Superworld #1

Herbert Girardet
New Directions for

Sustainable Urban Living

Cities have been described both as “organisms” and as “mechanisms”. Seen as organisms, cities convert raw materials into products and waste, energising themselves in the process. The urban organism seeks to reproduce the living conditions necessary for human survival. Seen as mechanisms, cities seek to transcend biological limits. They are artificial structures depending on transport systems and factories to function, producing objects alien to the natural world.

Cities transform raw materials into finished products. They convert food, fuels, forest products, minerals, water, and human energy, into buildings, manufactured goods, and financial and political power: all the components of civilisation. This refining process has radically altered the world. Cities dominate human affairs and their demands are beginning to outstrip the capacity of the planet.


Excerpt from Herbert Girardet,

“The Gaia Atlas of Cities: New Directions for Sustainable Urban Living”,

Gaia Books, 1992

Herbert Spencer

Such, then, is a general outline of the evidence which justifies the comparison of societies to living organisms. That they gradually increase in mass; that they become little by little more complex; that at the same time their parts grow more mutually dependent; and that they continue to live and grow as wholes, while successive generations of their units appear and disappear; are broad peculiarities which bodies politic display in common with all living bodies; and in which they and living bodies differ from everything else. And on carrying out the comparison in detail, we find that these major analogies involve many minor analogies, far closer than might have been expected.


Excerpt from Herbert Spencer, “The Social Organism”

in The Westminster Review, January 1860

The idea of superorganisms dates back to Herbert Spencer who, in 1851, described society as a social organism with organs, growth and disappearance. Later, the biologist William Morton Wheeler (1910) created the term “superorganism” in relation to his work involving ants. Since then, the idea has been refined in various directions.

With the artistic research project „SUPERORGANISM – #1 Bengaluru“ I took up these ideas during a  residence at the NCBS (National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India), 2015. I was inspired by conversations with various scientists, as well as the experience of the intense and vivid megacity of Bangalore and developed a complex mixed media installation that has now been transferred into this publication.


#1 Bengaluru


Superworld #2

James Lovelock



If the idea of a city becoming like a living organism causes outrage in your mind, consider for a moment the evolution of the electrical or telephone network of a city. Wires extend from central nodes like the branches of a tree, each branch dividing into many smaller branches in a chorus of dendricity until the final tiny twigs reach into your home. How many of the workers who built these networks knew anything about the physics of electricity? [ ... ] The city, as Wilson and a few others of us have thought, is already a primitive super-organism.
Evolution in the context of Gaia brings in the material environment in a way that is absent from Darwinian evolution. Quite simply, if the evolution of an organism changes the material environment in a way that affects further evolution, then the two processes become tightly coupled. [ … ]


Excerpt from James Lovelock, “A Rough Ride to the Future”,

Penguin Books, 2014

Superworld #5

SUPERORGANISM – #1 Bengaluru

Simona Koch, 2015

Mixed media installation:

tables containing drawings; slideshow;

spoken text (3:40 min, loop);

animeted pencil drawing (1:23 min, mute),

projected on a round screen;

object made of cocos rope.

Developed during a bangaloREsidence of Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, at NCBS (National Centre of Biological Sciences) Bangalore, India.

Special thanks to Christoph Bertrams, Maureen Gonsalves, Antonia de Baey of Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan as well as Deepa Agashe, Upinder Bhalla, Axel Brockmann, Sandeep Krishna, Naresh V Narasimhan, Shannon B Olsson, Sunitha M R, Uma Ramakrishnan, Lena Robra, Mukund Thattai, Robin Vijayan.