Possibilities for urban permaculture kits

These notes form a part of sanjeev shankar's research, which is summarised in his research report

Note: The proposals and thoughts given below are diverse and vary from long term complex interventions to short term product solutions. The time range is variable too, from few years to few decades. Some of these proposals could directly feed the {sym} trajectory of GroWorld while others would be more suitable to the {bio} trajectory within GroWorld.

1. Seed Spot Project

During the course of this journey, the researcher began questioning the proposed duality between rural and urban. Instead of partitioning and segmenting one realm from the other, our true strength lies in synthesising both the realms. We need to create a new reality, which links rural and urban systems. We need to have cities which have 'villages' or rural spaces growing and thriving within them. Can we imagine urban inhabitants looking out of their windows onto rice paddies and vegetable gardens, and beyond, to forested areas? Can we see birds nesting in our homes(or on the building skins) in a symbiotic manner? How can we learn from the communal get-together patterns of urban wild-life and conciously simulate them in our built fabric? How can the quality of life in Brussels or any other urban settlement have a more healthy, diverse and holistic character?

Certain parts of Delhi( e.g. Chandni Chowk) and Bombay(e.g. pigeon feeding junctions) create a sense of 'rural' time and space. Could these dual character spaces be catalysts for growth? Can a city be fragmented into time zones relative to its sense of speed or spatial quality, wherein, zones which are in a greater state of flux or have a more structured feel become closer to an 'urban' definition and are therefore treated differently? Can such information inform future urban planning proposals where the spatial quality is defined by its sense of speed and time ? This despite the fact that what architects and urban designers perceive and value about a specific site is to some extent limited by their ability to represent it! The dual character which defines Indian cities is interesting. A 'true' city ought to be defined by its variables, its idiocyncracies, the changes in its character and the constant state of flux. This makes it heterogenous, dynamic, resilient and self sustaining. It should thrive in complexity. The next question should be, can we introduce complexity? And if we can, then how should we do it? One of the principles of creating a complex, self sustaining system is to relinquish power. People should be given tools to create their own change. We could start with an attempt to declare spaces within a city as 'community seed spots' which are owned by everyone. The idea is inspired by the communal get togethers of village heads in India. Called the 'panchayat', here everyone sits under a tree and discusses village issues. Located in urban public areas, these spots would be periodically 'sowed' with green ideas (real and virtual) which would become catalysts for change and exchange. The ideas would be by the people and for the people. The community would nourish and maintain the idea. There would be a sense of pride, competition and festivity. Sometimes these ideas could be about a group of housewives and school children planting seasonal plants to create a kitchen garden or a refreshing gettogether where people dance and sing in public sharing folk tales and knowledge about pressing issues through street plays. On other occassions the community could get together to create an educational installation out of 'waste', demonstrating the need for reuse at a community level. Often these seed spots could become free performance libraries, brainstorming areas or public arenas but in a very permeable and informal kind of way. The idea is to create a series of platforms for the community to create thinkers and leaders. It is to create a grass root, bottom up solution where the power is given to the people to discuss their issues and find solutions. It is a kind of reintepretation of creating a public, self sustaining, infinitely multiplying global, urban version of FoAM ! No two seed spots will be the same. They will have their own character, their unique stories. They might grow, evolve and spread over time. They would become reflectors of the community and of the city in general.

Some threads worth exploring are: What would be the defining feature of such a space? Why does it work in a place like India? Can the Indian model be analysed, distilled and reintepreted?

2. Plant Tiles: To create a green tipping point, the researcher proposes the design of a green, intelligent, modular, structural, climate specific 'brick' which would have specific native plants and/or seeds integrated with it. The 'plant tile' would act like a living brick, integrated with the building structure and in the process trigger ubiquitous greens and diverse layers of green clusters within a city. This would gradually transform the city's infrastructure into a productive, healthy, edible and playful green fabric. The proposal strives to bring back native plants at the core of our daily life by integrating them with the built form and other symbols of 'growth' within a city.

People will buy this off the shelf and use it directly in construction, just the way conventional bricks and concrete blocks are used today. It will be indispensable for constructing any habitat. It could be integrated with curtain walls/acoustic panels/aluminium sections/glass blocks/concrete slabs and become part of the building structure. It could be used inside or outside. Over time, cities would have innumerable green tiles and become associated with the diverse plants they give life to. Barren concrete walls, commonly seen in cities like Dubai, Brussels, New York would give way to exuberant and fertile green communities.

