Tech Fancy - Unnatural Selection, No.3 12, 2017.
Brave New Bio: A New Breed of Tech Company Returns to Nature
Photography by Rich Gilligan / Reporting by New Lab
Anyone passing the Brooklyn Navy Yard docks in the last year is likely to have glimpsed a white, spiked structure that could be mistaken for a punk-rock igloo. Instead, it’s a cricket shelter by Terreform One, New Lab’s only nonprofit futurist think-tank. Terreform works with clients to reimagine buildings, infrastructure, and public spaces. What if we stopped attempting to halt rising sea levels and started designing Manhattan's streets like Venice?
"Cities themselves, those are hundred year plans. My grad students’ grad students will be solving for that," says Terreform co-founder Mitchell Joachim, an MIT and Harvard alum who now teaches at NYU. "But we develop these arguments to stand the test of time, and be teased and tweaked so that others can add their voices and adjust as these ideas go along."
The cricket structure, teeming with tens of thousands of insects, is a reimagining of a standard emergency shelter. To solve for potential food shortages, the shelter houses both humans and crickets (a potent protein source that, by UN estimates, is eaten by over two billion people per year).
Today Terreform's working with a construction group in Soho to design a building that "rewilds New York": a seven-story structure with windowed walls that would function as a sanctuary for thousands of endangered monarch butterflies. Terreform has designed a sensing system to monitor the monarchs’ health on-site.
"We're trying to train technology to care for an organism that's very fragile," Joachim says.
He’s talking about butterflies, but might as well be speaking of the earth itself.
The Monarch Sanctuary (Lepidoptera terrarium) will be eight stories of new commercial construction in Nolita, NYC. Programmatically, the building space will mostly contain retail and office life. Yet central to its purpose is serving as a semi-porous breeding ground, waystation, and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). It is a pioneering building – one that aims to be ecologically generous, weaving butterfly conservation strategies into its design through the integration of monarch habitat in its façades, roof, and atrium. Not just a building envelope, the edifice is a new biome of coexistence for people, plants, and butterflies.
The monarch butterfly of North America is a threatened species. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services is currently assessing whether the monarch needs to be granted “endangered species” status, while the monarch population erodes due to the combined forces of agricultural pesticides and habitat loss. Monarchs are a delicate presence in New York City, migrating each year from Mexico and Florida to the city’s precious green spaces to lay their eggs on the milkweed plant.
This project will vitally serve as a large-scale Lepidoptera terrarium. It will bolster the monarch’s presence in the city through two strategies: open plantings of milkweed and nectar flowers on the roof, rear façade, and terrace will provide breeding ground and stopover habitat for wild monarchs, while enclosed colonies in the atrium and street side double-skin façade will grow monarch population. The insects will be periodically released to join the wild population, enhancing overall species population numbers.
Our connection to the community of NYC is essential. The prime location will attract attention and educate the public on Monarch extinction. It has a total area of 30,000 square feet and is to be located in the heart of Nolita, between Soho and the burgeoning art district along the Bowery, and a few blocks west of the New Museum. The site is just around the corner from the Storefront for Art and Architecture and currently exists as two plots occupied by small residential buildings, which will be combined into a single property.
Although it is a relatively small commercial building by New York standards, the building will present a striking public face and a powerful argument in favor of a diversity of life forms in the city. It will face Petrosino Square, a small triangular paved public park, named after a fallen NYPD lieutenant. The façade of the Monarch Sanctuary building will add a lush vertical surface to the edge of the square.
The operable double-skin street façade, with a diagrid structure infilled glass at the outer layer and with “pillows” of EFTE foil at the inner layer, encloses a careful climate - controlled space, 3’ deep and 7 stories tall. This open “vertical meadow,” the terrarium proper, serves as an incubator and safe haven for Monarchs in all seasons. It contains suspended milkweed vines and flowering plants to nourish the butterflies at each stage of their life cycle. Hydrogel bubbles on the EFTE help maintain optimal humidity levels, and sacs of algae help purify the air and the building wastewater. Solar panels on the roof provide renewable energy to assist in the powering the facilities. Butterflies can come and go as they need from the building skin system.
Other features of the project are equally in service of the insects. LED screens at the street level provide magnified live views of the caterpillars and butterflies in the vertical meadow, which also connects to a multi-story atrium adjacent to the circulation core. Interior partitions are constructed from mycelium, and additional planting at the ceiling enhances the interior atmosphere and building biome. Hovering around the building, a few butterfly-shaped drones take readings and maps of the immediate microclimate. They return every few minutes to recharge, and their combined real-time data works to maintain the butterfly health.
The building is intended to serve as an object lesson in enhancing the urban environment with green technologies, including plant life and other creatures, in designing for other species, and in conveying images of new possibilities for the urban environment. This project alone will not save the Monarch but it will crucially raise awareness about our much-loved insect residents.
Client: Kenmare Square LLC. Jackie Jangana, and Andrew Kriss
Team: Terreform ONE
Principals: Mitchell Joachim, Christian Hubert
Project Architect: Nicholas Gervasi
Kristina Goncharova, Yucel Guven, Zhan Xu
Research: Larissa Belcic, Shahira Hammad, Deniz Onder, Aleksandr Plotkin
Tech Consultant: Anouk Wipprecht
Copyright © 2017-2019 All Rights Reserved
Monarch Sanctuary™ Patent Pending.