The Biodesigned World at the Jefferson Market Library

By Marcus Banks, Professor

A five-part lecture series on the foundations and future of Biodesign

My education is quite unique. I have a B.S. in biology and an MFA in Design and Technology. I’m currently working on my MD and I have a food handler’s certificate somewhere. Though the last one may be expired. After years of learning, teaching, bussing tables, and learning some more, one thing I have always been able to effortlessly do was to imagine myself in a different situation. When I’m exhausted from learning, I imagine a future where I’m teaching. When my voice is hoarse from teaching, I imagine a past when I was bussing tables and barely speaking a word. When I was bussing tables, I was imagining an alternate reality where I had already hit a jackpot. The point is, anyone and everyone can practice imagining or speculating what life might look like one day.

Speculative futures are the inspiration for innumerable books, movies, graphic novels, and design exercises. Conjecture about the future allows us to mentally build a world where anything is possible. Doing this about our current technologies also allows us to think critically and creatively about their possibilities.

Within the design field, there is a practice we have modernly called Biodesign. This method of making draws inspiration from and collaborates with natural processes and biological organisms. During this lecture series, we will explore the history of Biodesign to contextualize its modern expansion. From this foundational knowledge, we will assume the field as a continuously growing and viable discipline that will become omnipresent in the everyday lives of future humans.

The BioDesigned World, a five-part, lecture series practices speculative world-building with our current Biodesign developments. Part of this course leads you through the awe-inspiring ways in which science and design have collaborated to advance technology. The other part of this course will ask you to creatively think about the future and the use of those technologies. As a class, we are going to cover interesting fusions of biology and technology alongside some of the most thought-provoking questions in bioethics.

Every week we will learn about new developments, how they relate to the natural world, and theorize as to their intended and unintended consequences. What will it mean to live in a world where decaying construction materials can self-repair, disease prophylaxis—in utero—is commonplace, and technological efficiency is accurately modeled after biological processes?

Many people are familiar with using fungal mycelium for packaging materials or experimenting with plasmodium for city planning. Many people aren’t aware of soft robots made with living human tissue. This course offers great opportunities to learn about the unique uses of biotechnologies and to flex your imaginative muscles.

Marcus Banks is currently a third-year medical student at St. George’s School of Medicine. He received his MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design in 2020 and a B.S. in Biology from Duquesne University in 2011.
The Biodesigned World

A five-part lecture series on the foundations and future of Biodesign
Saturdays, 3 pm – 4:30 pm
April 15, 22, 29, May 6 and May 20 
in the first floor Willa Cather Room