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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Published: September 6, 2016

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PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID TEUBNER
AquaCity Garden design hanging on a wall.

A water- and space-efficient gardening system designed by four CSULB design majors is the first-ever winner of the student Living Product Prize, a new initiative of the Biomimicry Design Challenge. Called the AquaCity Garden, it is a modular hydroponic system designed to grow food and plants indoors—on walls.

To design the AquaCity Garden, CSULB design majors Jimmy Huynh, Matt Ulery, Patrick Soriano and Brian Mar borrowed from honey combs, the lobed comb jellyfish, the Suriname sea toad and planet Earth’s water cycle. Designed for use in indoor urban environments such as apartments and offices, the garden is made of modules which can be installed on any flat wall surface.

The competition offered two awards—a $1,500 prize for the student team and a $10,000 prize for a professional team in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Accelerator, to be announced this month. “The prize is intended to highlight design products that mimic nature’s design principles and function as elegantly as anything found in the natural world,” explained David Teubner, a member of the design faculty since 2005.

Team leader Huynh, on his way to a bachelor’s degree in industrial design in May, applauded his team’s success.

“I would like to thank and acknowledge my incredible team—Patrick, Brian and Matt—for the amazing work they have been able to produce for this contest. Our win came as a shock to the team. Although we had confidence in our design, there were many great submissions, any one of us could have won,” he said.

Huynh explained that the AquaCity Garden is a fully modular system that allows users to grow vegetables, flowers, etc., indoors by hanging “growing pods” on their walls, noting that it is designed mainly for those who desire to grow a garden but lack the space to do so.

Teubner explained that the AquaCity Garden is much more than a home gardening unit.

“What this project does is give apartment dwellers a garden on their walls,” he said. “The water is self-contained and the lighting is self-contained. The modules in which the plants grow can be put in and taken out for cleaning. It all looks chic and urban.”

Inspired by the bioluminescence of the lobed comb jellyfish, LED strips line the modules’ front face to provide the plants with light and change color to relay information on the water’s nutrient levels. The plants are grown in individual capsules inspired by the “nurturing characteristics” of the Suriname sea toad, which store its offspring in little pods in its back.

Nutrient-rich water falls through the back of the module to grow plants hydroponically, which requires no soil. Water flows through the entire system, ultimately being collected and pumped back to the first unit, where the cycle begins again and where additional nutrients can be introduced to the cycle. This ensures each plant receives ample amount of water while also reducing overall water usages.

Huynh expressed his team’s thanks for the Design Department’s support. “We began this project/contest under the instruction of David Teubner,” he said. “The project/contest continued to on to the next semester where we were instructed by Steven Boyer. David Hedden, also a professor in the department, was of particular help to us designing AquaCity Garden. He allowed us to visit his aquaponics farm, gave us a tour and allowed us to take footage that we used in our video submission.”

“The Living Product Prize represents a double challenge,” Teubner continued. “It is a new initiative of the Biomimicry Institute and the International Living Future Institute. The Biomimicry Institute is all about biomimicry or designs that mimic the way nature solves problems. The International Living Future Institute is all of that plus sustainability. This prize adds a layer of sustainability on top of biomimicry.”

Teubner believes the issue of sustainability is relevant on a grassroots level.

“All of us leave carbon footprints whatever we do, whether driving a car or throwing away a product. What the Living Future Institute wants to do is to balance a carbon foot print with a sustainable hand print,” Teubner said.

Huynh agreed that sustainability was fundamental to AquaCity Garden and a huge focus of the team.

“That is the main reason why we decided to utilize aquaponics technology considering it uses less space, significantly less water and no soil, compared to traditional gardening methods,” he said.

Teubner remembers that this competition once had the participation of CSULB design major Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, who was killed in the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks. Her team placed second in last year’s competition with their Polli Snak design.

Huynh is glad he chose CSULB to get his education for industrial design.

“It is an amazing program full of people that are passionate and care about what they do,” he said. “The department has an incredible reputation that has produced great designers. It is a pleasure to be able to represent what our Industrial Design Department is all about by winning this Biomimicry Global Challenge for Living product.”

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