Post-Planetary Earth

Post-planetary design, an emerging field of study, is a study through research and imagination, looking at how we can design with our surroundings in order to have a sustainable existence on earth, and prepare ourselves for life after Earth or life away from Earth. As an architectural designer, I am constantly interested in how architectures, which through time will become cities, evolve in reaction to emerging urban technologies, and thus affect people’s lives.

Below is an imagination on how an emerging techonology-3D printing could fundamentally change the way we live, especially on the urban scale. 3D printing has been used commonly in manufacturing and is being developed into larger scale construction. At the same time, except for going big, it is also being experimented for ‘micro’ or the cultural aspect of our life, even down to food.

In a post-planetary world, cities become archipelagos living cores supported by large fields of man-made recreational and functional landscape.

Today, smaller towns or suburbs are formed based on simpler or singular functions, like agriculture, transition hubs, manufacturing, or simply the aggregation of residential units. Larger metropolises or capitals contains more diversely different functions, activities and industry parts, and in some cases, multiple cities. Imagine the generation where 3D printing is the basic method for production in every aspect of daily lives, from food, to houses, to cities!

When, in a world, all the additional functions of cities like manufacturing or commercial activities could be substituted completely by 3D printing technology, the real need and boundary for a city to contain and support all its citizens and functions will decrease back to the state before all the mega-metropolises were formed, and that requires only the basic needs of our daily life, such as food, security and recreation. Large-scale 3D printing technology will allow all of our homes and cityscape to be completely customized and 3D printed.

There will be a smaller-scale 3D printer inside each house that will be as common as a stove or a refrigerator is today. They will be capable of using multiple materials and fabrication techniques, allowing complex consumer products to be downloaded from the internet and printed right in our homes, thus efficiently reducing the land required for traditional factories and warehouses. Larger products can also be taken to local 3D printing service providers who can fabricate vehicles and even high-tech drones that can be used as transportation tools.

Based on these reduced basic needs for living, the city size no longer needs to be big in order to maintain all kinds of functions. More importantly, each “unit” can manufacture goods by themselves, thus one of the biggest advantage metropolises possess today - global trade networks will not be needed as much anymore. The urban units will start to shrink to the size needed only to maintain the basic needs and sufficient recreational spaces. When those big megalopolises shrink to multiple small cores that will be self-sufficient, what will happen to the space in-between?

The space in-between living cores would be man-made 3D-printed Landscapes made of organic materials that can absorb solar energy and turned into electricity.

Large amounts of manufacturing, infrastructural, transitional and commercial areas are abandoned and will then be turned into farmlands, recreational open spaces and research stations, when large metropolises shrink into minimum living cores. The much larger areas of landscape will be used for growing food and organic materials for all the necessary 3D printing production in the much smaller urban living cores.

Except for providing sufficient amount of materials, large area of recreational or magnificent landscape will also be constructed to serve as the power generators which support all of the surrounding living cores. Through the nano 3D-print technology, organic materials that can absorb solar energy will be mixed and used to assimilate natural landscape. The whole landscape surface will then serve as an enormous solar panel and will be big enough to provide needed electricity for all functioning, manufacturing and activities of the ‘living cores’, as well as for recreation. It could be a large ski slope on a plain field or a magnificent 3d-printed canyon in the middle of a paddy field.

Andrew Shih, Designer