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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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From Domestic Plants to Cyber Gardens

From Domestic Plants to Cyber Gardens

Why do we keep plants at home? It may seem that the practice of plant keeping lacks significance because we have domesticated animals to the point where they became part of the family, but plants are still viewed as stationary pets. Today, they may well represent trophies that record the individual’s accomplishments, while for urban habitants on the other hand, denote a way in which nature could be brought inside a city for ecological consciousness.

A designer might ask: What is the real significance to the domesticity of plants? Plants do not feel it. They cannot. Besides, few people can actually articulate relationships with plants. Homeowners tend to repeat the assertion that plants purify air and make their houses feel alive as a means of therapeutic meaning, or as Philip Beesley soothingly puts it when describing his artificial suspended forest, Hylozoic Ground – breathing around us in very gentle ways in order to create a kind of presence that works with us.(Beesley’s work can be found here. Also, below is a TED talk he gave on Living Architecture.)

Philip Beesley, Hylozoic Ground, a suspended artificial forest

Philip Beesley, Hylozoic Ground, a suspended artificial forest

The answer to the previous question is not an easy one, but Ken Goldberg’s Telegarden might shed a light on the matter. Starting in 1995, his long-running installation allowed web users to interact with a remote garden while planting, watering and monitoring the progress of seedlings through the movements of an industrial robot arm. Has the domesticity of plants been eliminated by an environment that is not your home? Does it isolate the comforting feeling that people claim they gain out of a relationship with a plant? Goldberg’s work can be accessed here. You can also view the garden in action by clicking here.

Ken Goldberg, The Telegarden, a remote garden installation

Ken Goldberg, The Telegarden, a remote garden installation

Perhaps one can further raise the bar by mentioning cyber-gardens. Not only we can remove the human presence, but the physical garden itself. In 2009, EcoLogic StudioLab explored the possibility of an artificial garden where light, nutrient flows and direct physical contact contribute to the growth of a digital abstract garden. Ecologic StudioLab’s work can be viewed here.

Ecologic StudioLab, Cyber-gardens, the cultivation of a digital abstract garden

Ecologic StudioLab, Cyber-gardens, the cultivation of a digital abstract garden

This is obviously not a designer’s justification for the removal of gardens but it seems that any route could be made worthwhile by a cultural assignment of meanings.

What’s the next step for plants? In the next few weeks, I shall distinguish between domestic plants that concede to a household life, and domesticated plants, that become dependent not on humans, or human activities, but on themselves, as humans do. Given an architectural body and expressive brain, the plants’ augmentation would have control over their environment. This and much more will become clear by following the reEarth project development here,

Plant Photograph

Succulent Plant, one of the test plants for the reEarth project

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