I went to a talk where architect Rafael Loschiavo talked about his eco-architecture firm Ecoeficientes and how - when building an eco-home - there are 6 factors to take into account: the reuse of water, recycled and natural materials, bioclimate, treatment of waste, energy generation and, what I'm interested in, growing plants.
An interesting point he made was that growing plants is usually the foot in the door for many people to start being eco-efficient. Somebody who grows their own garden are then more likely to be interested in capturing rainwater, and then solar energy, recycling waste, etc. It made me think, how could we make people want to grow plants? I thought about making a game about growing plants, but couldn't find a good way of doing it... but then another idea struck...
I attended a lecture with Winy Maas in IAAC where he talked about The Green Dip, a project developed with the students of the Master in City & Technology. The idea was to quantify the consequences of completely covering our cities with plants, trees, green life, with metrics such as CO2 absorption, O2 emissions, temperature and noise reduction, and more.
After initial calculations they quickly realised that it wouldn’t be enough to have a significant impact and thought: “What if we covered the inside of buildings as well as the outside?”
IAAC’s students’ role in this project was to “create a Green Maker catalog, which lists out all of the floral species that can inhabit a particular biome, the manner of which it can grow in a city within that biome, and the impacts of covering a certain city with green.”
When seeing the furniture flashing before my eyes I thought… “why not actually make these furniture? It might be hard to cover the city with plants, but it wouldn’t be as hard to cover my flat in plants.”
The catalog the students developed includes maaany ideas, from chairs to tables, to stairs and balconies, and even pavements.
For this assignment I would make one furniture, but over time I could develop a range of them, such as tables, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, cupboards, TV stands and more.
Another idea was to integrate another project developed in IAAC called moss voltaic, plants that generate electricity. If integrated with this system it could power the electronics.
For my final project I decided to make an armchair, therefore all the questions below will be answered specifically for an armchair. If time allows I’d love to either make a coffee table or a desk. In most cases the answers are applicable for any furniture.
Depending on the furniture it will allow you to sit down, work, put your coffee mug on… 1000s of possibilities!
Side effects also include cleaner air, more life in the living room and increased mental health. Taking care of life is relaxing… when that life is a plant.
I haven’t seen many examples of this specific example, a potted armchair. There’s a few example of tables though.
Most example I’ve seen are coffee tables which have a glass sheet on top. It could be applied to a desk if you leave leg space.
This one is more adapted as a normal table or desk
Terreform makes furniture out of mycelium. I know a few people in IAAC doing this as well.
There are some projects that actually convert furniture into flower pots, but none keeping the function of the furniture.
I need to design some furniture, define the shape and functionality. I have some inspiration below.
In the case of an armchair it’ll include features to allow hooking cushions. A lot of the parametric furniture you see are raw, there isn't any padding. Surely it can’t be that comfortable to sit on and read a book or watch a film. I don’t want something that’s just pretty, and it needs to be used...
… and it will be, in the morning, so we can’t forget to take into account coffee cups needing a place.
I’ve seen around IAAC and other places people making furniture out of mushrooms. After a few days they dry up and make a solid structure. Maybe in this project the mushrooms could be used in areas where the sofa might need strengthening, or maybe it could be a structural and design part of its own.
I’d like to have grass on the armrests. I miss having grass between my toes, but I could settle with having it in between my fingers meanwhile.
As the furniture will be parametrically designed using these waffle patterns, it’ll allow for many dispositions of the plants. The downside of it is that it will be very curvy and you won’t be able to use the same pot for every possible location. I have different options for this.
It is easy to overwater plants, and they generally do not like sitting in water, as it may develop mold and kill the plant. It is usually preferable to have holes in the flower pot to allow for proper draining.
The water can gather in a water tank where you can easily take it out and use it to water the plants again if needed. I like the idea of emptying your cup of tea in the plant when you’re done with it.
You might wonder why it is necessary? It isn’t exactly. The pots could be 100% impermeable so water doesn’t leak through. It would be much easier as well.
