Threatened with implacably rising tides and temperatures, even as they face massive influxes of people seeking refuge from a hostile hinterland, the architects of coastal cities in a climate-changed world might want to give biomimicry a try, giving specific consideration to shallow-water biochemical structures called stromatolites.
That was the thinking between a partly playful, partly serious suggestion drawn from a three-dimensional thought experiment by American conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, reports Grist.
Currently on display at STATE Studio in Berlin, Keats’ Primordial Cities Initiative envisions how city dwellers on the coasts might choose to stay and make some kind of peace with the rising tides, rather than leaving for higher ground.
Keats’ inspiration, writes Grist, are stromatolites, colonies of single-celled creatures that flourished widely in the Earth’s primordial oceans, and still exist in much smaller numbers in tropical waters.
While they don’t look like much to the naked eye—“they are basically towers of muddy goop,” Grist states—stromatolites reveal their complex, extremely efficient structures to a microscope.
Arrayed beneath a superstructure of photosynthetic bacteria are further layers “teeming with different species of single-celled critters, performing different functions at each level.” A case of “classic trickle-down economics (except that it actually works),” writes reporter Nathanael Johnson, “the waste from the uppermost layers filters down, becoming food for the creatures beneath them.” Before long, the ooze “starts binding mud in place, eventually forming towers amid the waves.”
Examining the stromatolites closely, Keats wondered whether their structure could be mimicked by 21st century urban planners. So he built serious physical models to test whether coastal cities could use the water lapping at their doors for cooling, or turn rooftops into tree plantations that could be harvested for building materials?
While his models are “not exactly shovel ready,” he told Johnson, they “are serious, backed by real engineering.”
The designer himself may not be bedrock serious, freely admitting that his stromatolite experiment is actually “a terrible idea!” But that seems to be the point. Observing that “there’s something interesting in a solution that is a bad idea, but maybe the best idea we have,” Keats said his approach “serves as a promise that is also a threat.”