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Future Forward

Phototropia, Electronic Plantlife For A Digital Landscape

Why fill landfills with old gadgets when we could grow electronic forests from them?

Phototropia, Electronic Plantlife For A Digital Landscape

We tend to view our obsession with electronics as a bad thing, especially for the environment. The lithium ion batteries that fuel our gadgets drive devastating mining practices. And even "recycling" old cellphones means that someone, somewhere (probably in China) is handling toxic parts on a daily basis.

Phototropia is a preview to where our gadgets could go. The project of the Master of Advanced Studies class at the Chair for CAAD, it’s an autonomous structure that, to me, is a lot like an electronic bush. Created from bioplastics and thin solar cells, these components drive a network polymers and screenprinted displays activated by electricity.

In practice, a canopy of solar cells glow like bioluminescent leaves, feeding energy to a bending, reacting mechanism below—its wings float and flap to human presence like a stingray. The project aims to be "a proposal for an experimental architecture that can decay while actively being renewed," an electronic architecture that’s reached some level of homeostasis with its environment—one which our rotting buildings and cellphones alike may one day aspire.

It would be interesting to see Phototropia evolve, bending like a plant to milk extra light from the sky, communicating with other nearby units and maybe even using that extra energy and information to somehow enhance its own environment, reinforcing architectural structures autonomously—like an electronic vine scaffolding. But for now? Well it certainly looks cool. Does that count as a meaningful function?

[Hat tip: Creative Applications]