That’ll be my fallback option if I don’t have time to implement the water collection.
A lot of projects automatically water plants for you, but I find that taking care of the plants is therapeutic. I like to check how they are doing, and water them if needed. Doing it automatically works when you want to do it on big scale, like indoor farms, but might be impersonal for at home.
A key feature to this is to integrate technology in it. Technology needs power (and power usually means cables, which are ugly).
I thought about integrating another project developed in IAAC called Moss Voltaics which harnesses energy from plants. The plant absorbs CO2 converts it to glucose and does sciency stuff. Basically it charges up in negative energy and becomes an anode which needs to get rid of its charge. We insert a cathode at the bottom of the pot to "collect" that charge.
The pots can be connected in serial or parallel to give more power or amperage. A small battery will be included to harness the energy non-stop and store it for later use.
Fallback option is that this battery can be charged with any normal charger and be inserted in the furniture after.
Now, to the actual electronics. We have to keep in mind that we are working with a system that is powered by plants, so we need to keep it low on energy consumption.
As I’m planning to make an armchair, the first thing I thought about having is a reading lamp. It doesn’t need to be super high-tech, only a few LEDs would do the trick. The body of the reading light could be a piece of one of the layers of the parametric design that folds up.
Again I’m not a massive fan of all these automations where the lights switch on when you get near it or things like this. What if I want to be in the dark? I guess just install a switch to turn it off.
It could be fun to use the actual plants as switches. Touch the cactus to switch the light on. Touch the Aloe Vera to turn the volume up.
In many cases when plants are involved people include sensors that detect the soil moisture, pH, and other things. In my case I think I will only use the soil moisture to give a reminder when the plants need watering. If I think of other ideas as I go along and it makes sense to add them, I will.
I want to keep the design minimalistic, I don’t want it to look like a super futuristic technologic armchair with different colored lights and cables everywhere. Therefore I want to keep the outputs and lights to a minimum. It also works with the low consumption theory I mentioned at the start of this chapter.
At the moment we only have the reading light as an output and maybe it should stay this way. It could flash when plants need watering. If we use RGB leds we could have blue light for watering, red light when the battery is low.
As the project plans to include different furniture, it could be interesting to explore the option of making them all connected somehow. We need some useful function for this, for example the sofa could communicate with the TV stand to change the volume (not very useful).
For the furniture I thought of using cardboard, but I’m not sure combining cardboard with water and plants is a great idea if you want it to survive more than a few days. Instead I'm opting for our good old beloved plywood. The thickness is to be determined, but I’m guessing around 15mm.
I’d like to keep the flower pots made from natural material, as this project is made of wood and plants so far. Something like a hemp bag, or these coconuts bags you start to grow plants in. Only thing is, these would leak and would need the water collection system. I could make them out of clay, like in the moss voltaic article, but they aren’t that easy to make and they weigh a lot (I’m guessing this).
The reading lamp would only need a few LEDs (RGB?). (Is it possible to have some strong bioluminescence? I’d be surprised. UPDATE: Gabriela said yes, but it'll take a while. Hello Gabriela.)
The circuit will consist of a few resistors, capacitors, an ESP32, a copper board and battery for storing the energy.
The documentation of the voltaic greens include carbon fiber mesh as well as metal inox. It obviously need some electronic connections.
Just kidding, the plywood from around the corner in Barcelona, the plants as well, the electronics most probably from Diotronics or DigiKey, the waste from around the corner of my flat, in the bin in the kitchen.
Here is a rough bill of materials.
|Soil (50L)||Soil Shop||1||5€||5€|
|Copper board||Fab Lab||1|
Everything. There will be the parametric kit, the electronic board, the plant pots, the reading light, sensors for the plants health.
I’m not sure what this means. On what criteria? It’ll include everything you need.
I want it to be something people can make at home with simple tools (except the CNCing). The essential for this concept is to have plants live on furniture, the electronics side of it is only for fun.