The choice of plants could be adapted to address pressing challenges within a city:

  • The bricks could become a source of nutrition, vitamins and herbal medicine. They could together create home herbal gardens(Leucus aspera cures bronchitis and asthma, Lia Indica cures ulcers, amaranthus is used by dentists). Each home could become an independent seed bank, a space for abundant biological exploration and a living, evolving bio-archive.
  • The integral plants could pre-date on pests and act as repellents for termites thereby substituting currently used chemical solutions(Lantana is a pest repellent)
  • They could together create a green cushion which absorbs noise and acts as an acoustic buffer
  • They could generate fragrance to counter foul smell of rotting garbage and urine which is common in numerous Indian cities (e.g. integrating epiphyllum oxypetalum, commonly known as 'queen of the night' with the tile)
  • They could act as green filters creating protective micro climates in polluted urban realms, much like the delightful and defiant growth which emerges through the building cracks in dilapidated and derelict urban settings.

The message here is, we will not cut back on the scale and pace of growth in urban realms but we can feed life and fertility into that growth and make it a green growth. There are numerous threads worth exploring. For example, How would the mental construct of an inert 'brick' change with the integration of a life form? Would every single unit turn into a possible nest? Could it become a breeding ground for more life forms and increase biodiversity? For complete details on the proposal please click on the following link: ubiquitous_planting_and_green_bricks.pdf

The next stage of this project could be to create a self replicating, intelligent, renewable moss tile which acts as an ecological performer. It could generate energy, retain water and even control ambient temperature thereby acting like a next generation green sensor!

3. Live threads: A natural fibre string (possibly made of jute or coconut husk to allow water transmission through capillary action) that can be strung between buildings. The string holds improvised seed balls, which hold within their 'envelopes' a mixture of seeds, nutrients and a soil-like medium. With time the seeds germinate and we have suspended plantations. Interesting possibilities could result over time with plants growing at an angle or upside down. The kit could actually pick up on the way prayer beads and flower garlands are assembled in India and would be an interesting complement to the existing trend of seed-balling.

4. To create unbound spaces and explore a new language for urbanism, architecture and spatial semantics. It would challenge existing perceptions and mental constructs. It would create systems for generating such spaces which draw upon the adaptive, diverse, organic, cyclical and holistic sense of ecological existence. These spaces would 'begin' in virtual realms(films, cyber games, ARG) and would gradually 'emerge' in physical reality to be habitable. They would draw on the fields of biomimetic design, evolving responsive environments, active and composite materials, nanotecture, swarm intelligence, cognition and smart textiles. Exploring knots, bundles and weaves at an urban scale could be an interesting direction. Beyond the visual and experiential aspect, a crucial question would be, 'How can the architecture become an ecological performer?' This is currently being termed as econic design and ongoing explorations include adaptive nature, growing structures, living technologies, materials as nutrients, pollinating energy and ultimately simulated eco-systems.1)2) Over few decades, self sustaining and self replicating, organic forested growth in cities would replace existing linear and structured planning. This would be a new city, best understood in stratas and layers. At a macro level the layers would work like a forest, with a permeable, playful organic canopy enveloping the cityscape. At the ground level, we would have a unifying and fertile 'soil' layer with no roads, no side walks, no rectangular grids, no partitions. A new biological carpet like urban fabric would emerge. The grid would be redefined. Cars and lifts would not be anything like what is seen today, they would be self adjusting intelligent systems which move vertically and horizontally, just like ants. They would communicate in a manner which could be based on swarm intelligence. Everything would be interconnected and these linkages would be clearly evident to everyone. Over time, with cities becoming increasingly forested and organic, one city could support the other in case of a disaster or sudden shift in resource need. There could be heat transfer to Brussels from Madrid during the winters, or water diversion from a high rainfall area to a drought stricken area.

A more short term approach could be to develop a series of plug-ins and upgrades which can be easily integrated in current scenarios. The approaches would be inspired from nature but would adapt and morph to have a hybrid language of their own which goes in sync with existing modernist approaches.

5. To create green spider kits which result in spatial green micro environments at an architectural level. Initially a playful framework which can be installed on existing vertical faces of buildings and finally creating a green envelope at a local level. The framework could be made of thin, colorful bamboo rings/loops combined with a tensile wire frame which supports appropriate plantations requiring minimum maintainance. The frames could be modularly attached over and over again. Over time the spatial framework will become invisible and the plantation layer ubiquitous. Such green bubbles would gradually become spatial green rivers, a regular feature in urban settings and over time evolve to become self sustaining ( they might develop features to catch mist from the air and fulfill their water requirements ! ) An important issue here would be to make this kit playful and modular such that middle class families could assemble and install it at an individual household level or community level. Further the source of the plants: the seed pod, could be residing inside these homes. This would create much needed awareness and sensitivity through a participatory approach resulting in effective, collective action. In certain areas which have buildings close to each other, say around a courtyard or continuous open space, these rivers would be more like green bridges, creating numerous overhead cross linkages through which sun light sprinkles down. The bridges could also be made of a string or a wire generating and evolving in a manner depending on what form the communty wants it to take. One of the interesting possibilities could be using seed balls which are strung together and suspended between buildings. Overtime these would sprout and act as green catalysts. As humans we would provide the structure and the geometry for the plantation. Some of the plants suitable for this could be epiphytic or air plants, for example orchids, ferns, mosses to name a few.

