Archived entries for Designing Living Systems


Polymoss is a networked sculptural object that senses and publishes air quality data. This iteration is a prototype for deployment in public space. The project is accompanied by a series of collaborative drawings that critically imagine the future of New York’s urban landscape. Polymoss grew out of my interest in public art and the politics of invisible environmental conditions.

From Start to Finish

Making a concerted effort to use sustainable materials for every aspect of this project, I decided to build the dodecahedron out of Eastern White Pine. These trees are native to Eastern North America and their lumber is easy to find at hardware stores or lumber yards.

Aesthetically, I was interested in the combination of geometric form with an organic, green substance like moss. The polyhedron brings to mind not only the strong angles of urban planning but something more fundamental—referenced in experimental architecture of the 1960s by Buckminster Fuller and Archigram, among others. So, on a Sunday afternoon, I gathered my measurements and began cutting the twelve surfaces that would comprise the form.

A water-based, nontoxic wood glue was used to adhere the edges of each section together. These were set overnight to insure proper adhesion.

The surface angle of each face is 108° while the dihedral angle (at which the faces meet) is 116.565°. With the mitre saw I used, this translated to an 18° cutting angle with a 32° bevel.

After considering a few different types of data representation, I decided to go with a basic text display using an LCD screen. This excellent tutorial from helped me along the way.

Polymoss senses air quality with an MQ-135 gas sensor that detects the concentration of various pollutants in the air. Output from the sensor is displayed on the LCD and also uploaded in real time to Pachube, a platform for sharing and accessing sensor data. This is accomplished with an Ethernet shield combined with the Arduino that sits inside the sculpture. See Tom Igoe’s Pachube Client Tutorial for more on this. When connected, the data from Polymoss can be viewed here.

Once the faces of the dodecahedron were set, I sanded the edges and used a beeswax wood treatment on the exterior. Then, with the help of classmate Marko Manriquez, I applied a blended moss layer to the surface of Polymoss, comprised of Moss Milkshake, beer, and dormant moss fragments.

Finally, I laser cut a symmetrical polygon with four small holes out of clear plexiglass for the display face of the sculpture. Screws hold the LCD screen flush with the plexi. This transparency makes the technology more accessible and less opaque to the viewer.

Polymoss is intended to be a functional and formally contextualized sculpture that is civically engaged and open to scrutiny.

Living Systems Drawing 2

The second in our three-part series of living systems drawings, this sketch imagines and critiques urban micro-climates. In 1960, Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao proposed a dome covering the entire width of Midtown Manhattan essentially to control weather within. We were intrigued by the perils and economics of privatized climate systems and how such an industry might develop in relation to climate change. This scenario is illustrated across an expanse of rooftop prairies.

Design By Nature

Last weekend, we visited the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York for Design By Nature: Creative Solutions With Biomimicry, Permaculture, and Sustainable Design.

Living Systems Drawing 1

This is the first of a series of conceptual drawings done in collaboration with Adib Dada for Designing Living Systems. In the tradition of Archigram, each will imagine a future aspect of New York City’s built environment and quickly develop the idea with found imagery, collage, and graphite on paper. This drawing envisions a rainwater collection/distribution system utilizing an abandoned water tower and rooftop swimming pool.

Polymoss: Project Concept

Polymoss is a networked moss sculpture I’ll be developing over the course of the semester in Designing Living Systems.

The physical object is a moss-covered polyhedron, approximately two feet in diameter.

Each face of the surface will sustain a different type of moss, producing a multicolored green geometry.

The sculpture will be connected to remote or local sensor readings of CO2 levels, fed live to the device through Pachube with an ethernet connection.

Sensor data will also be represented by the sculpture either through ambient sonification or an array of LEDs embedded in the object.

In the future, the project could be iterated in multiple, interconnected Polymoss sculptures.

1. A living, sculptural object in geometric form
2. Sensor publication and data logging via Pachube
3. Data representation via sound or LEDs embedded in the sculpture

Subscribe via RSS. Process is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States license.

This blog is powered by WordPress and based on Modern Clix. Web hosting by Media Temple.