Transcript for Future Homes - Mitchell Joachim

Jim Fleming: Imagine it's the year 2055, already the weekday morning. Where do you wake up? With a blooming population and more people moving into urban areas, chances are you'd be living in city, but what might that city look like? Mitchell Joachim is an architect and one of the founders of the innovative design group Terreform One. Anne Strainchamps asked him what it might be like to live in a future city.


Anne Strainchamps: So Mitchell no matter how you look at it we're looking at a lot more houses and a lot more buildings needing to be constructed in the future. You have this ingenious, wild, I don't know what to call it idea that some of those buildings in the future will be made not out of dead trees and steel beams, but of living materials. Can you explain?


Mitchell Joachim: Yeah I think that we've had I guess a number of centuries where we've been thinking about building, where everything has been more mass produced, highly unitized, incredibly modular, and in the more recent industrial age everything is about this kind of factory model. Our group Terreform One has been looking at alternates, a link to the resources that the earth provided us, but do it in a way that we don't deplete them and one such kind of system is thinking about living architectures. Architectures that are comprised directly of the metabolism or the systems you'd find in nature and nudging them for human use, nudging them into geometries- spaces that are occupied. Homes that are simply made from living elements that are adjusted so that we could find some sort of space or sanctity inside them.


Strainchamps: I'm not totally sure I understood what you mean. Could you one?


Joachim: I'll get into that in a minute. So one project fab tree hab is taking living trees or any woody plant matter, vines ecetera and growing them into a shape. So we provide scaffolding that's designed using computers and allowing the vines to be shaped inside that scaffolding and growing them into a home and attaching them to larger woody plant species and grafting all of the components together so that they form one contiguous plant system.


Strainchamps: What would it look like?


Joachim: It would look like a home that would be essentially apart of them landscape. Almost no distinction between home and landscape. It would welcome all kinds of critters and creatures on the outside and you can imagine it would be a tree house, unlike nothing you've maybe seen before, but at the same time it's just as if the landscape was folded up for a moment and you could get inside and live there. The inside would be like any other home. You could put your TV and your couch and plaster the walls, but the structure in the exterior would be made up of loam or mud filled inside these woody plants and vines.


Strainchamps: It sounds like something for elves or hobbits to live in.


Joachim: Yeah well there's nothing wrong with that, but hobbit homes look like they fit into nature and it's a different directive than we have today which is this kind of box that makes up so much of the suburbs and it's just not sustainable to continuously construct these kinds of homes.


Strainchamps: So are you imagining future cities or villages that look more like urban forests in which there are all these kinds if tree homes and little creatures are running around and there's leaves and little streams running through? Or is this to pastoral for..


Joachim: There's nothing wrong with the American sublime and these pastoral ideas of the countryside. I think if there will be folks living in the suburbs, I think the topology of the suburb, the basic building stock that we understand today has got to shift into something that has a kind of fitness with nature and we could use trees as they are and woody plants as they are in their local ecosystems and shape them for our own functional purposes. I think on the site and the very location you desire to live, you could have a village for thousands of families made from the materials that are available there. The biggest criticism I've gotten for doing something like that is people are worried it takes a lot of time, but I think if we wait twelve years for a bottle of scotch, we can wait twelve years to grow a village of homes for a thousand plus families that have a positive contribution to the environment.


Strainchamps: I'm curious as an architect, somebody who thinks deeply about what houses are and what they mean to us in our relationships with our houses, the structures we live inside. Do you think we would have a different feeling about a house that was literally alive?


Joachim: That's a great perspective. I think absolutely we would have a different connection, if not kinship to a home that is living. There would be some idea of sentience. This is a breathing connected mechanism to the earth and we would have to respect it as such as opposed to dead harvested materials have been highly processed through some industrial system. I might even go so far that in a distant future we would think of extended phenotypes for people. Much like a bird has a nest which is very important to the life of the bird, or a spider and a web, a beaver and a dam etcetera. These are kind of logical and built in evolutionary extensions of those organisms. Humans at some point have probably lost that instinctual link to nature to make homes, so it's probably going to be a deeper return to that in the future at some point.


Strainchamps: Were you raised on a lot of grim fairy tales. Because all of this, it just sounds like something out of those fairy tales


Joachim: Thanks. Truth be told many architects have been thinking about this for some time, they are called bio-formalists. I mean it started with someone like Frank Lloyd Wright who talked about organic architecture. If you think of another famous architect in America, Frank Gary, his forms for the Walt Disney concert hall are very organic, if I can use the term here loosely flowing, very curvilinear, but essentially they are not organic. They are steal, metal, and glass, so the next logical phase has been this new generation which I guess I am apart of is architects taking the computational systems extracted from nature, principals from Frank Lloyd Wright and actually making it a truly organic architecture where we're really working at the genetic level or we're working with natural materials and growing them to perform as living systems.


Strainchamps: So how would you scale that up to create mega cities?


Joachim: Well it's one step at a time. It's going to take a lot of folks working for a decade or more to solve some of the bigger problems that we're looking at in creating truly living architectures. I think that if cities are meant to be built today to get them to be absolutely living, it would be very difficult and expensive process and unfortunately we will have to use more conventional means to build some of these cities, but that doesn't mean the infrastructure, the stuff that deals with waste, food, water, air quality, etcetera… mobility, isn't made to have a connection to nature and that these kinds of flows, these metabolic flows will link the cities logically so that we can have a sustainable organism.


Strainchamps: So let's play out a couple of future scenarios, I mean say we figure out how to build cities with loam or biological materials, can you kind of paint a picture or walk me through the built environment of a person who might be living in a middle American city with an average income?


Joachim: Well first let's hope we get there, if we can get past the amount of carbon we're putting in the atmosphere, think of a set of controls on the growth in our economy in all sectors and that we're able to be around the next hundred years because we've figured out the system. I would imagine that someone in the future would be living in a place where there is no waste. I mean the concept of waste would be completely gone away. No term for waste, everything would be up-cycled constantly in a nutrient stream where it's being used and reused and I would think that transportation would also be very different. So if you wake up in the morning you would get to work, if you don't work at home, through a transportation system that is designed to fit cities, so it's not kind of like a universal one like the automobile is. We'll have a lot of share ownership for moving, public transportation etcetera and models of transportation that fit directly into the architecture.


Strainchamps: So as we look at a future with a massive population increase and these mega cities, how are officials in urban planners and architects preparing for the growth in American cities right now?


Joachim: We're arguing! I think that's healthy, it's a large scale, long term polemic fighting over utopia, which most of us dismiss outright, not because utopia is a bad idea, but because many of us think there's a lot of good examples where it's failed. I would think that it's not about establishing a fantastic Shangri La or perfect environment for everybody. I think it's actually more of a goal of achieving a maximal answer to current real world problems, that - to me - is what a utopia is.


Fleming: Mitchell Joachim is an architect and co-founder of Terreform One. He's also an associate professor at NYU and Switzerland’s European Graduate School. Anne Strainchamps talked with him.

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