Here’s a really nice article about using nature to inspire more and better ideas. There is so much out there that we have only begun to explore and use as inspiration.

How reverse engineering nature can spur design innovation


Matt Kahn’s pumpkins

October , 2011

This time of year, I always remember Matt Kahn’s design class (that I took back in mumble mumble year at Stanford). He always had a special class where we carved pumpkins. It had to respect the original folk art and be some kind of a face, though he also showed us a slide show of previous pumpkins and faces of humans and animals to get us started.

Article about the pumpkin carving class:

Article about Matt Kahn’s career in general:

Pictures from the pumpkins from 2009:

And from 2008:

What are you going to carve?

So Magnus Larsson gave this TED talk entitled “Turning Dunes into Architecture”.  His idea is to build a giant wall across Africa, to halt or at least slow down the desertification process that is happening there.  The idea is to use bacteria that bond with the sand to make it hard, something like adobe.

It’s such a very cool idea, both useful and beautiful, and I wish I had some skills or knowledge that would be useful to such a project.  But unfortunately I have a feeling that, as the saying goes, “technology is easy, politics is hard” and that the things that would stop such a project are political and social.

Vertical Farms

January , 2010

Taking the “wall of plants” idea to the next level is something called “vertical farming“.  Cool!

Why yes, it really was a wall of plants!  This was probably the coolest thing I saw at Maker Faire this year.  The system consists of a close to vertical wall covered with a polymer mesh that is maybe 1/2 inch thick.  Holes are cut in this mesh and plants grow with their roots under the mesh and the rest of the plant above it.  Water trickles down the face of the wall, watering the roots.  Then this water falls into a fish pond filled with fish, and is then pumped up to the top of the wall again.  The fish waste nourishes the plants, and the plants filter the water to clean it for the fish.  Also above the plant section on the wall there are some solar panels, which power the water pump.

A picture of the setup at Maker Faire is here.

I was dubious when I saw things like squash plants and tomato plants, wondering what would happen when the fruit got ripe and heavy.  But I was assured by the representative there that the system could handle it.  In some cases they might add some stakes or structures to support the plants, but then again in a regular dirt garden one often does this too.  I’m thinking that watermelons would still be difficult, however.  Also they have not had success growing root vegetables with this system.  Still, those restrictions leave a lot that can be grown this way.

This system is interesting because it actually uses less water than the traditional method of growing plants in dirt.  It also uses less space, and is therefore ideal for urban settings where one may not have room for a traditional garden.  In addition to all of that, it is beautiful!  Check out the company’s website for pictures of various places this system has been installed.

Added note:  WordPress found this article on Aquaponics to be related.  Interesting!