High-tech, gadget-dependent gardening is something I find a little strange, perhaps because it's contingent on shelling out money for a product that may or may not work. But H.O.R.T.U.S., an algae-powered, interactive "cyber-garden" installation by London-based design collaborative ecoLogicStudio, is a little more complex -- and much more interesting -- than a mere gardening gadget.
H.O.R.T.U.S., which stands for "Hydro Organisms Responsive To Urban Stimuli," muses on the possible future evolution of urban gardening where computational design, agriculture, renewable energy, city lifestyles and high-tech geekery intersect.
This "new gardening prototype" doesn't have plants; rather, it features a "physical garden" with over 300 “photobioreactor” clear plastic bags hung in a wave-like pattern from the ceiling, all containing several different species of algae -- which generate oxygen, biomass and energy.
There's also a couple dozen bags of bioluminescent bacteria, another potential source for green energy production. It's not clear how much energy the algae and bacteria produce on this scale, but it's interesting how the installation sets up the framework for such a system to work.
The system is also literally dependent on visitor feedback. H.O.R.T.U.S.' interactive component comes from the ability of visitors to directly exhale into the bags of algae, thus feeding these organisms with carbon dioxide.
But there's another less tangible layer overlapping the physical aspect. In H.O.R.T.U.S.'s "virtual garden," each bag also comes with its own QR code, which "cyber-gardeners" can scan, obtain information, monitor and tweet about the algae's growth with their smartphone. All this digital information is fed into a nearby monitor showing how the information constituting this "virtual garden" evolves over time.
The intention is to engage people in the building up of a self-regulating environment, but to also test the possibility of applying this interactive system to a larger urban scale.
It's a pretty neat idea and a futuristic vision of where gardening may go in the information age. By synthesizing "flows of energy (light radiation), matter (biomass, carbon dioxide)... information (images, tweets, stats)" and renewable energy as a hands-on experience, future generations of city gardeners may happily go beyond mere soil and seeds and go head on where digital information and gardening meet.
H.O.R.T.U.S. is now currently on exhibit at London's Architectural Association until February 11. Check out the interactive H.O.R.T.U.S. website, where you can see algae gardening tweets in real-time and more images.