Ken Rinaldo's Cascading Gardens is a self sustaining system of vertically growing gardens. A robotic watering system absorbs solar energy from the sun and uses it to pump water running off of nearby roofs into the assortment of plants. Sensors placed in the plants' soil alert the system when moisture drops too low in a pot, allowing it to immediately quench itself. Ken Rinaldo organizes the plants so that ones with broader canopies shield smaller, more fragile, plants from powerful radiation. Plants above filter water through their pouches into produce plants below to maximize water purity. The assortment comes complete with decomposition catalysts, such as micro bacteria and worms, that break down kitchen scraps to create fertile compost. All together, the project is a compact farm that can produce a plethora of produce and plant life with little to no human intervention.
In recent years the need to harness sustainable practices has grown rapidly. With drought, food shortage, and a plethora of other problems, there has been an ever growing call to take advantage of local food options that do not demand so much from our limited land resources. Implementation of aquaponics, vermicomposting, and window farming all come as new technological adaptations that enable us to help reduce our footprint. Rinaldo's Cascading Gardens is aimed to contribute both practicality and elegance to the equation, as it combines all three of the previously listed practices into this one self contained unit. The promise of environmental renewal that comes with embedding these tactics into an agricultural system is clearly reflected in the composition of the work. The plants are positioned very aesthetically with a variety of different flora framed by windows that illuminate the thriving ecosystem, making the appearance, itself, a refreshing sight.
Kimbely Mock, of TreeHugger, further frames Rinaldo's work within the Green Movement
"The practices of hydroponics, aquaponics and windowfarming (which allows urban folks to grow food vertically using their home windows) and vermicomposting (creating compost with worms) have become familiar ideas to many green-minded people for some time now. But what about adding worms to the windowfarming equation? Professor Ken Rinaldo, director of the art and technology department at Ohio State University's School of Architecture, has combined aspects of these practices in an experimental research project called Cascading Gardens." (Mock, Kimberly, (11/13/2013) Vertical vermiponics: research project combines worms with hydroponics)
Rinaldo not only comments on the need for change in the way we go about putting food on our tables, but provides us with a shining example of how new technologies can be composed into a practical, immediate, and appealing solution.
Ken Rinaldo shows his passion for intertwining robotics and nature in many of his works. One of his exhibits, Augmented Fish Reality, also plays with this relationship between robotics and nature, and how the two can exist in a symbiotic relationship. In this exhibit, Rinaldo places infrared sensors in fish bowls containing siamese fighting fish. Sensors respond to the fishes orientation in the bowl and communicate with motorized wheels that move in the direction of the fish's position. The fish bowls are equipped with lipstick video cameras that seek to mimic the view of the fish, and project the live streams onto a wall behind the exhibit. This project was constructed in response to a scientific study that discovered fish to be very socially intelligent. By allowing the fish to physically move around the room, the viewer gets a greater sense of where the fish is moving and how it interacts with it's surroundings. The large structures often hover towards each other and people who enter the environment as the fish look to engage with the rest of the room.
By providing a physical encapsulation of a fishes behavior, Rinaldo effectively provides a new view on the social tendencies of these fish. Similar to his work in Cascading Gardens, Rinaldo's fish sculptures come equipped with water lilies floating at the surface, which make use of the nutritional byproduct of fish waste. Unlike, Cascading Gardens, however, this piece is focused on exploring a scientific thesis regarding fish behavior, and not on displaying a self sustaining ecosystem (although it inadvertently fulfills some of those aspects).
Another work similar to Cascading Gardens is one by Stephanie Rothenberg, titled Reversal of Fortune: Garden of Virtual Kinship. At a glance both projects appear similar in the way they make use of a mechanical watering system to support plant life growing within the work. However, Rothenburg's piece determines how to water the plants based on input from participants who 'donate' to certain agricultural causes within the structure. The idea of outside donations coming in is used to represent the modern day practice of 'micro lending', in which you can sponsor a farmer in a developing country with a donation. Furthermore, the piece is specifically designed to primarily miss the pots and trickle most of the donated water down to a lush patch of grass growing below, signifying the often misallocated donation money.
While Rothenberg's piece makes similar use of technology to sustain a small ecosystem, it is reliant on participant input to make it's statement on the nature of micro loan economies. On the other hand, Rinaldo uses Cascading Gardens to create a self sustaining system that is non-reliant on any human input to show how technology can enable self sufficient agricultural solutions.
-Cascading Gardens: Read more on Tree Hugger
-Augmented Fish Reality: Read more on Wired
-Garden of Virtual Kinship: Read more on Creative Capital
Exhibitions for Cascading Gardens:
-Wild Goose Creative Gallery, Columbus Ohio March 12, 2016
-CAPS Center for Applied Plant Sciences, The Ohio State University, Rightmire Hall April 29th, 2016
-Knowlton School of Architecture, Columbus, Ohio, 2013-2104
-National Center For Contemporary Arts, Ekacteringburg, Russia, 2013-2014
-Antonio Prates Gallery, Lisbon Portugal, 2013-2014