It is surprisingly easy, follow these steps:
Note: Click on the image to make it full screen. Click anywhere to come back to page.
I had different ideas for the design. I’m basing a lot of my decisions on the current armchair I have in my living room - it is very comfortable because it has nice cushions but also good measurements; for example the armrests are at the right height and good width, your legs do not dangle in the air as it is quite deep.
I wanted to try and keep the shape and functionality of it, so keep a similar design. I did a few sketches but wasn’t sold on it.
I like the design of the traditional armchair, a bit like this one.
Although obviously it’d be narrower, and not just parallel lines but have the waffle patterns. The separation between the slices would wider as well, which might affect the looks and structural integrity of it.
My crappy sketches
Because I wanted the design of this armchair to be organic and curvy I decided to use Blender. I find it allows for more creative freedom.
I have used Rhino in the past but find it to be more geared towards engineering and precise measurements. I will be using to make the plastic hook for the plant pots.
I followed this absolutely incredible Blender tutorial playlist by CGBoost on YouTube, which I’ve been sending to everybody since I found it. It’s explained super clearly, covers the basics and more advanced features, gives you the shortcuts, covers materials, textures, lighting. It’s amazing.
A few of the main tools to keep in mind, for me, were the Loop cut (Cmd+R) and Knife Cut (K) which allows you add geometry to the model without changing it’s shape.
Still, I tried to make it in Blender to see if it could look better. Parts of it looks nice, but I’m not 100% sure in general… there’s a bit too many features. It should be simpler.
Something that drove me mad was that after Extruding (E) it would create Edges and Vertices that would overlap and therefore make the shape have very sharp areas.
I (FINALLY) solved by going to Edit Mode (Tab) and select Vertices and moved them around to see which ones were duplicate or not. I started deleting Edges until there were holes.
To fill those holes you select 3 (or more) edges that create closed loop and press F for Fill.
I want to keep the back of the armchair quite deep so that it has space to host plants.
In the end I wasn’t a big fan of it... The “feet” look a bit like the rocket in Tintin (which I guess isn’t that bad of a thing).
I had a video chat with my friend and he drew something super quick without really thinking about it, but it looked cool, a simple sphere where you sit. He also added a net which was a good idea.
The only thing with a spherical armchair it’s an awkward shape for armrests. You can’t put your arms on the side and keep there, they’d probably slide down.
I looked at these designs when I thought: “If it’s deep enough then why not have the armrests inside the armchair’s boolean difference (can’t think of the right word).
Sketched something else down.
Then started playing around with Blender.
I used two techniques to get an original shape to then take out from
In technique one I created a sphere and then use scale to flatten it’s bottom and change the scale to give change the shape.
Now we the main body of the armchair, we add another sphere to use as a boolean object. With a Boolean Difference you can take OUT some “material” from another object.
It looks cool, but the modifier doesn’t let you see the effect when in Edit mode… aaargh.
Note //<br> I used this GitHub for booleaning: https://github.com/jayanam/fast-carve/tree/fast-carve-2-8 - it allows you to create a pending boolean and see both object in Edit mode. Before if you didn’t hide the object you used to extract from the target element, it would be in the way.
When happy with it, Apply Boolean. I’m not a massive fan of applying booleans, because you can’t come back and change the position of the sphere. In this case I shall Cmd + Z this (cancel the apply boolean operation) and leave it as a modifier… but before doing that, I noticed something.
When you do apply the boolean, you have very ragged edges… Which becomes even worse when you have a Subdivision Surface modifier… I somehow need to add a shell, or some thickness to the main body so that the edges aren’t sharp.
I think I’m going to create an empty sphere, give some volume somehow and then do the boolean?
The Solidify modifier seems to do what I want. You input a thickness, I put 15mm as it’s the plywood thickness, although it shouldn’t really affect the design.
I also added a Subdivision Surface modifier on both spheres and it looks better. Let’s apply the boolean… oh, god… what I have created?!
