In 1842, English botanist Nathaniel Ward accidentally invented the terrarium. Ward discovered that plants, animals, and fungi could be completely sealed within a glass container and continue to grow and thrive for years without ventilation or watering. We now know that terrariums and the Earth itself are completely reciprocal relationships of mutually beneficial biochemical processes powered by sunlight. These systems produce no waste, and require no input of external material at all. And yet even now, in 2015, what we call a “house” would have been completely familiar to Nathaniel Ward in 19th century England. Our dwellings do not recycle water, grow food, produce energy, or even recycle wastes back into nutrients. Our dwellings are expensive, difficult to build, and require a constant input of resources and energy from “elsewhere”, and these resources are increasingly scarce, expensive, and controlled by oppressive institutions that use extractive and exploitative practices that are rapidly destroying the chemical balance that makes all life on Earth possible.
The goal of the terrarium project is to rapidly develop dwellings that are capable of meeting all human needs for food, shelter, energy, and water, to make them as cheap and easy to build as possible, and to make the information required to build them as widely available to as many people, in as many languages as possible, for free. We believe that the ability for people anywhere in the world to easily build systems capable of meeting their needs from sunlight will fundamentally alter human society for the better, giving people the tools they need to provide for themselves and their communities, cope with the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, and resist dependence on any oppressive system, institution, or regime.
Gasifiers, biodigesters, composting toilets, hydroponic vertical gardens – all of these already-existing individual technologies and thousands of others could be parts of a potentially regenerative system, the same way that a radiator or an engine could be parts of a potentially running car. The challenge of the terrarium project is figuring out how to string them all together into functioning reciprocal systems, where the waste from every process becomes the fuel (or food) for another. The more components that there are in a system, the more difficult it becomes to design their interactions with pen and paper. In order to do this, and do it quickly, we are going to need software.
Our first crowd-sourced initiative is to build an open-source, web-based ecosystem modeling platform, and a library of real-life, already-existing technologies with accurate measurements of their inputs and outputs. This will allow people to easily visualize interactions between existing technologies, design whole ecosystems, and share their models with each other over the internet for rapid, decentralized innovation.
1. Build a swarm of collaborators, individuals, supporting organizations
The more people there are contributing to the project, the faster we can achieve our objectives. A large pool of contributors will allow us to tap a network of skills and resources during our design sprints. Those of us who already support the project can help make this happen by spreading the word through our networks, and generating content that is designed to be shared – memes, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. It doesn’t matter if this buzz is positive or negative. A significant portion of people will either not understand what we are doing, or think its silly, and that’s a part of any social change. Right now we want to get the idea in front of as many people as possible, and see who is ready and willing to participate.
-Create content that spreads the project’s mission through social media- memes, blog posts, podcasts, videos.
-Build a greeter team, who welcome and orient new contributors
-Interview new contributors about about specific interests and potential contributions
-Lay groundwork for coordinated, decentralized work sprints.
2. Develop ecosystem design software that can be used by non-programmers
In order to quickly and effectively design whole ecosystems, ecosystem design software that is easy to use by non-programmers will be extremely helpful. This interface will give collaborators a common language for sharing and comparing designs, for rapid improvement and development before the physical prototyping phase. In order for this software to be useful, it must be made accessible to non-technical people with an intuitive user interface. This will rapidly accelerate our ability to design whole ecosystems and to communicate our designs to each other over the internet.
-Create a drag and drop UI for the ecosystem designer
-Create component builder UI for adding/creating components without coding
-Ability to share designs by permalink
-Ability to comment on certain blocks, inputs, outputs, or accounts.
3. Build library of already-existing technologies and processes
Gasifiers, aquaponics systems, vertical gardens, and many other systems, inventions, and processes, have already been designed, and data exists about what they take (how much fuel, water, sunlight, etc) and what they give (how much food, electricity, compost, etc). By getting specific, if approximate, input and output measurements of existing systems, we can use them as parts in the ecosystem builder. Even if these models are very crude, they will still give us the ability to visually convey extremely complex information in a standardized format. The purpose of this sprint is to add as many existing technologies to the component library as possible. This may require googling, searching academic journals, or getting in contact with project creators to ask specific questions.
-Create a an online database of user submitted components and a way to search/rate them
-Use component builder UI to create blocks representing existing technologies
-Contact creators of technologies where information is lacking
-Include links and recognition so that project creators are recognized for their work!
-Adjust block creator according to needs of this phase, add extra fields as necessary.
