Course Blog

The Challenge of Letting Go

Existing sustainable building models emphasize control over all aspects of architecture and design. The Living Building ChallengeTM, the most rigorous sustainable building standard that exists today, encourages designers, contractors, building owners, politicians and government officials to create built environments that benefit nature. It encourages “humanity to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment” [1]. While my Biodesign team agrees we need to reconcile manmade buildings with nature, we propose a different approach to this reconciliation. Starting from the perspective of existing building residents, my team and I are exploring a DIY approach to sustainable building.
In collaboration with my team members, I’m designing a circular waste management and food production system. Combining bioreactor technology and mycorrhizal networks, my team and I envision a future in which a home’s waste does not need to be managed by large-scale infrastructure, and a home’s food does not need to arrive by large-scale transportation networks. As the team’s designer, I’m researching design solutions that can empower individuals to close the loop between their waste management and food production.
When compared with alternative waste management systems, studies indicate that membrane bioreactors are becoming increasingly popular for waste management thanks to their relatively clean effluent and smaller infrastructural footprint. Nevertheless, the cost of bioreactors remains high due to energy demands, replacement and maintenance costs, and sludge disposal [2]. I’m investigating the feasibility of installing bioreactors in easily accessible locations to reduce replacement and maintenance costs, and the feasibility of using found materials to build the bioreactor. One concern with at-home bioreactors is nutrient excess: if homeowners do not build or manage the bioreactor system properly, nutrients could leak out of the system and cause eutrophication [3]. Perhaps such unexpected plant growth would not be such a bad thing, though. To truly reconcile “the built environment with the natural environment,” shouldn’t we as humans change our attitude towards nature? Shouldn’t we be willing to let nature flourish as it may instead of dictating when and where it can grow?

Download a PDF storyboard of a web experience of the vision here (inspired by One Shared House 2030 [4])


[1] Living Building Challenge:

[2] Kraume, M., & Drews, A. (2010). Membrane Bioreactors in Waste Water Treatment – Status and Trends. Chemical Engineering & Technology, 33(8), 1251-1259. doi:10.1002/ceat.201000104

[3] Natural Resources Conservation Service. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2018, from Yet Determined.Html&ttype=detail&pname=Fate and Transport of Nutrients: Phosphorus%2

[4] One Shared House 2030: