Eco-Laboratory @ the Smithsonian!

The Eco-Laboratory is currently featured in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s fourth exhibition, entitled “Why Design Now?” This exhibition is part of the National Design Triennial series and will be on view from May 14, 2010 through January 9, 2011. The exhibition explores the work of designers addressing human and environmental problems across many fields of design – from architecture, to product design, fashion, graphics, new media and landscape design. The title, “Why Design Now?” challenges audiences to examine why design thinking is an essential tool for solving some of society’s most urgent problems.

Eight themes structure the exhibit: energy, mobility, community, materials, prosperity, health, communication and simplicity. The Eco-Laboratory is on display within the “community” category of the exhibit.

To view the exhibits website click here


Increasing food production without negatively impacting the environment is at the heart of vertical farming, a new approach to fresh-food distribution that provides urban centers with healthy, “just picked” food, grown within the controlled environment of a multistory building. One of the pioneers of the vertical-farming concept is Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist and ecologist at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. He sees vertical farming as a solution to nutritiously feed a world population— currently at 6.8 billion and, by 2050, approaching nine billion people—while avoiding toxic pesticides and fungicides and controlling the spread of pestilence that kills humans and crops. Small-scale versions of vertical farming already exist: hydroponics and aeroponics grow plants without soil, the first in a liquid nutrient and the second in a nutrient mist. According to Despommier, indoor farming allows crops to be grown yearround and organically. It also has other benefits: it eliminates agricultural runoff, reduces infectious diseases, converts black and gray water into potable water, restores farmland to a natural landscape, and reduces fossil-fuel use by reducing farm equipment and food shipping, to name just a few. Vertical farms can be replicated in any part of the world that has famine caused by crop shortage and natural disasters, they are adaptable and feasible, and the technology currently exists to make them.

Eco-Laboratory is one of the more recent and successful examples of such a system. The program merges a neighborhood market, dwelling units, a vocational training facility, and a sustainability educational center for the public into a financially viable downtown residential development. The project is designed to grow its own food, generate electricity, clean its own air and water, and provide a place and purpose for the underserved population. It is a model for bringing together home, work, shopping, community, food and energy production, and waste disposal under one roof. The designers describe it as technically being off the grid, but contextually, it is completely connected.

Leave a Reply