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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mans


Craft for a Pioneer Age


In a discussion of domesticity of future colonists of orbital dwelling, the idea that as a dwelling in atmospherically isolated micro-climate, the use of plants as air replenishment/ purification and the local production of food would make locally grown edible plants a domestic necessity raised the intriguing possibility of a new direction in industrial design. Similar to the American pioneer where a strong relationship between cultivation and domesticity led to the development of a craft around the idea of the garden, an evolution of this interest in the plant might become the designer item of the nonterrestrial inhabitant. And perhaps that in a future scenario influenced by the 20th century rise of the emphasis on the relationship between form and function, the craft would not be in the representation of the plant, but in the objects needed for the cultivation itself. Given that the growth of plants would require a completely artificial substrate and environment and that growth would be omnidirectional, the design of the traditional pot would need to dematerialize to spatially contain and choreograph the growth of the plant while engaging spatial and gravitational territory in which it would inhabit. As such, the craft of the plant, or the act of raising it would give rise to an artisan aesthetic, the growth and display of the plant as a designed object that spoke to the sensibility of its owner, what the designer chair or lamp of the 20th century was. elli begins with an engagement of this idea though interrogation and response to the primary requirements of low gravity plant growth in an artificial environment. Forming in response to the low gravity horticultural needs of retaining a rooting substrate, nutrient and water injection in a low gravity environment, omnidirectional UV lighting, a guiding trellis, spatial location and density, and maintenance. elli is formed in response to these functional criteria and articulated with a sensibility geared towards a domestic design aesthetic for the 21st+ pioneer. 

The pod itself is derived in response to layering and interlocking of functionally responsive components. At the heart of an elli pod, a sphere of a nitrate-rich condensed substrate acts as a rooting platform for for growth, wrapped in a permeable and biodegradable fabric, which as the rooting system of the plant grows in multiple directions and the budding pushes outward from the center of the sphere erodes and is replaced as a binding member by the root network. The sphere is held in place by 6 cubically distributed magnetic retention rings, which allow flexing and distortion in the base sphere, while still providing pressure and influence in the direction of growth. These rings are held in position by a series of tangentially aligned elliptical cones which provide an open cage for the growth of the plant. They also serve to hold a series of directional rings which contain and direct the functional tubes for the pod. The first of these tubes are 4 slow injection water/ nutrient canisters which puncture the central growth sphere and inject nutrients to the spatial center of the sphere at a slow controlled rate, allowing equal access to all directions of the growth substrate. Around these nutrient tubes, 8 horticultural LED light tubes provide omnidirectional sources of UV light to the growth of the plants. This light is amplified by the inner surfaces of the elliptical scaffold, which are a reflective magnetic metal. While the outside of the elliptical rings is polished porcelain meant to retain and regulate heat while providing a low maintenance visible exterior surface. At the 8 outer corners of the pod, carbon fiber cable nodes provide anchor points for the positioning and clustering of the pods. As a collection, the pods are envisioned as a flexibly deploy-able system, which can be packed to meet the functional, spatial, or aesthetic desire of the end user. They can stand on magnetic feet as a stand-alone object, or mount to a wall panel as an anchored element. 

As a packed system, the electrical and nutrient delivery systems can be clustered to increase efficiency. Since the light sources are local the packing could be dense, space only needing to be allocated for the potential growth of the plant. This cluster packing enabled through the use of aircraft cable as a spanning member would allow for thick cubical or tetrahedral packing, as allowed for by the geometry, which would only need to open to allow access for harvesting. This mode of deployment would be the spatial garden and would turn the collection into a floating object. However, the application may also want to wrap a space, still allowing for occupancy without an imposing object. Therefore the tiles can be daisy-chained into a parallelogram two-dimensional lattice, which can span a planar wall, or wrap a nonplanar surface through the use of flexible cable as a joining system. The lattices could then be layered as plies to increase efficiency over a given area, or simply double layered to allow for direct physical access to each pod. The system is meant to serve as either a stand-alone entity or an interlocked network of balancing shared resources. As an exploration of a hypothetical future of domesticity, the elli concept seeks to project a possible scenario of engagement with a new context and social idea. Its looks to mine contemporary fabrication techniques and existing material applications to engage a speculative opportunity for a new design typology.

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