find below a comparison between my original intentionality statement and a revised, final version. the development between the two was instigated by a breakthrough in thinking spurred by a conversation with a sci-fi writer friend of mine; this seems to be a good example of cross-pollination between the adjacent fields of semi-speculative design and science fiction. this shift in thought would not have been possible without many weeks of conceptual work acheived through group discussion and brainstorming in-studio
I began the semester with an expressed interest in space settlement and the plant-based systems that might allow humans to live off-planet. This interest has remained consistent over the first half of the course, and I would like to continue in my domains of plants, space settlement, bio-inspired engineering, and the perspective of the machine. In particular, I will focus primarily on plants both as participants in my designs and as a mechanical and conceptual framework for further research. I have a particular interest in hydroponic plant-growing systems and moreover, the concepts that underlie them. I would like to investigate somewhat more left-of-field physical properties associated with plants such as peristaltic and capillary action, osmotic pressure, and gravitation. I am also interested in exploring hydrogel as a growing medium and water-providing substance for plant systems. Bioelectricity is also a central interest for me on this topic, both from the standpoint of measuring electrical signals from plants and attempting to generate usable electricity from organic matter. There are many precedents for hydroponic engineering, though decidedly less for artists who have worked in this way.
On a slightly different avenue, I would like to try and implement machine learning techniques into the 3D modeling program Grasshopper. This is a broad concept involving the generation of algorithmic geometry, and it seems appropriate to use hydroponic concepts as the root of this exploration. This touches on my interest in the machine's perspective as well as digital fabrication, a previous domain that I still have a great deal of enthusiasm for. This concept involves heavily parameterizing the concept of a hydroponic system from a physical (rather than a functioning data) standpoint, and perhaps the experiments above can begin to provide a framework for this work. The end result of this prospect would not be engineering per se, but rather functioning plant-growing systems that take highly outlandish physical form. There is a '3D Machine Learning' repository on GitHub, which both establishes precedent and a potential foundation for this work. Much of the other adjacent precedence involves constructing objects from 2D images, not quite what I am after.
1. How can one push the physical limits of plant-growing structures? What are some bizarre mechanics of plant physicality that might be mimicked or exploited to generate esoteric forms that still support plant life? Focal points includecapillary action, osmotic pressure, clinostatic gravity devices, hydrogel, and plant bioelectricity.
2. Can a machine imagine stranger plant-like structures than I can? Machine learning techniques have advanced to the point of being able to generate forms by looking at similar ones. Can a machine-learning agent be trained to imagine new configurations for plant-growing (and plants themselves) that might be buildable using a combination of traditional and nontraditional parts?
1. Capillary action tree. Growing plants on ‘branches’ at various heights, using water transported via capillary action and evaporative osmotic pressure from a reservoir below. This would involve prototyping very small capillary tubes using a resin 3D printer here on campus, as well as testing a variety of readymade tubing. The plants at the ends of the branches would have to be attached to their water reservoir with an airtight seal, as to create an effective osmotic pressure system.
2. Hydrogel Clinostat. Building a homemade clinostat using regular p-comp motors, and attempting to fill hydrogel with hydroponic water. The system might be left for extended periods, with the hydrogel slowly depleting. Alternatively, it might replenish itself from a reservoir at the bottom of the wheel. Experimentation required. If this idea is too weak, how might gravity experimentation factor in to the other two concepts?
3. AI plant-system design. As described above, might a machine learning agent be trained on various physical elements of plant-growing/hydroponic systems and then asked to come up with its own versions? If so, I will proceed to treat it like a guide and build the systems it comes up with. This could but is not required to involve some fluency in engineering-quantifying techniques in grasshopper.
I began the semester with an expressed interest in space settlement and the plant-based systems that might allow humans to live off-planet. This interest has remained consistent over the first half of the course, and I will continue in my domains of plants, space settlement, bio-inspired engineering, and the perspective of the machine. In particular, I will focus primarily on plants both as participants in my designs and as a physical space with which future space explorers might find relief and joy. I recently had a very helpful conversation with a sci-fi writer who had many insights into my domains of choice. Given my already-thoroughly-explored interest in space-faring hydroponic systems, she remarked that in her studies of such systems, the aspect that is always overlooked in the design of such systems is joy. Humans get quite a lot of joy out of being around plants; I can attest to this directly myself in many contexts and there is a great deal of academic research to support this phenomenon as well.
NASA, the definitive source for space-faring in the 20th and early 21st century, has had a few human factors-based calls for proposals that begin to get to this topic, but are not quite as specific as what I am looking to do. I am attempting to construct an automated plant-growing system with the primary objective of providing joy for the people in a position to experience it. I seek to understand what it is about the plant-joy phenomenon that gives people such a strong reaction and emulate it in the final form of the project. The form will incorporate lessons from plant structure, inspiration from whimsical, delightful artistic projects of the past, and hard research about the effects of plants on human mood and disposition as well as the mechanisms of such effects. I will synthesize these traits into a joyous, space-faring sculptural installation that could only exist in a space settlement of some kind, be it an orbiting space station or a surface-based habitat.
This endeavor draws upon all of my domains from this semester, as well as a great deal of my personal experience as a sculptural artist and fabricator. It will also have a heavy element of digital fabrication in the form of 3D printing; 3D printers are a fantastic method for producing this sort of project, since they have also been established in space-based human habitation scenarios and have already found a great deal of utility on the current International Space Station. I believe this project will be a fitting culmination of my semester and my ambitions for my time in the Design + Technology program.
1. How can a plant-growing system be designed to encourage human joy in an extremely rarefied setting such as a space settlement? I will conduct a formal research exploration of this topic, especially around the focus of the plant-joy phenomenon.
2. What is a delightful sculptural setting/treatment for such a system? This question is deliberately much more open-ended and, for lack of a better term, artistic. I will make full use of my own personal taste and intuition on this topic; yet, taste and intuition also contain underlying rationales and I will do my best to articulate them along the way and of course, in the final paper.
Joyponics. A system for weary travelers; an oasis in an otherwise-barren desert; delight during a yearlong workday; a spot of green in a field of white and grey. A plant-sculpture, built for outer space.