6. To provide safe drinking water through modular water purification kits which use water purifying plants/algae or bacteria. This could again bring a strong connection between plants and humans with pure water being a serious concern in the developing world. Similarly, air purification kits can also be deeveloped based on the filtering abilities of plants_namely gerbera, philodendron, spathyphillum, pathos and cholorophythum. An interesting project is the Ó Oxygen generator by Mathieu Lehanneur which contains oxygen-producing organisms called Spirulina platensis. Another project by the same designer, BEL AIR utilizes plants to act as an air filtering system.

7. To create biofuel through a modular biofuel generating kit which uses community/state level plantation of specific crops (sugarcane/coconut/babassu !) or possibly converts left over kitchen oil into biofuel using certain algae. A recent article in the New york Time about an e-fuel kit for $10000 which uses sugar and yeast has been widely publicised. 3)4)

8. Creating green umbrellas which absorb light to create shadow spots and spew darkness. These would work as shadow generators in places like the desert or extremely hot weather.

9. Alternatively creating green fireflies which when surrounded by darkness start glowing to emit light. The latter could find real use in countries like India where energy and light is in big demand. Field of research: biolumniscence An interesting counter example worth mentioning is the project, 'Green Light' by Natalie Jeremijenko of the Experimental Design Lab. The product includes an integrated solar panel to power a super-efficient LED bulb to stimulate plants of high air filtrating varieties. However, questions about the product being 'green' still remain.

10. Creating green charkhas to make your own yarn and further your own clothes, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's movement in India to make people self sufficient and independent. With people growing their own plants and converting the produce to yarn this could lend to a systematic reintroduction of a traditional craft which brings the produce from plants and the process of making yarn back into our daily routine. Unlike the traditional spinning wheel, the green charkha could be made more efficient with the integration of technology and an additional integration of the features from a sewing machine.

11. Creating a green clock, which uses the natural rhythms of plants and flowers as a new way of denoting and communicating time. This would be an interesting way to look at the linear progression of time in a different way. Flowers, following their circadian rhythms can prove to be interesting timekeepers. What if we could coordinate the blooming such that flowers open and close at set times of the day or connect it with the movement of leaves? Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus first made the connection between flowers and time. The formal study of biological temporal rhythms such as daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual rhythms, is called chronobiology and the study of this could inform this design. Some of the flowering plants and their opening times are given below: * Common morning glory: 6 am * Water Lily: 7 am * Field marigold: 9 am * Star-of-Bethlehem: 11 am * Passion flower and carnation: noon * Moon flower: 5 pm * Evening primrose: 6 pm * Fig marigold: 7 to 8 pm * Night blooming cereus: 8 to 9 pm

These times are accurate to Uppsala, Sweden where Linnaeus grew these plants.

12. Vertical Gardening Experiment

This experiment was part of the x-med-k. Media Ecologies workshop in France. It was trigerred by the following questions:

  • How can we contribute to the place in a constructive, long term manner?
  • Can we create a productive eco-system? What are the challenges we face in doing the same?
  • Can we create an eco-system using found objects from the place itself with minimal external ingredients?
  • How can we let a design evolve through an open-source method in an intuitive, improvisation based manner?
  • What are the crucial constraints of a vertical gardening system and how can we improve upon it?
  • Existing systems of vertical gardens are around 30 kg per square metre. Can we reduce this weight?

The plan was to create a productive skin which seamlessly merges with the surroundings. The only external additions were jute cloth, jute rope and seeds of edible flowers and plants, spinach and peas.

Day 1: Finding materials. This included finding wooden members and soil from the site to sieve and get clay out of it. The wooden members were used to create a frame for the jute cloth. By the end of Day 1, we had three buckets of soil and a complete frame with jute cloth stiched in place. This was placed on site to acclamatise to the weather. The soil was spread out to dry over the next day.

Day 2: The site was inspected for sunlight and moisture content. Also the jute cloth was monitored for dampness. Numerous branches were collected from the site to create 3 inch long 'cake stoppers'. These were embedded in the jute cloth to create a layer of vertical reinforcement.

Day 3: The soil was seived to get a bucket full of clay. This was taken onto the site and mixed with an assorted mix of seeds together with compost and water. The paste was then used to make 'seed cakes' akin to the cow dung cakes made in Indian villages. These were slapped onto the jute cloth and left overnight.

Day 4: Water was sprinkled to keep the clay moist. The installation will be photographed and documented over the course of next few weeks by Jan who is the owner of the place.

  • urban_permaculture_kits.txt
  • Last modified: 2008-05-15 17:04
  • by sanjeev