4. Improve collaboration and information sharing tools and methods
Many different communication and collaboration tools already exist- skype, slack, google hangout, forums, wiki, etc. It may not be necessary to re-invent the wheel, but in order to effectively coordinate our efforts, we need to develop systems for keeping each other in the loop, and avoid having our work spread out over many closed channels. How do people find out about projects, how do people take on tasks, and how do members of the swarm can find and communicate with one another? The purpose of this sprint is to assess all the tools currently available to us, and implement the best tools that are immediately available, while identifying and creating ones that we need that do not yet exist. Ideally communication and coordination would be decentralized, completely transparent, and allow for participants to build a reputation for themselves by tracking their contributions and achievements. We balance this with the need for efficiency and speed.
-Unique user profiles that track contributions to projects so that credit can be given and users can build reputation
-Ability for users to fork components and ecosystem designs like github forks software
-Create social tools to facilitate collaboration and coordination
-End reliance on non-tranparent corporate communication services such as Facebook
-Experiment with decentralized network of servers and mesh internet for person-to-person collaboration network
5. Use software and parts library to design the first ecosystem
Using the design tools, and component library developed in previous sprints, we will hold a design challenge to see who can combine the existing parts into the most compelling, realistic, and regenerative system possible. We will compare designs and teams can pick their favorites. Different designs will likely be better suited for different climates, but overall the goal is to find the designs that can work in as many climates as possible, in order to be useful to the greatest number of people as rapidly as possible. At least one design will move on the next phase of actually construction and testing, but at this point if there is enough interest, multiple teams may move forward with different designs at different build sites, in order to spur friendly competition, and to maximize the possibility of success by using a diversity of designs. That sounds like the most fun option, and we should try to make it happen.
-Design challenge: Create a balanced ecosystem out of already-existing parts.
-Maximize for ease to build, cost, replicability, and simplicity.
-Create parts list and estimated budget for each proposed system.
-Allow teams to form around designs.
-At least one design to move forward to next phase.
6. Design a greenhouse/structure to contain it all
The actual parts of the ecosystem can be thought of as the organelles of a cell, and the container is the cell wall or membrane that holds them all together and protects them from the outside environment. The structure that contains these systems can take many forms, and ultimately it can adapt to the environment the structure will be built in. To start, however, we will want something cheap, easy to build, that can transmit a large amount of light for plant growth, while keeping a space reasonably insulated during winter. Most likely the best designs to start will be a variation of the typical hoop greenhouse style, since this style is widely tested and easy to build. The first versions will likely utilize plastic sheeting as the glazing, however, the in the future more durable and recyclable glass panels will lead to more permanent structures. For now the emphasis will be on the ability for something to be built immediately, easily, for as little money as possible.
-Design challenge: Design a greenhouse that is moisture and gas tight, cheap to build, durable for at least 5 years, able to maintain a tropical microclimate year round in temperate conditions, able to withstand a snowload or shed snow in temperate winter climates, and can contain the amount of space necessary to house all components, grow area, storage, and living space.
7. Design the connections between systems and storage options
Once we have all the theoretical connections and flows of material and energy designed in the software, we will have to design their physical counterparts. How will heat, electricity, water, and food be stored? How will they flow/move from one system to another? The goal here will be to automate the flow of material to the greatest extent possible without developing any new technology. We will use off the shelf pumps, and common plumbing and electrical standards to connect all the systems together. We will maximize for cost, and widespread availability of parts.
-Design the connections between all systems, wiring diagrams, plumbing, storage containers, and pumps.
-Design failsafes and redundancies as best as possible.
-Choose agreement standards between systems- which connector types and standards to use for plugs, hoses, etc.
8. Identify sites where experimental dwellings can be built immediately
In order to rapidly design these buildings, we will need places to build them. The United States is notoriously strict with building codes when it comes to regenerative technologies, however, there are work arounds. These buildings will resemble greenhouses, and may fall within certain counties guidelines for “agricultural structures”. Other areas, such as universities, have land that has been exempted from local building codes for the purposes of research. Many countries outside of the US have much fewer restrictions, either by law, or by de-facto practice. The purpose of this sprint will be to identify all sites where building can commence immediately without unreasonable restrictions or legal risks. We will attempt to work with any governmental body, and we will endeavor to document what we do so that health and building inspectors can make informed decisions. We will not, however, let unnecessary bureaucracy stop the rapid development of these systems, and we will route around them whenever possible.
-Reach out to networks to identify land owners willing to host builds on private land
-Research local building codes and required permits, call county, state, and local government agencies.
-Research insurance requirements for each site.
-Include areas outside of United States with more lenient building codes.
-Identify all sites where building can commence without unreasonable restrictions or legal risks.
-Create open or semi open (anonymized emails) database to connect land-owners with potential build teams.
