a more harmonious and regenerative future

Nanobionic Plant Project: Ambient Illumination, 2016–ongoing; Scientists bioengineer living plants to emit light.  Kennedy & Strano Research Groups, courtesy of MIT

If you want to get my attention, put the word garden in the title of a talk, lecture, or panel discussion.  Add a sentence or two about an optimistic view of our future;  a collaborative effort to look at nature as a guide and partner and sign me up.  Garden of Secrets at the Cooper Hewitt Museum on Saturday, May 18 was advertised as a program for  “participants to learn more about biomimicry and biophilia and how designs inspired by the natural world contribute to humanity.”  Part I of the afternoon, began with a very abbreviated tour of Cooper Hewitt and Cube Museum Projects for 2019 Design Triennial.  The theme of the design Triennial is NATURE: “exploring design’s ability to address critical issues surrounding nature, climate and the environment”.

Curiousity Cloud By Austrian Design duo Mischer Traxler, which celebrates biodiversity while inviting meditation on nature’s fragility. The installation is composed of glass bulbs, each containing an insects species that is native to New York. When visitors walk through the installation, the insects flutter. Text from the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Photograph: Architects Newsletter.

Designer Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit, which offers a sustainable alternative to burials. The organic cotton suit contains natural biodegradable materials that assist in breaking down toxins present in the human body. – from Cooper Hewitt Museum. Photo courtesy of Cooper Hewitt Museum

BabyLegs, 2017-2019, Plastic bottle, nylon stockings, rope. Babylegs is an open-source, affordable monitoring tool to study marine microplastic pollution, a danger to all marine life and to communities who rely on fishing for livelihood. Created by Max Liboiron, director of CLEAR, a feminist, decolonial marine science laboratory in Newfoundland and Labrador, the trawler can be attached to a boat and dragged along the water’s surface to collect microplastics for study and identification. From the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

GoatMan 2014-16 Book, Goat Man: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human. Thomas Thwaites conducted research for over a year before setting out to live as a goat for 3 days in the Swiss Alps. He contstructed an exoskeleton that adapted his biped body into that of a quadruped, and created an artificial prosthetic rumen to enable him to live on a goat’s grassy diet. From the Cooper Hewitt Museum

Thomas Thaites back leg prostheses. He lived successfully amongst a goat herd, observing distinctions in the natural world that he had no perceived before.- from Cooper Hewitt Museum

Terreform ONE’s Monarch Sanctuary a proposal for new urban habitats for monarch butterflies, whose wild populations are being decimated by climate change. These structures can be modified depending on the building or rooftop.

After the brief tour, we went downstairs to the lecture room to hear from: Sam Van AkenAssociate Professor at Syracuse University and designer of the Tree of 40 Fruit, Patrick Lewis, Director, University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Barbara A. Ambrose, Ph.D., Director of Laboratory Research, Editor, Botanical Review, The New York Botanical Garden. Each of speakers gave a brief overview of  their work. Lana Sutherland, CEO & Co-Founder of TEALEAVES engaged the speakers in a conversation.

Sculpted through the process of grafting, the Tree of 40 Fruit blossom in variegated tones of pin, crimson and white in spring and in summer bear a multitude of fruit.

Tree of 40 Fruit

Primarily composed of native and antique varieties the Tree of 40 Fruit are a form of conservation, preserving heirloom stone fruit varieties that are not commercially produced or available.

Sam Aiken has installed The Tree of 40 Fruit in a container in the garden of Cooper Hewitt.  The Tree of 40 Fruit  will blossom with apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, and apricots. The tree is created usin grafting techniques to preserve dozens of heirloom and rare fruit varieties threatened by industrial fruit production. If you want to more of The Tree of 40 Fruit visit Governors Island where there are 50 trees.  Sam Aiken pointed out that the trees are a kind of agricultural history.  Many of the varieties of stone fruit on the trees are now extinct.

Stone Plant from Nambia.  They are called “living stones” as they closely resemble the rocks that surround them

Patrick Lewis focused his remarks on innovation, adaption and the incredible resilience of plants.  One example “the stone plant” otherwise knows as Lithops. These plants grow in hospitable areas with limited water and nutrients.
How can they survive?
Lithops are a type of South African “living stone,” a mostly underground plant that lives in extremely dry conditions. This underground life makes it difficult to get enough sun to photosynthesize while still conserving as much water as possible. Lithops has many adaptations to help it do just this, including a top surface with “windows” of translucent pockets that allows light penetration to photosynthetic tissues deep within the subterranean leaf. Cleverly, these windows also have sunscreen properties to block out harmful UV light. 

Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Another adaption:  The Cloud Forest = Nature’s Terrarium.  The sun has a hard time breaking through thick wall of clouds.  This causes a slower rate of evaporation; this provides plants with a lot of moisture.  This moisture promotes a huge amount of biodiversity.  Climate Change is expected to image the cloud forests.  Low level cloud coverage will be reduced impacting the plants and forests hydrological cycle.

Ginkgo biloba commonly known as the maidenhair tree.  The Ginkgo biloba is a living fossil.  It dates back 350 million years.

Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree)

John Bartram

John Bartram was appointed Royal Botanist for North America by King George III in 1765.  In the same year John Bartram and his son William discovered the frankliana tree growing along the banks of Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia.  The tree has been extinct in the wild since 1803. Amazingly it is still in cultivation from the seeds collected by Bartram.

After Ancient Sunlight, 2018. Raincoat on Mannequin. 100% marine-algae-derived polymer, rayon thread and brass fasteners.

For this raincoat, Charlotte McCurdy created a petroleum-free algae-based plastic that is carbon negative. Currently, the majority of plastic materials are made from fossil fuels, or stores of carbon created by “ancient sunlight.” Instead, McCurdy encourages the use of new materials that metabolize atmospheric carbon, such as quickly grown plant matter. – from the Cooper Hewitt Museum

The afternoon ended with a viewing of the world premiere of a new documentary (25 min.), The Garden of Secrets produced by TEALEAVES.  “A garden isn’t just a garden filled with plants – it is a garden of ideas.  The Garden of Secrets explores biophilia, biomimicry and how botanical gardens, as idea libraries, house a wealth of solutions to the challenges that face our world today.  Living in such difficult times, spending the afternoon filled with hope was exhilarating, invigorating and refreshing.

Nature – Cooper Hewitt DesignTriennal

Nature by Design:  Selections from the Permanent Collection

To accompany the special exhibition, Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design TriennialNature by Design presents a rotating selection of extraordinary design drawn from Cooper Hewitt’s collection of over 210,000 objects, inviting visitors to discover how nature and design have intersected in the past and continue to converge in our world.

Explore + Tour: Nature
June 6, 2019
9AM – 4 PM

Discover the power of design in connecting advances in science, technology, engineering, and math. Cooper Hewitt’s latest exhibition, Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, showcases the groundbreaking ways designers are engaging with nature. In this program, educators will tour the exhibition and work with Dr. Max Liboiron, creator of BabyLegs


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