In the near future our buildings may also be "grown" by industrial-strength microorganisms. Some of these may form the basis of self-healing materials such as, Henk Jonkers’ biocrete, where bacteria are mixed into traditional cement and form solid plugs when activated by water that seeps in from fine cracks in the material. Other projects, such as Magnus Larsson’s Dune, are more ambitious. Larsson’s plan involves harnessing the metabolic powers of a sand-particle-fixing species of bacteria to produce sandstone or marble in deserts thought to be too hostile to live in.
Within modern cities, the value of harnessing the transformational powers of communities of microorganisms, called bioprocessing, is being realised in wastewater gardens. These may be thought of as bacterial cities within our own, which are fed with and transform our waste organic matter into useful substances. Rather than being noxious sumps of filth and disease, these sewage plants are popular visitor attractions, odourless greenhouses with the look and feel of a botanical garden (such as Koh Phi Phi Don in Thailand). Bioprocessing units may be designed to house different kinds of ecologies to suit particular habitats. For example, in estuary environments so-called "oystertecture", in which shellfish are farmed on sculptural metal structures, could be used to filter impurities, improve water quality and increase biodiversity.
These developments in living technology suggest that we will evolve solutions using the transformational properties of natural systems. Living technologies build upon traditional skills that work in combination with new scientific knowledge. Importantly, since biology is everywhere, these approaches are not confined to Western societies. Increasingly DIY bio communities are learning how to "hack" natural systems and diversify living technology applications. This may streamline global human development with such natural processes so that our lifestyles are more sustainable, less environmentally disruptive and lead to cities which are better places to live.
Perhaps the future of our urban environments will not be about designing buildings, as we know them, but in the production of synthetic ecosystems, which improve the quality of our lives.