The city is a vast and incredibly complex metabolism in which the human species is the tiniest of fractions; tiny and yet intrinsically linked into an organic embroidery beyond our understanding. It is within this complex fabric that (future) biotechnologies will end up. Pigeon d’Or proposes the use of feral pigeons as a platform and interface for synthetic biology in an urban environment by attempting to make a pigeon defecate soap.
By modifying the metabolism of pigeons, synthetic biology allows us to add new functionality to what are commonly seen as “flying rats.” A special bacteria has been designed and created that, when fed to pigeons, turns feces into detergent and is as harmless to pigeons as yoghurt is to humans. Through the pursuit of manipulating pigeon excrement and designing appropriate architectural interfaces, the project explores the ethical, political, practical and aesthetic consequences of designing biology.
Two objects are being presented in the project. The first is a contraption that allows these pigeons to become part of your house, part of the architecture. This pigeon house is attached to your windowsill and allows you to feed the pigeons and to separate and select them and direct them through different exits. It facilitates bespoke urban disinfection.
The second artefact is an interface for a parked automobile, allowing the soap produced to land on the windscreen. For this object, bacteria have been designed and created that specifically produce a biological window soap. These bacteria produce lipase and lower the pH to attack the grease and dirt on the windscreen.
Pigeons and feral pigeons present themselves as the ideal platform and interface for urban biotechnologies. While seen by many as pests, one could argue that they’re actually a product of biotechnology, as their ancestors were designed to look pretty, deliver post, spy, tumble or race. The project draws on the rich culture around pigeon racing.
In collaboration with James Chappell at the Centre for Synthetic Biology, Imperial College London. Thanks to Pieter Baert, Jan Boelen, Rob Culverhouse, Simon Delobel, Cate Edgar, Toby Hadden, Keith Plastow, Albert Stratton, Kasper Van Rompay & Joep Verburg. Supported by the Flemish Authorities