Archive for June, 2008

Lilypad City

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Something about the lilypad apparently appeals deeply to biomimics. Maybe the way they float through life with a kind of desultory beauty. Kind of like bobbing around a tropical lagoon with a mojito and a floppy hat.

A few weeks ago the eco-design community was wowed by the Solar Lilypad. Now comes Vincent Callebaut’s Lilypad. Designed to look like a water-lily, it’s a completely self-sufficient, zero-emission floating city intended to provide shelter for future climate change refugees in low-lying areas around the world. Each Lilypad, with varied topography including three ridges and a central lake, could support about 50,000 people afloat in the ocean. 

Living Walls

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Now that green roofs have become accepted, if not yet common, a growing number of designers seem to be exploring the next great frontier in living architecture – green walls.

This past February in Paris I stumbled across the Musée du Quai Branly and was blown away by its 8600-square-foot Plant Wall designed by Patrick Blanc. A horticultural tour de force, Blanc’s creation reportedly includes more than 150 different plant species. A portfolio of Blanc’s living walls can be found on his website.

I’ve seen a number of spectacular green roofs both in the U.S. and Europe (my current favorite is the new roof on Queens Botanical Garden’s LEED Platinum Visitor and Administration building, one of the few planted with native species). Because green walls are even more visible to the public, they’re bound to capture the fancy of landscape designers. They could even revive the venerable tradition of the garden folly. Case in point: Gas Design Group’s “Topiade” (topiary + façade) overlays for an existing Louis Vuitton store.

By the way, living walls can have some if not all of the environmental benefits of green roofs: They can reduce storm-water runoff, trap and break down airborne toxins, and by decreasing the urban heat island effect, help keep cities cool. 

Be a Bee Watcher

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Well, after years of writing about bee watching, I’m now an official Bee Watcher. Twice a month, from spring through fall, I’ll be observing which bee species visit six native wildflowers I’ve planted on the roof of my Manhattan apartment building: common sunflower, woodland sunflower, mountain mint, milkweed, beebalm and goldenrod. I’m part of a New York City citizen science program that hopes volunteers like me can help researchers understand the challenges facing these essential pollinators, among them parasitic wasps and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, which continued to decimate managed honeybee hives over the winter. There has been a lot of focus on honeybees of late, but surprisingly little is known about native bee species. Although they are also believed to be declining, there is little hard data to back this up, because most museum bee collections were made before World War II.

Being a Bee Watcher has its advantages. I’ve gotten free seeds and plants, and I’ve even learned a few things – for example, that North America has a very rich bee fauna, even relative to the tropics. This now includes 26 known introduced bee species in the U.S. and probably more – some of which are potential pests. And who knew that although butterflies and moths (except for migrants) tend to be sparse in urban habitats like mine, bees apparently take much better to city living?

The New York City Bee Watcher program is an outgrowth of the nationwide Great Sunflower Project, which is looking for volunteers. Which means you can be a bee watcher, too.  

Space Age Pots

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Bill Wolverton is at it again. The irrepressible former NASA engineer, who popularized the notion of using plants to remove toxic pollutants from indoor air after years of researching their usefulness in human life-support systems for the moon and Mars, has teamed with Phytofilter Techologies to produce a potted plant filter he claims packs the air-purifying power of more than 100 peace lilies or palms. The container has a fan at its base, which draws the toxins to plant roots, where they’re munched on by microorganisms and rendered innocuous. It will be available for sale in the fall. For now, Wolverton plans to give the devices away to residents of formaldehyde-laden trailers in areas still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. 

Meanwhile, Junyl Heo has designed the Digital Pot, complete with sensors that measure soil moisture, humidity and temperature, and an LCD face that frowns when the plant isn’t getting what it wants and smiles when it’s happy. It’s even smart enough to drain away excess moisture when you’ve overwatered.