Also I realise that solidifying doesn’t work, because now we only have a very thin shell. We need a full sphere like before… but with edges that aren’t sharp… I guess I have to modify the sphere I’m using to extract…
Maybe let’s try with an icosphere? (sphere made out of triangles.). Makes the computer crash if you have too much divisions. Try with less divisions and do the boolean.
Ah! I thought… it looks good before applying it… why not after? I was adding Subdivision Modifiers to both spheres before doing the boolean, but not applying these subdivisions… which means when I did apply the Boolean Difference, it used the “low poly spheres”.
Ok… that’s fixed.
I want the back tall people to be able to use that chair, and therefore have the back/top “open” so a head can stick it out.
Below the chair might be a bit too deep (or wide if we look it at that angle).
I could also cut more into the bottom back of the chair to save material, make the the chair lighter and breathable.
Like I mentioned above, I made it a little bit deeper. I did this by:
I’ve left some space at the back to have the vertical plant pots.
I thought it was a bit too deep in the Y axis, so I narrowed, and then scaled it down to a real world scale.
I like how it looks, the only thing is it doesn’t have much space at the back for extra plants…
I was planning to do this in Rhino and Grasshopper as I had found a script and adapted for my needs… the problem is… well, visit computer controlled machining to see what it is. Basically Blender exports a Mesh, and the script needed a BRep.
Let’s try and do it in Blender then. Maybe it’s as easy as creating planes with thickness and doing a boolean intersect or something?
I added it as an add-on and started playing around. To add as an addon, download the zip file from the Github above, in Blender go to Edit > Preferences, click on Install and select the zip file that you downloaded.
To access Svechok, click on the Editor Type icon and select Sverchok.
Click on New to create a new Note Tree.
Let’s create a plane
Shift + A > Generator > Plane
Give it some thickness
Shift + A > Modifier Make > Solidify
Let’s get the armchair from the Scene
Shit + A > Scene > Object in
Select the armchair in the scene and click Get selection
For these objects to show on the scene we need to add a Vizualiser.
Shift + A > Viz > Viewer Draw Mk3
Let’s look for something to do a Boolean operation.
Shift + A > Search > Boolean … select the only option: CSG Boolean 2 (script available here)
Let’s connect the nodes together. It keeps crashing… I tried different ways, and it crashes everytime… but fair not! I have found a solution.
You can either Bake the plane with the Viewer Draw Mk3 into the Scene and then create a Boolean with the armchair, and it works, but then as soon as you want to change the plane thickness, the distance (which I still haven’t figured out) or anything, then you need to bake it again.
You can use a different visualiser called Viewer BMesh, and creates an object in the Collection that you can use for Boolean operation. The good thing is that that object isn’t baked in, you can still modify it.
Good! Getting there.
Let’s try and create a grid of planes now…
Or maybe creating a grid and extruding it is the way to go… Let’s see.
Couldn’t figure it out yet, so in the end I just baked a plane, then used an Array modifier, put the distance desired and the count, and then created a Boolean Intersect.
I wanna add some plywood because why not. Update: Didn't do it in the end.
Now, let’s end it to Computer Controlled Machining.
As the shape of the furniture is organic, it means there are a lot of curves. That isn’t great for sliding plant pots in the square holes created by the waffle pattern, as on the side it is likely one side of the plant pot would be much lower than the other side.
I needed to design something that could adapt to any holes.
I thought about having hooks that goes
I designed the plant pots and the little hooks to hang the plant pots in Rhino.
Send to 3D printing.
I want the armchair to be comfortable. I can’t imagine all these examples I’ve shown you to be comfortable… you are sitting on wood.
I want to have the curve where you sit go deeper, and then use strings or fabric or a combination of both to create the sitting area, so that it is more comfortable, and also means it uses less plywood…
I’m in contact with some Fabricademy students to talk about fabrics, strings to use, weaving patterns, how strong it would be.