, all the way up (or is it down?) to cultured human flesh, and that riff gets echoed here:

… the technology is there to start generating human meat without the dubious ethical intervention of human slaughter. Which is harder than you’d think, and the artificial meat version wouldn’t have any Rohypnol precipitate in its cell structure. If there’s no human shoe-beasts involved in the butchery, where’s the problem? Show me the ethical hurdles to ordering a cultured manburger.

I demand that science do its job and allow us all to indulge in a consumer experiment: are humans the most delicious meat of all? Furthermore, I think there’s an easy way to access more funding for this goal: celebrity cell donation.

Of course, Uncle Warren is being ironic here, and has no real interest in eating human flesh, cultured or otherwise.


Cisco’s City-in-a-Box for the Asian expansion

Paul Raven @ 10-06-2010

Most urban environments have accreted gradually over decades and centuries, but the changing economies of the Far East demand modern city infrastructure for millions of people where none existed before, and fast. Enter Cisco Systems, the network hardware people, and their new ‘product’: an off-the-shelf city suitable for a million fully-wired inhabitants [via @BLDGBLOG].

Delegations of Chinese government officials looking to purchase their own cities of the future are descending on New Songdo City, a soon-to-be-completed metropolis about the size of downtown Boston that serves as a showroom model for what is expected to be the first of many assembly-line cities. In addition to state-of-the-art information technology, Songdo will emit just one-third of the greenhouse gases of a typical city of similar size.


It’s easy to see why Cisco is intoxicated with the possibilities: According to a study by investment bank CIBC World Markets, governments are expected to spend $35 trillion in public works projects during the next 20 years. In Songdo alone, Cisco sold 20,000 units of its advanced video conferencing system called Telepresence – a billion-dollar order – almost before the ink had dried on the contract, said developer Stan Gale, the chief visionary of the project.

“Everything will be connected – buildings, cars, energy – everything,” said Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s Bangalore-based chief globalization officer. “This is the tipping point. When we start building cities with technology in the infrastructure, it’s beyond my imagination what that will enable.”

Environmental efficiency and digital infrastructure can only be good things to include in a from-scratch city, but one can’t help but wonder if these places will suffer from the same coldness and lack of character that Brutalist urban planning scattered across Europe in the post-war years. The designed environment is an old, old concept in architecture, but it’s one that has never really delivered on its utopian promises.

But given the migrant magnetism of urban areas in Asia (and the Global South, as well, where Cisco’s cities may well find another place to call home), we can expect a rapid accretion of undesigned and emergent occupation and use to crop up in the interstices, in the spaces in between. How long will that take? How successfully will the designed city (and its ecosystem of law enforcement and local government) resist (or embrace) such end-user hacking? Lots of fresh data for psychogeographers coming down the pipeline…

LilyPad: floating climate-refugee metropolis concept

Paul Raven @ 20-04-2010

Sometimes it seems like architects and designers are the last bastion of that positive and streamlined best-case-scenario futurism that informed Golden Age science fiction. Check out the LilyPad from Vincent Callebaut, which is his idea for a floating home for all the people who’ll be displaced by climate change, drought and rising sea levels [via ExtropistExaminer]; ain’t it pretty?

LilyPad floating ecopolis concept

It also looks a little pricey – who’s gonna pay to have that thing built? I rather suspect that any floating city of climate refugees will look, feel and act a whole lot more like the The Raft from Stephenson’s Snow Crash than Callebaut’s LilyPad…

Under the dome: the Winooski that wasn’t

Paul Raven @ 11-11-2009

Score one for internet serendipity, and another for news organisations republishing archive articles. Both SlashDot and architecture/design webzine ended up pointing toward the story of Winooski, Vermont, and the flirtation that city had during the last gasp of the seventies with the idea of encasing itself in a giant geodesic dome to protect itself from the snow-bound New England climate. Here’s the 1979 article from Time, when the idea was still freshly under consideration:

Tigan has no inkling yet of such details as whether the dome would be inflatable or rigid, what it would be made of, how air would be circulated, or even roughly how much it might cost. An artist’s rendering commissioned by the town shows a structure about 200 ft. high at its center (enough to clear the town’s tallest building, eleven stories high), covering a square mile of Winooski; it is transparent on its southern side, where there are also solar panels to catch the sun’s rays, and becomes gradually opaque on the northern exposure. The principal entry points are two half-buried tubes that would serve as the major cross streets. Travel inside the dome would be by electric cars or monorail—to avoid lethal accumulations of automobile exhaust.

And here’s a contemporary piece at H+ Magazine that digs up the whole story [and from where the copy of the concept drawing below has been borrowed; please contact for immediate take-down if required]:

Winooski dome concept drawing - John Anderson

Enthusiasts organized an International Dome Symposium, held in March 1980. Buckminster Fuller, then busy assisting in Brasilia, the planned capital city in Brazil that had been hacked out wholesale from the Amazonian jungle, flew in to express his enthusiasm. Fuller (naturally) proposed a structure of multiple geodesic domes, but in any case declared the engineering “not terribly difficult,” and pointed to already existing structures like large airport terminals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fuller had built the “US Pavilion” at Expo Montreal in 1976 — three-fourths of a sphere consisting of 1900 molded, transparent Plexiglas panels, 200 feet high and 250 feet in diameter, covering 1.1 acres. Winooski’s dome would cover nearly the entire town, 800 times that area. He stressed that the biggest challenge was not keeping the dome up, but holding it down against the force of rising warm air.

It’s easy to look back and laugh at what seems to be a bout of naive and ludicrous old-school futurism… but is it really that crazy an idea? Surely we’ve got the architectural and engineering skills to be able to build such a structure by now, and cities like Winooski – which are likely to become even more harassed by the weather as a result of climate change and rising energy prices – might find there were few other palatable answers to the question of how to remain an economically viable place to live. Is it perhaps time to reconsider Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes as a last resort in our stand-off with the environment?

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