How to design across species to increase biodiversity

SNF Paideia Fellow Abigail (Abby) Weinstein participated in a summer internship with Terreform ONE, a nonprofit architecture and design research group.

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Terreform ONE is a non-profit architecture and design research group utilizing innovative technology and design aimed at shaping a socio-ecological future. Their motto, “design against extinction,” clearly articulates their innovative use of bio-technology to increase biodiversity. SNF Paideia Fellow Abigail (Abby) Weinstein, a fourth-year student in the Weitzman School of Design and College of Arts and Sciences, is spending her summer interning for Terreform ONE.

Rendering of a natural environment with a built structure.
Rendering of the engineered living materials structure. (Image: Courtesy of Abby Weinstein and Terreform ONE)

“It’s pretty exciting getting to work with new biomaterials, thinking about new uses for some everyday materials, thinking about how different species live—how can we design something that both captures the aesthetic that we are looking for and is also hospitable to them? how do we create something that is not interrupting the life at the site and instead encourages it to thrive?” The internship, funded by the SNF Paideia program, is providing Weinstein with studio experience, outside of the academic environment, to explore her professional interests in a space that is involved with cutting-edge sustainable design.

Weinstein’s day may involve 3D-modeling habitat inserts used in multispecies designs, and other days doing more hands-on work. The studio is currently located in a space called Newlab, which is located within a larger innovation hub. “Being in that space is very exciting. Newlab hosts conferences and events,” she says. “It has enabled me to interact with people outside Terreform and hear what they are doing—it allows me to meet more people and feel like I’m in a broader space where innovation is happening. I know a lot of people will work from home part of the week, but I rarely do that because I really like going in and being part of the space.”

As an SNF Paideia Fellow, Weinstein approaches the internship through a lens of dialogue. “In terms of how it relates to SNF Paideia, we are forming a dialogue with our clients, but because our clients are the birds, the crickets, and other species of NY, we get to think about having a conversation with a client in a much different way.” The final site of the project she is working on will be in upstate New York, close to the Storm King Sculpture Garden.

The work at Terreform ONE is defined as multispecies design. Their clients range from the businesses that commission the work to species that are on the edge of extinction such as the monarch butterfly. It is important to design spaces to meet the needs of these species because a healthy ecosystem requires diversity to flourish.

There are many different narratives of what an ecological future will look like. Living architecture is one of these narratives. One of the projects Weinstein is most excited about working on at Terreform One is Engineered Living Materials (ELM). ELM is based on the idea that structures suitable for human habitation can be engineered out of living materials, making them conducive to other species while minimizing adverse ecological effects. 

This story is by Lisa Marie Patzer. Read more at SNF Paideia.