Mitchell Joachim is a Co-Founder at Terrefuge and Terreform ONE. Currently he is faculty at Columbia University and Parsons. Formerly an architect at Gehry Partners, and Pei Cobb Freed. He has been awarded the Moshe Safdie Research Fellowship, and the Martin Family Society Fellow for Sustainability at MIT. He won the History Channel and Infiniti Design Excellence Award for the City of the Future, and Time Magazine Best Invention of the Year 2007, Compacted Car w/ MIT Smart Cities. His project, Fab Tree Hab, has been exhibited at MoMA and widely published. He was selected by Wired magazine for "The 2008 Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To". Rolling Stone magazine honored Mitchell as an agent of change in "The 100 People Who Are Changing America".
Terreform 1’s Fab Tree Hab Project
Mitchell Joachim: There’s a project called the Fab Tree Hab which is thinking about a home that fits itself into every aspect of our local ecosystems. That becomes a part of the ecosystems metabolism. It’s’ not a compromise. It’s actually a dwelling that is holistically considering the landscape. We decided well what does that mean? And we looked to a technology that’s been around for 2,500 years and it’s called pleaching. And pleaching is a gardening technique where you graft pieces of inosculate matter, pieces of woody plants, together to form one vascular system.
So you graft essentially trees or woody plants together to form one tree. And we decide that’s fantastic but can we control that computationally? And we could. So in the computer we produced a geometry. A geometry that would predict where we wanted our trees and woody plants to grow. We made some scaffolds from that geometry and then weaved plants, woody plants, and trees into those scaffolds and trained them, and maybe almost torture them, into a specific direction, a very specific direction; so that they could triangulate their structures and be self stabilized and still be healthy.
So that let to this project called the Fab Tree Hab which is a house made of entirely living organisms, living trees. And what’s great about a concept like this is you can build, or should I say grow, one million of these homes on the planet Earth with not a zero consequence. Right? Not an efficient kind of consequence but a positive contribution to our environment. Right? So that these things are actually fitting into our Earth. They are absorbing carbon. They are part of the world as we know it. And there’s no, well, no compromise. So we were looking at a very active and provocative solution to our housing crisis. And it’s very difficult to grow one of these things.
There’s a lot of folks, or there’s a lot of things in our current system, that find it – that we find it hard to change. Insurance companies are not interested in bonding a contractor who assembles one of these homes. Banks find it very difficult to give loans for these homes. They question the resale, etcetera. Clients are pretty worried about insects which is actually not a problem. A simple modicum of maintenance just like your normal house would keep pests away. Planning boards have problems with these homes because they are really trees, not homes. So you can’t set zoning heights on these homes.
Trees will continuously grow larger. But we are wrestling with these issues every day. The bottom line is that the technology is there, it’s feasible. We contributed one new component to it which is controlling the growth of trees through scaffolds that we make. And controlling them into a geometry that provides homes. And it looks like something out of a J.R. Tolkien book, or Lord of the Rings and we know that. At least, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with elves.
Recorded on: September 11, 2009