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Plant-In City: The Twenty First Century Terrarium

A smartphone monitored ecosystem that can green the thumb of even the most unreliable gardener.

Inspired by the total lack of vegetation in the South Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn where designers Huy Bui and Jon Schramm of HB Collaborative live and work, the two partnered with Carlos Gomez of media architecture firm med44 to take the natural world into their own hands. The result: Plant-in City, a nearly self-sufficient interactive plant environment that incorporates intelligent architecture, a stunning design and advanced computer technology.

Their first iteration—a system of some 12 modular “smart” terrariums—was unveiled as an art project earlier this summer. Now, after wrapping a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $26,000, their most ambitious plant city is underway. Their goal is to create an even more intuitive 50-piece arrangement by early fall, location to be determined.

Taking cues from the programming of smart homes, and accounting for city-dwellers’ sporadic schedules of work and travel, Plant-in City remotely connects to a smartphone to check the plants’ vital signs, control lights and water them. "We wanted to find a way for our plants to almost have a dialogue with us," says Bui.

In this specialized ecosystem, succulents, air plants and dense ferns do the talking through built-in sensors that monitor sun exposure, changes in soil moisture, humidity, temperature, and other natural cycles, to ensure that even the most unreliable caretaker’s plant city can thrive wherever they are in the world.

Functioning as a stand-alone piece or as part of a stackable unit, these cedar wood boxes incorporate LED bulbs to provide uniform light; and a copper plumbing system, comprised of a water tank, solenoid valve and irrigation to create a natural rain effect when watering.

Eventually – though no one on the team would attempt to say when - this “performative” art piece will yield a consumer product. As they advance the technology and design, the collaborators also plan to release open source software and share hardware blueprints with the public; the latter so third parties can develop their own architectural add-ons.

“We’re almost treating the art project as the research and development process. Then, as a product we can just take two or three components out of that and it becomes a regular terrarium where you can water your plants,” says Bui. "People are already thinking about plants and architecture and technology, but to wrap it in one project that’s flexible and mobile and interesting hadn’t been done before."

Images courtesy of Plant-In City

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