THE SWITCHGRASS PROJECT

 

The point of departure for The Switchgrass Project is the discovery of an architectural language emphasizing the urgency of ecological alarm, through the use of form, materials and tectonics, which forcefully highlights two vital principles of sustainable design: biodegradable production and carbon footprint reduction. 

 

The search criteria for the main material is its abundance in urban settings, recyclability, biodegradability, processability and its lightweight, which brings us straight to cardboard boxes. The selection of laminated cardboard panels as skin makes further sense for its ease of assembly and attachment to a structure, its gradual decay under the elements and, with additional layering, its possibility of providing an engineered growth mat for vegetation where our second concept comes in: carbon footprint reduction.

 

Although multiple active and passive methods have been developed; our project's carbon footprint reduction is achieved by the production of ethanol through the growth and harvest of switchgrass during the pavilions active exhibition. Switchgrass is an optimal alternative among other renewable bioenergy crops in biofuel production, does not require significant fertilizing, grows fast, and can flourish in low quality soils with little water. It is ironically the first plant the pilgrims shaved off the prairies of America during their west ward civilization. As a part of our project's conceptual overreach, it is imperative that the gallon of ethanol produced is sent to the White House for presidential use as a reminder that global warming is real.

 

The Switchgrass Project then becomes a living architectural organism; growing, evolving and decaying within a cycle in flux since the beginning of time, speaking through architecture: honest, bold, sincere; about life, the very life in our veins, which does not exist on Mars, Venus, or Pluto, but on Earth... Planet Earth. Remembering the space mission, Neil Armstrong once said: "It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was Earth. I put up my thumb, shut one eye, and blotted out the planet. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small."


Project Designer: Aslihan Kazanci

Design Principal: Selim Vural

FORMAL FRAMEWORK

ISLAND WITHIN ISLAND: AN ISLAND IN PROGRESS

The Switchgrass Project aspires to be a prototypical model, a reminder of the urgency of responsible human habits regarding the future of our planet. The importance of embodying this message architecturally through form, geometry and tectonics is the idea behind the use of Governors Island's footprint, pier connections, circulation axes and vistas as the underlying pattern of our project. This geometry combined with a modular tessellation pattern establishes the matrix where modular panels are assembled in fluctuating heights and attached to a pier structure below. There are passage ways within the structure where visitors can walk, and canopies under where they can gather. Canopy skin is rigidized by bioresins and supported by wire mesh to establish safety, the rest of the structure is lower and gradually decays while allowing switchgrass grow. 

 

CONSTRUCTION

The construction of The Switchgrass Project is elaborate but simple: per construction drawings volunteers are given a construction prospectus in which they have the instructions for what they have to build at off-site and bring to the island for assembly. The items include dimension, angular information, and thickness of the cardboard modules, materials to buy and tools to bring, and in case of the grow mat modules: horticultural felt, peat moss, fiber mesh, and the seeds to be sown. It is a collective and low-tech progressive assembly. 

 

At the job site, with the help of trained staff, the volunteers are guided to follow the construction panel and stitch the panels on a grid of red painted columns, which has been spiked on earth in advance. The gathering areas are strengthened by additional wood framing and metal mesh to establish safety and prevent decomposition unlike the purposefully decaying/growing landscape. The rate in which decay of panels take place resulting in the emergence 

red piers is determined by how much precipitation dissolves the water soluble peanut packaging under the tessellated field. 

 

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

The Switchgrass Project is an architectural, sculptural and horticultural happening which culminates in a bottle of ethanol, produced in a biorefinery after processing the switchgrassharvested on site. This is our gift to the current White House as a possible reminder that global warming is real, it is urgent.

 

This gift bottle, this architectural souvenir, possibly fabricated by a volunteer glass artist, is displayed during the exhibition, secured on a stilt with a description text, as in an open-air museum, waiting for shipment to the biorefinery after the final harvest which is most likely executed by the initial volunteers. Once our gift has been sent, biodegradable waste will be composted at the Earth Matter NY’s Compost Learning Center on Governors Island, the wood columns returned to their vendors and our part of the cause & effect cycle will be complete, with hopes of future change.

The Switchgrass Project