Mitchell Joachim’s Techno-Utopian Future

Blimp Bus. Mitchell Joachim.

This past Friday I attended the Dwell on Design convention sponsored by Dwell Magazine. Amidst the high end bath fixtures and sleek induction cooktops I found a few simple but wonderful ideas that I’ll blog about tomorrow. But first I’ve got to try to digest the strangeness that was a presentation by architect and futurist Mitchell Joachim.

Fab Tree Hab. Mitchell Joachim.

Joachim is the thoughtstylist in chief of Planetary One and Terreform One, non-profit organizations that, “pioneer visionary socio-ecological and infrastructural strategies for urban environments.” Articulate and entertaining, Joachim delivered a rapid fire PowerPoint lecture showcasing many of his outré notions: floating jellyfish-like mass transit thingies, foam electric cars, strawberry shaped hydrogen peroxide powered jet pack capsules, houses made of in-vitro cultured meat and the favorite of contemporary futurists, high rise hydroponic farms.

Sheep Cars. Mitchell Joachim

I really couldn’t tell if Joachim was simply trying to provoke a discussion, delusional, self-promoting, or engaged in some kind of conceptual art project in which we, the gullible audience, were part of an elaborate ironic or post-ironic house of mirrors. Joachim seems hipper than old school World’s Fair futurist types and yet he’s promoting exactly the same Jetson style future, albeit with an eco tinge, those of us over forty can remember from our childhood.

Green Brain, A Smart Park for a New City. Mitchell Joachim

I completely agree with Joachim that whatever designs we come up with have to make the world a better place, that technology must create what he calls a “positive contribution model.” And I appreciate his clever renderings and sense of humor as a way to provoke a dialog. But Joachim’s vision veers too close to what John Michael Greer calls the “apocalypse meme,” the idea that some sort of cataclysmic event (Joachim suggests an ecological crisis) will usher in a new techno-utopian age. Joachim even suggested that his positive eco-feedback loops could form the basis of a new faith to replace our current consumerist spirituality.

In-Vitro Meat House. Mitchell Joachim

At the risk of being a nattering nabob of negativity, I just have to say that I think it’s time to grow up and stop fantasizing about jet packs, hydroponic farms and electric cars.  We need to get realistic about our future and explore design work that lives within the resource limits of this planet. Like Greer, I believe it’s time to return to what came to be called, in the 1960s and 70s, appropriate technology, things like solar water heaters, rocket stoves and permaculture. Designers have an important role to play in the coming years, but that role may be more about working on the ideal pit toilet rather than foam electric cars or in-vitro meat houses (I will admit the meat house is pretty funny). As a design challenge, that ideal pit toilet, by the way, is just as engaging, perhaps more so than the techno-utopianisms that Joachim peddles. Maybe Joachim can work on an in-vitro meat pit toilet.

Picture Sundays: Hyperbolic Crochet

Spotted at the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles, a piece from their Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. About the process:

The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of “hyperbolic crochet” discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina’s techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy “kelps”, fringed “anemones”, crenelated “sea slugs”, and curlicued “corals” have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced.

And, yes, they have a how-to book if you’d like to try this on your own.

Saturday Linkages: Of Sausages, Sandbags and Cell Phones

Sandbag couch via Dornob

How to Turn an Old WWII Field Phone Into a Bluetooth Handset | The Art of Manliness

Man robs man using stolen sausage | barfblog: 

Another reason not to use cardboard as mulch:

50 seconds in Cloudbreak Barrel with Kalani Chapman

Emergency sandbags repurposed as a couch

Vinegar vs. Round-up tested:

How to Use a [BUSTED] Cell Phone to Meet 5 Basic Survival Needs | The Art of Manliness  

Happiness is a glass half empty | Oliver Burkeman

Follow the Root Simple twitter feed for more linkages.

Healing the yard with a huge compost pile

The new compost pile is covered with a tarp to keep moisture in. Eventually it will fill this whole space. In the background you can see our leftover adobe bricks.

So–our regular readers will know that we have high levels of lead in our back yard soil. We’re dealing with this by filling most of our yard with mulch and perennial natives to lock down the soil (lead laden dust is bad) and to diversify the local ecosystem.

Meanwhile, our vegetables must be grown in raised beds from now out. We used to have two main vegetable beds in the center of our back yard–they were our workhorses. Since the lead scare we’ve pulled up those beds. They were semi-sunken beds, the soil in them a mix of native soil, compost and imported soil.

When you have contaminated soil yet want to grow food, the easiest solution is to build extra deep raised beds and fill them with imported soil (soil which has, hopefully, been tested for lead!). Some people put plastic sheeting or rock barriers between the imported soil or native soil, which in effect makes the beds into giant containers.

We did something a little different–and a lot harder. We dug out a huge pit where our beds used to be. When I say “we,” I mean Erik dug a huge pit. (Somehow I weaseled out of this project.) This excavation had two purposes: 1) to remove the topsoil, where most of the lead (lead being an airborne pollutant) is located and 2) to harvest the clay beneath to use in our earth oven. Between the clay harvested for making the adobe bricks and cob, and the supplemental clay that we’ve put aside for future repairs and maintenance on the oven, the pit has grown to be about 12 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

This pit is going to be our new planting area, but obviously it needs to be filled in. Instead of buying imported soil, we’re going to grow soil by composting on a grand scale. We’re going to compost right in the pit and fill it up bit by bit. When it’s done, we’ll have a big round area where it will probably be safe enough to plant food crops. Might the plants suck some lead up from the deep clay layer? Maybe. We could test the deep clay. Might some lead leach in from the sides of the pit? Possibly. But this solution is good enough for us.

What drives us to this decision is our intuitive relationship with our yard. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but I encourage you all to pay attention to what your gut tells you about your gardens. It won’t steer you wrong.

Our gut instincts told us to dig down rather than build up, and to make good use of excavated dirt in the oven. Now our instincts tell us to fill this giant hole with rich homemade compost rather than imported soil. It just seems more…holistic to grow out own soil. It will rise out of our meals, our labor, our intentions. It will belong to this place.

How long will this take? Probably about a year. Maybe more. We’re willing to wait for those future harvests because this feels right.