Course Blog

Building Communities of People and Nature through IoT (that is, ‘Internet of Trees’)

Through various iterations of the “Tree House”, we realized that bringing nature back to our doorstep was essentially a community effort. Thus, without a doubt, we looked into the ways our project would be incorporated into everyday living.

First as a brief recapitulation, the idea of “Nature Deficit Disorder”1 coined by Richard Louv perfectly captures the increasing distance between the person and nature. Our initial decision to combat the mission of sustainability was to also strive to imbue a sense of accountability and proactivity in members of the community. Our solution is through incorporation of a bioreactor that is connected to and connects together (via the highway of mycorrhizae) the various living components of a building with nutrients. We are essentially bringing the structure to life where our bioreactor is the engine (or as Oron Catts described: the digestive system). The mycorrhizal network would connect everything in the community (that is, the various levels of a high-rise condominium or even horizontal integration of suburban homes – imagine the homes along Mayfield Road in Edinburgh) much like in the forests2. The photos I took of upwards-climbing roots at the Delft Botanical Garden (below) shows an inspirational model to how mycorrhizae may also allow vertical integration of the system (to be incorporated into prototype!).

The bioreactor would have modular components (below, courtesy of David Goméz) dedicated to various functions such as nitrogen fixation, potassium solubilization and phosphorous solubilization. While others conduct experiments with single or communities3 of microorganisms that can be used for these specific roles (Bacillus, Arthrobacter, Pseudomonas, etc.), most of my efforts have been spent figuring out how the modular bioreactor would be installed and what sorts of plants can be best supported for growth. Crops grown efficiently can be legumesrich in nutrition and symbiosis. It was important to consider maintenance of various macronutrient requirements in one’s diet were they to consume solely the produce grown within these communities (how will this shape future vegetarian diets?). I have also considered how different communal hubs may be formed: primary schools may be powered by the bioreactor where children can be able to play and experiment in close proximity with plant life.

Implementing this system is perhaps appropriate for suburban/rural areas first or isolated self-sufficient communities initially. In such intimate communities of neighbors, there will be a sense of social responsibility and initiative to cooperate in order to maintain the closed-loop maintenance of simultaneous waste management and food production5. There was also some concern expressed regarding possible leaks of the bioreactor and the inadvertent ramifications on the environment. While the nutrient runoff would mostly be absorbed by the plants and mycorrhizae, it has also invoked an image I came across in the concept art of the recent game Last of Us (shown below). If wild plant life was allowed to grow beyond our control, how do we deal with it? Is it a bad thing that we aren’t in control? Can we design our future communities alongside the mercurial arms of nature?


[1]   Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

[2]   Fleming, N. (2014). Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Mar. 2018].

[3]   Hays, S., Patrick, W., Ziesack, M., Oxman, N. and Silver, P. (2015). Better together: engineering and application of microbial symbioses. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 36, pp.40-49.

[4]   Sea Spring Seeds. (n.d.). Growing legumes, rhizobia and nitrogen fixation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2018].

[5] (2015). THE MODERN ECO VILLAGE: 10 EYE-OPENING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Mar. 2018].