Cities are Materials Banks - by Johanna Hoffman
We zoom in on a material bank in the western sector of a city on the edge of the sea. It’s a storefront on a back alley, stories of offices and apartments rising above and keeping the sunlight low on the street where you’re waiting to go inside. The year is 2070, half a century since a chain of pandemics hit the globe. There was coronavirus, a return of norovirus that mutated into something new, and on and on until people started to forget the names bc they didn’t want to remember. Physical supply chains have shut down in the years since, localized for security purposes and pushing economies of reuse to the forefront all over the world. Urban centers triple down on eliminating waste these days, on prioritizing continual re-use of resources. Now, nearly all goods, services, and systems consumed by a city’s citizens are fabricated and disseminated within the city itself. Waste treatment sites are resource reclamation centers, where water, nutrients, and compost are all extracted, treated, and funneled back for use again. Cities are material banks, with all items, streams, and products are
cataloged and organized for re-processing when no longer needed for their original purposes. Fabrication labs, powered by 3D printers and digital scanners, are integrated into each community, providing the tools needed to repurpose materials with speed and easy access onsite. Back to the material bank. The door opens as we approach, and your augmented vision kicks in, showing you the streams of items available inside. Copper wire, sandstone grit, plasma screens, wood genetically modified so as to be translucent. All materials these days are
made with DNA embedded inside. Printed on synthetic strands constructed through chemical processes and converted from binary to DNA code, they mark each piece of the city – the surface of the street, the windows in the walls, the pipe overhead – with an identifier to track it over the course of its life. Within each piece of each thing, coiled in its smallest part, is a strain of information printed when it was made, with all the ways that it might be used compressed inside. The things that have shaped it — the person who formed it first, the material it merged with last, the arguments that happened to the people who used to live alongside it — all that is stored in its DNA. Plugin and you can listen to these histories, to all the things that came before, to all the things that are programmed to be. Connecting to these histories, the way the materials have been repurposed and changed over time has made you see your city in a different way. Like most people you know, you adhere to the idea of 'designing to disappear,' to the idea that cities are made to grow and change over time, that what you make of the spaces you call home are part of a bigger, longer story.