Nature-Inspired Design: A Blueprint Against Human Extinction

In the heart of the renowned concrete jungle that is New York City, a paradigm shift is quietly unfolding. Contrary to its well-established reputation, an hour’s journey beyond the cityscape reveals a collective of visionary engineers and architects. Their mission: to reimagine the urban fabric of New York, with nature firmly ensconced at the core of innovation.

At the helm of this transformative endeavor are Mitchell Joachim, doctoral graduate from MIT, and Harvard Alumni Maria Aiolova. The convergence of their expertise in 2006 marked the inception of Terreform ONE, a trailblazing research, art, and urban architecture nonprofit. Hatched through a commitment to addressing the urgent imperatives of architectural biomimicry technology and sustainable cities, Terreform ONE stands poised to usher in solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and planetary extinctions.

Terreform ONE took center stage in 2006, after they won first place in the History Channel’s City of the Future competition. Their proposal, “Project Loisaida 2106”, imagined the transformation of New York City’s Lower East Side into a post-automotive and resilient green oasis over the span of 100 years. The small model created for the competition was a collage of green and blue, with silver buildings woven throughout. The model reimagined the city grid, transforming the well known urban infrastructure of blocks on blocks of concrete into an interwoven grid of green spaces and public parks, with residential and commercial buildings scattered throughout, and car serving streets removed altogether.

In the 17 years since the competition, Terreform ONE has constructed a vast portfolio of research and design rooted in biomimicry, a practice that replicates nature’s patterns and processes in human designs. Biomimicry is not a novel concept in the realm of engineering. From airplanes mirroring birds to Velcro inspired by burrs, humans have long looked to nature for innovative solutions. Terreform One’s research references the ways in which past human innovations have become incompatible with the systems and limitations of the natural world.

Thus, Terreform ONE’s approach moves beyond mere replication; it delves into the complex relationship between human innovations and the natural world’s intricate systems in order to create solutions to human induced climate change. In our growth, observation, and expansion, we have lost touch with nature itself and now we must not only look to nature for inspiration on how to innovate beyond, but rather on how to once again reside within the ecosystems we are bound by.

Bio architectural design does not come without its challenges. Terreform ONE Founder Mitchell Joachim explains the complexities of bio architectural urban design, stating “You’re moving so many different actors and agents to think about how these relationships occur, where they occur, and what scope or time frame they’re happening in and who it affects and why, and then speculate through visions or images, projects that extend far beyond just a single boundary.”

The webs of human engagement, environmental controls, and design are interwoven and indistinguishable, making the challenge enormous. Joachim states that we cannot define urban design because though “the design aspect is something we know, urbanity seems to be boundless and our control over it is minimal.” Joachims works to take advantage of the boundlessness of urban design to imagine the unimaginable and expand beyond our current perception of what is possible in urban spaces.

Terreform ONE’s designs indeed look otherworldly, each one an exquisite piece of art with a unique purpose. The “Fab Tree Hub”, a structure located just outside of New York City, stands out among Terreform ONE’s creations and is described as “multispecies living structure.” This “terrestrial reef,” is designed to attract flora and fauna and foster life and diversity within its very walls. The design incorporates indigenous tree grafting techniques, with 30-foot tall tree clusters held together primarily by beeswax and sap.

The primary purpose of this structure is to provide the environment with a space to foster biodiversity of the flora and fauna. But that’s not all Terreform One has in mind. It is, in tandem, a space for the general human population to come and be a part of the natural phenomenons taking place. “We intend for our visitors to forest bathe, visualizing themselves as directly linked to the ecosystem,” Terrefrom ONE states, “similarly to Thoreau’s Cabin and Laugier’s Primitive Hut, the project strives to revive the untamed and deliberate relationship to nature that humanity once sustained.”

In a similar vein, Terreform ONE’s “Bio-informatic Digester” design uses modern technology and engineering to create solutions to human waste production. The visually bizarre structure, with a large hill shaped appendage housing cells for plants and animal life, is attached to a glass plated composting system, capable of transforming styrofoam packaging waste into mulch for gardening. The design utilizes mealworms to break down the styrofoam and transform it into safe compostable material. Above the glass cube where the mealworms are at work, mycelium panels are mounted to present a graph of natural erosion times for various materials. The viewer is able to witness the enormous amount of time it takes for waste materials to break down, alongside an aesthetic biologically driven alternative that is cohesive to restraints of urban environmentals. The structure is an opportunity for the public to become educated, immersed, and empowered in sustainable alternatives and visions of development.

Each of these designs, along with dozens more showcased on their website, are born out Terreform ONE’s continuous effort to develop a blueprint for New York Cities transformation from a Concrete jungle, to a self reliant, balanced, and green urban environment.

As the City begins to confront issues of rising sea levels, air pollution, overpopulation and overcrowding, and food scarcity, Terreform ONE has begun to put together a comprehensive master plan for climate mitigation and adaptation that could provide New York City, as well as Urban Cities across the globe, with self-reliant systems in in the areas of food, water systems, energy, waste, and more.

Founder Joachim makes it clear that the science, architecture, and research are in place, but the large-scale adoption from cities is its own venture. He states “The crisis is the one theory which is something so big and horrific that people just have no choice but to stop doing the bad and go to the good.”In this scenario, crisis becomes the catalyst for change, with humans adapting out of necessity and an instinct to survive. His work presents the viewer with the athletic, scientific, practical components of innovation, capable of implementation pre-crisis.  Terreform ONE’s designs present an alternative to our concrete jungle cities, and an image of urban environments reunited with natural ones. 


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