"Let the Plants Design!"

The Tokyo-based designers at Namaiki have spent the past 10 years earning a reputation for inspired silliness and mad genius, but after a decade of work, they're turning to a more organic, natural media to express themselves: plants. PingMag reports on what it's like to spend an afternoon in the cartoony garden of graphic designer David Duval Smith and architect Michael Frank, the duo that makes up Namaiki, as they attempt to answer the question as to "why ending up working with living things is just the most interesting thing to do...". Turns out it involves a lightbulb moment with GMO foods, guerrilla gardening and something called "Kinky Muff Land".

The combination of this avant-garde-type design with living, "breathing" organisms to create a biomimetically-influenced synthesis may seem antithetical at first, but, when considering that design, at its best, exists to solve problems, it begins to make more sense. Answering the question, "When you talk about plants making things, would you actually say that they also do design work for you?", Michael says, "I actually find it interesting to design systems which then take care of the whole work for you," launching in to a story of permaculture where fish and ducks live in rice paddies; just by paddling about, the ducks' legs cut the work nearly in half (and the fish feed the ducks and keep 'em around). "That kind of design thinking is really interesting I believe: he was creating a system which is really efficient.

The duo has also done some guerrilla gardening (read more about that in TreeHugger here, here and here), which, they've discovered, is not only fun and subversive, but also a way to help green our urban areas. Says David,

There is an incredible amount of space left in the city that can be used and turned green. We used to carry seeds around sprinkling them everywhere. We also planted a bunch of broccoli in the holes in the concrete outside the Yokohama Bank Art Gallery. Funny sight! Or planting radish in those little plots of dirt on the side of the road beneath the trees. Excellent!
and Michael adds,
We see this as graffiti more than anything else but it has a huge potential. Look at what happened in Cuba after the oil shock: suddenly they had no food 'cause there was no oil for the fertilizer. Then they just discovered permaculture 'cause they had to eat something - and now they supply a lot of the food they consume in the city from within the city.


"The sun comes down, the wind blows through and by summer, all of the flowers and herbs will blow fresh, delicious air through the building, like a large organic air conditioner plus scent installation!"

When the topic of any negative experiences that came from working with plants came up, Michael railed against GMOs and companies like Monsanto.

As we started looking for seeds we were shocked by the evil of companies such as Monsanto, the world's largest seed company. Changing the DNA inside a living thing so that it won't survive the next year, thus forcing you to buy new seeds every time! Introducing death into a living system like that and to assume that it won't spread!!

It has already polluted Mexican corn, a country where for hundreds of thousands of years people have been protecting and using corn. Now with terminated technology the seeds only last for one season!

Therefore teaching people to understand, collect and share seeds is quite a political act, really. Just to keep other options open so that large companies don't end up controlling all seed production.

Working with plants is just the most rewarding thing to do.

And what can the designers take away from all of this plant-hugging? Michael says, "Watching their amazed faces, the difference plants make and how much it surprises people is the most simple and most relevant thing." Oh, and "Kinky Muff Land"? It's the name of their latest, plant-based exhibition in Osaka. Said Michael, "One of our visitors asked me, what 'Kinky Muff Land' actually means. I was a bit shocked and didn't know what to say "

Read the whole piece, which is a really interesting exploration of the combination of growing plants, discovering all the ideas made available by living things and design, over at ::PingMag.

Tags: Gardening | GMO | Japan | Permaculture