When Aroussiak Gabrielian, an assistant professor at USC Architecture, was pregnant with her daughter, she was amazed at her body’s ability to produce and deliver the exact nutrients her child needed. At the same time, she was immersed in literature relating to her doctorate about “post-humanity,” or the way humans can be more than human in the future. As a landscape architect concerned with how to use design to address climate change, all this got her thinking about if humans could use our bodies to feed more than just infants. What if we could grow our food right on our backs? What if we could wear a landscape that, along with benefiting ourselves, served as an ecosystem for plants, animals, and insects?
That’s the concept behind Gabrielian’s Posthuman Habitats, a speculative design project now on view in Beijing as part of Human (un)limited, a joint exhibition by Hyundai Motorstudio and Ars Electronica. Made from moisture retention felt in which seeds are embedded, the project is essentially a wearable garden vest that grows crops nourished by bodily waste, that also serves as a habitat for some small creatures.
A prototype of this wearable garden yielded 20 pounds of crops over only a few weeks. It grew 40 different types of vegetables, including cabbage, arugula, broccoli rabe, kale, peanuts, peas, mushrooms, strawberries, and herbs like sage, rosemary, and lemon thyme. The majority of the crops were microgreens, which contain up to 40 times the amount of nutrients as their “macro” counterparts and were able to be seeded directly into the fabric. The other vegetables could be planted within the cloak using soil pockets.
These prototypes were displayed on mannequins and given nutrients and water, and put under a grow light. The speculative design also includes a system that would use the wearer’s sweat and urine (filtered using osmosis), as well as the waste from creatures who occupy the cloak, as nutrient sources.