TEDster David Gallo, director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution opens a session dedicated to nature by showing a video of stunning sealife (jellyfish etc). Then Paul Rothemund explains his work. He is a research fellow at Caltech who creates artworks using strands of DNA and folding them into the desired shapes, like the two smiley faces in the picture at right: Paul calls it "DNA origami", but while they look like silly amusement, they are actually highly complex programmed artifacts, each about 100 nanometers across (1/1000th the width of a human hair), 2 nanometers thick, and comprised of about 14'000 DNA bases (here is the PDF of an article describing DNA origami published in Nature).
Evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald has theorized that many of the diseases that we regard as caused by
lifestyle or environment, such as cancer or heart diseases or
alzheimer's, may in fact be slow-motion infections caused by viruses or
bacterias that may have been contracted as children but play out only
later. Why are some disease organism more harmful then others? How can make them evolge towards benignness -- how can we make them more mild? He suggests to look at diseases from the germs point of view. Disease organisms have to get to one host to another, and some don't require the host to be healthy. That means that natural selection favors pathogens that take advantage of their host, the most aggressive ones. He applies this idea to diarrheal disease, which can be transmitted person-to-person, food-to-person, or through water; in this last case, the most aggressive, the sick person can be in bed and still transmit the germ to others through contaminated materials. He speculates on ways to make the germs milder, so that they can transmit only from person to person, by comparing evolutions in different countries. Ways to "manage" the germs' virulence range from blocking waterborne transmission (cholera) to building vector-proof houses and hospitals (malaria) to reducing the potential for sexual transmission (AIDS) to designing vaccines that disfavor virulent variants (TB).
Jaime Lerner is the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and currently the governor of the state of Paraná. An architect and urban planner, as mayor he imagined and implemented many innovative solutions to city problems, making Curitiba one of the world's most sustainable cities: he turned buses into a swift network of public transportation with the speed of light rail at a fraction of the cost (by making them long, giving them dedicated lanes, and creating "boarding tubes" that speed up boarding and exiting), and to encourage use turned tickets into lottery tickets:
He transformed wetlands into parks (and put sheep in them to "trim" the grass); to curb the litter and trash problem, he offered to exchange bottles and cans and trash for food at exchange stations. Lerner sees cities not as problems, but as solutions, and believes in simplicity in tackling urban problems, and in fast decision-making (he turned downtown Curitiba into a pedestrian zone in 72 hours).
Every city in the world can be improved in three years, he says. You have to propose a scenario and a design that the majority can feel they can make it happen. Curitiba is an example of living and working together. Where there is more densitiy, it's where there is more public transport (currently 2.2 million passengers a day). Sustainability is not only about new sources of energy and new materials and new techs: it's about the design of the city. Our idea of mobility is trying to connect all the systems and modes of transport, combine them, make sure that they don't compete in the same space.
A city should be multi-use. Creativity starts when you cut your budget to zero. In a city you have to work fast. Planning takes time but I'm proposing "urban acupuncture": use some planning ideas to have a focal point (introduce the Guggenheim Museum in downtown Bilbao, for example) and get thing started. And: teach the children.
He ends by rapping a "sustainable song": "It's possible / you can do it / now".
Chris Luebkeman, head of foresight at ARUP, the world's biggest engineering firm, also talks about the city of tomorrow. He puts up a picture of New York, which is a city depending on endless resources. "That era is over". In China alone 600 million people are going to be moving from the countryside into cities. Unsustainable urbanism is a threath to global security. We (ARUP) are creating a city outside of Shanghai, the size of Manhattan, Dongtan. Normally the ecological footprint in a conventional city is of 8.2, we got it down to 2.6, but it's still not good enough: we should go down to 2.2. We brought CO2 emissions for power and heath to zero: it's good, but not good enough. What he is saying is this: even applying the best and most advanced of today's materials, technologies, planning, design, engineering, and ideas, we still aren't capable of creating a sustainable city, we are missing the mark by 15 percent.
Architect Elizabeth Diller
with her husband Ricardo Scofidio and partner Charles Renfro, is a proponent of an approach that unites architecture, design and performance. In 2002 they created the Blur Building ("Le nuage", photo right), a lake pavilion entirely enveloped in artificial mist at the Swiss National Expo in Yverdon, on Lake Neuchatel. It is a building at the intersection of architecture and the weather system, she explains, and it "acts" in relation to the shifting weather patterns. It was a habitable medium, an exhibition pavilion where there is nothing to see and nothing to do, "an expression of Swiss doubts". (BG note: to this last point I can only reply: "whatever"). The "Nuage" was dismantled at the end of the exhibition.
Diller and her partners also developed a plan to turn the High Line, an abandoned (since 1980) elevated railroad spur stretching 1.45 miles along Manhattan’s Westside, into basically a suspended park. In 2001, then-mayor Giuliani proposed to demolish it, but a grassroots group opposed the decision. In the meantime, it had become a sort of suspended wilderness, evolving an ecosystem of flora and birds, that most Newyorkers didn't even know existed. Diller's plan: put in paving elements (for people to be able to access the High Line without destroying the planting areas). It shoud be completed in the next two years (currently they are starting remediation, because the soil is toxic). The idea is that where once trains sped away, there will be place for leisurely strolls in an "agritectural" environment (a blend of architecture and nature). Here (picture from the NY Times) is how it looks today:
My friend Paola Antonelli is next on stage. She's the curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). She's also the author of a book called "Humble masterpieces: everyday marvels of design" and an exhibition of the same name (which was shown at MoMa in 2004 and is now on display in the foyer of TED -- from Chupa Chup lollipops to Legos to zippers and Scotch tape).
I'm Italian, and in Italy design is normal, she says. NY has another kind of knack: for contemporary art. But design for some reason is still misunderstood for decoration. What many people think in NY when I say "design" is overdesigned interior decoration, they think of somebody choosing fabric. Design is also figuring out a more usable gas mask in an Israeli academy, for example. However cruel you can think this is, it's great design. What I've been doing at MoMA since the beginning is to try to see what's going on in the world and harness the power of MoMA to make things better. She briefly tells about several exhibits she organized at MoMA, then runs through a series of design examples to underscore that design uses whatever tool at its disposal in order to make a point. She shows a South-African "suit for subversion" (a big heart-shaped red suit to wear during demonstrations); a Faraday chair (to rest escaping electromagnetism -- picture at right) and more. The show she's working on now: about the relations between design and science. A way to increase "understanding of design as an instruction, as a direction, rather than a prescription of form".
The session ends with Dan Shine of AMD, who announces the creation of a 250'000 USD Open Architecture Prize (in relation to yesterday's launch of the Open Architecture Network) for the creation of community Internet centers.