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The Living


Principal: David Benjamin

Hy-Fi creates a fun and captivating experience for MoMA PS1 Warm Up, plus a new paradigm for the future of manufacturing and design. If the 20th century was the century of physics, then the 21st is the century of biology. Our structure uses biological technologies combined with cutting-edge computation and engineering to create new building materials, a new method of bio-design, and a structure for MoMA PS1 that is 100% grown and 100% compostable. Our structure temporarily diverts the natural carbon cycle to produce a building that grows out of nothing but earth and returns to nothing but earth—with no waste, no energy, and no carbon emissions. This “low-tech biotech” approach offers a new vision for our society’s approach to physical objects and the built environment. It also offers a new definition of Local Materials, and a direct relationship to New York State agriculture and innovation culture, New York City artists and nonprofits, and Queens community gardens.

The structure is a circular tower of both organic and reflective bricks. The organic bricks are produced through a revolutionary combination of corn stalks (that otherwise have no value) and specially developed living root structures. The reflective bricks are produced through the custom-forming of a new daylighting mirror film invented by 3M. The reflective bricks are used as growing trays for the organic bricks, and then they are incorporated into the final construction before being shipped back to 3M for use in further research. The organic bricks are arranged at the bottom of the structure and the reflective bricks are arranged at the top to bounce soft light down and create a unique sparkle.

The structure inverts the logic of load-bearing brick construction and creates a gravity-defying effect; instead of being thick and dense at the bottom, it is thin and porous at the bottom. The structure is calibrated to create a cool micro-climate in the summer by drawing in cool air at the bottom and pushing out hot air at the top. The structure creates mesmerizing light effects on its interior walls through reflected caustic patterns (like the patterns of light on the bottom of a swimming pool or shining through a wine glass). The structure offers a familiar—yet completely new—structure in the context of the glass towers of the New York City skyline and the brick construction of the PS1 building. And overall, the structure offers shade, color, light, views, and a future-oriented experience that is refreshing, thought provoking, and full of wonder and optimism.

To execute this project, we have already built an incredible team of collaborators, including Ecovative, the New York start-up that invented our no-waste material; 3M, the company that invented daylighting mirror film; Advanced Coatings Incorporated, who have already tested our natural materials for durability in New York summer conditions; Shabd Simon-Alexander and Audrey Louisere, the natural-dye artists who have developed a natural clear coating to further protect our material from scratching and chipping; Build It Green Compost, the Queens-based nonprofit that will process our building materials after the installation and provide them to local community gardens; Kate Orff and SCAPE Landscape Architecture; Arup; Atelier Ten; Autodesk; Bruce Mau Design; Brooklyn Digital Foundry; and a team of graduate research students at Columbia University (where we teach) who will help construct and deconstruct the structure. We are very confident that we can meet the project budget; the cost of natural bricks for the entire structure is less than $20,000, and the 3M daylighting material and salvaged wood are being donated.