Authors : Molly Mason, Zherui Wang

University : Pratt Institute School of Architecture

Status : BArch, 2015

Advisors : Michael Chen, Jason Lee


“We are only being offered one particular story about the deployment of networked informatics in the urban Milieu… it only portrays the narrowest sliver of what is possible.”

-Adam Greenfield, Against the Smart 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. The collection of data, lying latently embedded in everything we know, has had an increasingly [ physical effect ] on how cities grow, mutate, and behave. With each evolution of information infrastructures follows a higher degree of [ data resolution ] and, theoretically, a more sensitive city. We are interested in the next paradigm of information, life after the Smart City: a Biosentient City. By combining wetware with the New York’s existing hardware and software infrastructures, we are speculating on a new urbanism brought about by information.

[ Data ] requires units of measurement; [ Information ] requires an awareness of trends. The human body is already a rich site of bio-information. With a microbiota to human cell ratio of 10 to 1, these micro-organisms provide highly specific profiles of bodies and their activities. By tracking microbes, we observe that the data between bodies and bodies and bodies and spaces is in constant exchange. The Biosentient City begins with the dispersal of airborne bio-sensitive agents, bacteria capable sorting microbial data with an enhanced sense of delicacy and reacting based on a genetically programmed ruleset. If we coat New York with enough of these agents the City can truly behave as an organism; the collective bioagent population will register [ microbial exchange ] and behave accordingly. The city will transform with its own emergent consciousness.

New patterns of behavior will emerge at different scales within the Biosentient City-some with explicit instructions from municipalities, others seemingly of their own accord. We expect these to be accompanied by design moves on the urban, architectural, bodily, and micro scales. Changes to the Zoning Envelope will affect [ aerodynamic (and thus bioagent) flow ] through the city, creating neighborhoods of high information collection and potentially changing real estate value. Street space, the public tissue housing the exchange between many bodies, becomes invaluable in observing rising trends within the city.

A new body consciousness will descend upon the New York, allowing for the formation of new typologies such as the Pharm, a public facility where bioagents are grown, collected, and released. The site, 67 Greenwich Ave, acts as an entirely public space, a park where strange events occur in a normative manner. 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. The body and architecture have tangible effects and affects on one another.

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.” Culture Cultures explores the emergent cultural trends of a city beginning to grow as a biological culture.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Molly Mason + Zherui Wang_ The project seeks, on one hand, to rethink architecture as a discipline and practice of the visible, negotiating a vast span of scales from nano and body to neighborhood and urban; and, on the other, to capitalize the metabolic exchange of the city through the vehicles of gases, vapours and microbiomes.
While we are posing the question of what it means to activate a higher resolution of information from an architectural perspective, it’s also a question of culture- the policies that invoke consequential programs of resistance or the health-conscious, social movements that engender entirely new typologies for corporeal engagement. Architects have a larger role to play than just “builders.” We are cultivators of informatic and sensual exchange between human agents and their natural and artificial environments. Our medium is not always explicitly matter-based.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
MM+ZW_ Craft, Computing, Biology, Meteorology, Data, Politics – Although, these are fields we believe have always been part of architecture.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
MM+ZW_ Questions you don’t know the answers to are the only ones worth pursuing. Let failure inform not inhibit your design.

S//A : Describe your dream project
MM+ZW_ Euthanizing Clinic for a Post-Singularity Society
A dream centre and the dreams dreamers dream thereof.