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World Map Installation uses E. Coli and Jellyfish Proteins to illuminate our population in 2100

Bioluminescence and icky germs shine a light on population growth.

by Johnny Magdaleno
Oct 22 2013, 5:35pm

A Buckminster Fuller-style Dymaxion Map

Terreform’s Bio City Map in full, one side

If you think about it, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map is a perfect example of how reductive approaches to science may be necessary to resolve some of the world’s more pressing complications. To best understand the Earth as a total entity, Fuller suggested we go pre-Magellan, back to the days when the earth’s shape was physically unproven, by unravelling our beloved sphere to a flat, non-symmetrical surface. Like peeling an orange while keeping the peel intact.

Close up of Dymaxion Map

This is why it fits so well as a model for Terreform’s Bio City Lab – in ethos and in structure. Putting Fuller’s concept to practice, the New York-based design firm constructed a vertical plane of two-sided triangular pieces that model Earth’s surface, as if it were peeled directly off the mantle. Each side of the installation houses physical representations of data that snapshot a coming reality: by 2100, an anticipated 11 billion human bodies will be hustlin’ in all corners of the globe.

Instead of relying solely on computer algorithms or census trends, Terreform employs what it refers to as “bacteriography” to drive Bio City Lab’s glowing body. Strains of E. Coli and protein structures from sea anemones and jellyfish combine to bio-illuminate population fluctuations from now until 2100, ultimately mimicking the natural ebb-and-flow of urban densities with purely biological means.

Terreform’s website details why: “Bacteria in this constrained form and under the right conditions, behave almost identically to urban population patterns […] In many cases, they are as good as computational versions because they are the source which algorithms are derived from. In time, the mapping installation may illustrate patterns yet unobserved in typical digital models.”

The protein structures are injected into the DNA of genetically modified E. Coli strains, which are then gathered in petri dishes and subjected to UV rays. These rays effectively flip a switch in the bacteria, resulting in a neon mesh of blues, greens, reds and yellows. Green glowing blotches indicate where we are now; red ones indicate what our numbers will look like in the coming century.

Opposite the petri dishes are mountainous 3D graphs detailing population peaks across 2100’s world.

As a result, the structure becomes both static and mutative: the rigid and plastic population graphs depict future projections, while the ongoing biological reactions depict the fluid, amorphous quality of population changes.

It also takes into account contemporary phenomena like megacities (urban areas with populations of more than 10 million) and instant cities (urban areas with an infrastructure erected in anticipation of a population, usually at the cusp of economic booms).

But instead of specifying which petri dishes or 3D graphs correlate with which cities, the Bio City Map is geographically indiscriminate. Current urban areas, countries, continents or even bodies of water remain unreferenced, so that the populationstatistics and data of each city come together to form a single, transcontinental urbanity. In turn, it becomes a city of cities.

Through this, the installation suggests that if we’re to tackle problems of saturated population density and their potential corollaries (water, energy, food, housing, etc. crises), we need to stop worrying about national or regional interest and look at the bigger global picture. Literally.

Bio City Map for Terreform’s Biological Urbanism at OCAD University, Toronto, Canada

Detail of population spike graph Terreform is an international contender when it comes to these things.

They’re one in a series of contemporary design firms looking to explore the romantic tendencies of futurism through experimental approaches to society building. Along with recent curations like Liam Young’s Future Perfect exhibition at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale (which we partially covered here) and the writings of William Meyers, they’re giving breath to the argument that creativity, technology, and biology must unite if we’re to effectively solve societal dilemmas down the road.

Each of these groups and creators recognize the need for cross-collaboration. It’s no longer just architects, just urbanists, or just engineers hashing out blueprints – it’s all of the above, plus a cadre of fiction authors, artists, futurists, mathematicians, and more. Which makes more than enough sense: how can you guide the growth of a society without soliciting the thoughts of those who grow its culture?

All photos courtesy of Terreform