9. Crowdfunding for Build Teams
Once we have at least one chosen design, a greenhouse design to contain it all, and land to build it all on, we will have sufficient information to create a budget and timeline and begin crowdfunding. Incentives to fund these projects will include: 1) being part of history 2) access to open source plans when project is complete, and 3) detailed video documentation of the entire process. We will encourage teams to form, and for multiple projects to move forward simultaneously at different sites, however, if other groups are not ready to do this, we will focus our efforts on a single design and location. During this sprint we will create crowdfunding page(s), pitch video(s) and launch 30-day crowdfunding efforts.
-Allow teams to self-organize around projects at multiple sites if there is enough interest.
-Crowdfund at least one project at one site.
-Create total, completely transparent project budget, including food for crew, cost of sensors and electronics, cost of skilled labor that cannot be done by volunteers, tools, and materials, and combine into single pitch
-Create project pitch video(s)
-Launch month-long kickstarter(s)
-Spread campaign(s) widely throughout all supporting networks
10. Fabrication of Individual Components and Structure On-Site
Because of the modular nature of our system, all of the parts can be build simultaneously in one coordinated work sprint, ideally in a weekend. This sprint will focus on building all of the individual systems from off-the-shelf components. Dedicated documentation teams will document each build with HD cameras, as well as live-streaming phones. This footage will later be compiled to create a detailed video tutorial of every step of the build process.
-Buy all parts and materials, provide detailed list.
-Transport all parts to build site.
-Break into work teams and fabricate individual components simultaneously.
-Video document all builds simultaneously.
-Construct greenhouse structure.
11. Connect systems together and install data-logging sensors
Once all the systems and the container is built, all of the components can be moved inside and connected together. We will construct the plumbing, air flow, and electrical systems and test them all. At this phase, we will connect open-source wifi-enabled microcontrollers (such as the Onion Omega or Raspberry Pi) with sensors to monitor the performance of all the systems in realtime. Flow meters, pressure sensors, gas sensors, temperature sensors, and whatever other useful measurements we can easily and cost-effectively make will be wired into the system so that we can monitor real-life performance in real time and compare it against our theoretical models. This data will stream wirelessly 24/7 to an open online database that anyone can view and visualize and analyze the data however they choose.
-Connect all systems together- plumbing, electrical, air flow, etc.
-Add wifi enabled sensors to monitor temperature, mass, flow rate, pressure, and other key data points.
-Create internet database for data to be streamed to public in realtime for analysis
12. Test, Document, and Celebrate
Once the system is built, wired, connected, and enclosed, people will be able to volunteer to live within the biosphere. If there is not interest in being completely enclosed, or initial results indicate that the first version is not ready for complete enclosure, then volunteers will live in the system and caretake the systems, making tweaks and measurements to inform the next iteration. If we do not completely enclose the first system, we will monitor how many resources are put in, and use this as benchmark for improvement. During this period, the video collected from the builds will be made available as raw footage online, and collaboratively edited down to a final video tutorial including all the build instructions, lessons learned, and the recommendations for what to try next time. If there are multiple sites reaching this phase, results will be compared, and an award ceremony will be held, celebrating the contributions of all participants, and comparing the performance of each project.
-Enclose humans within system, document process
-Live stream data and video from experiment to world
-Reflect on what works and what doesn’t
-Release full tutorial video for free to the public
-Create list of lessons learned to inform next iterations.
There is no way we will achieve this goal the first time around. And even once we achieve it, there will still be much left to do. Creating human-scale terrariums is a symbolic goal, much like landing on the moon was a symbolic goal. The process will teach us much about working together, and designing whole ecosystems that can sustain human life without destroying the biosphere. We will repeat, iterate, and improve, indefinitely, constantly making our designs cheaper, easier to build and maintain, and more accessible to more people, until all people are able to meet their basic human needs from sunlight.
-Build upon successes and learn from failures.
-Design systems thats are cheaper, easier to build, and more accessible.
-End reliance on fossil fuels.
-End dependence on systems that unfairly favor the wealthy
-Make the world work for 100% of humanity
Welcome new contributors. Make sure people have what they need and can find what they are looking for.
Design virtual ecosystems, add new components to our library, create 3D models and plans, and invent new systems.
Contribute code on github, build collaboration platforms and networks, visualize data, and organize information.
Weld, fabricate, prototype, cut, dig, construct. Get your hands dirty. Make sh*t happen.
Organize designs sprints in your city, and coordinate with other organizers in cities across the world.
Drum up support for projects, build teams, and inspire people to reach for impossible goals.
Document the process as it happens. Create videos, blog posts, take pictures, and share it all with the world.
Provide specialized skills, offer mentorship, land, and financial support to projects as you are able.