From bionic biceps to pneumatic micro-apartments that double as parking spots, the James Dyson Award is an international design competition that attracts student-designed submissions that are innovative, ingenious, and often just a wee bit out there. The solution-oriented entries — this year’s brief is, once again, “design something that solves a problem” — tend to very much be in line with Dyson’s fine tradition of renlentless innovation and continually pushing the envelope in the engineering department.
In other words, entries to the James Dyson Awards can be complicated.
One U.S. entrant to the 2014 James Dyson Award, however, is remarkable for its stylish simplicity and low-tech appeal — there are zero wires, buttons, apps, 3D printers, PV panels, or quixotic design statements involved. It’s a refreshingly unfussy design — a humble planter, to be exact — with a most commendable goal: to help city-dwellers grow edible plants and herbs at home, even if the growing conditions are less than ideal due to a lack of space or sunlight.
The solution, a flat-pack portable planter crafted from surplus sailcloth named Nomad, is the creation of two recent Parsons the New School for Design graduates, Stella Lee Prowse and Miriam Josi. Together, the duo have formed the Garden Apartment, a collaboration that aims to help urbanites —New Yorkers and Parisians, specifically — flex their greenthumbs even if they don’t live in traditional garden-level apartments with direct access to outdoor space.
“We wanted to make something that you can put wherever you have available space,” explains Australian-born Lee Prowse of the lightweight, durable, endlessly versatile, and, true to its name, travel-ready, Nomad. “Do what you want with it.”
Lee Prowse and Josi, who is Swiss and currently resides in Paris, aren’t just collaborators. They met as product design students at Parsons and became roommates and best friends while living in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section. The Garden Apartment and Nomad, their BFA capstone project while at Parsons, resulted from their desire to grow edible plants in living spaces that don’t exactly scream “kitchen garden.”
Elaborates the Garden Apartment website:
In the urban environment, the commercial food system has created a disconnect between the consumer, the culture of cooking and the understanding of where food comes from.Our goal is to celebrate the culture of food and home cooking with access to fresh herbs.The Nomad planter is designed to optimize the existing conditions in the home in order to grow herbs in environments with limitations of space, shifting sunlight and changing seasons.
While Lee Prowse explains that there were “constant a-ha moments” during the designing of Nomad, it was when she and Josi discovered the ideal material in which to realize their prototype, reclaimed sailcloth, that all of the disparate pieces truly started to fall together.
Water- and UV-resistant and easily transportable unlike heavy traditional planters, Nomad is essentially a folded-up sailcloth rectangle that forms a sturdy handled pouch when filled with soil — it can easily be hung from rope, positioned on a windowsill or table, or mounted on a wall to form a vertical garden. As evidenced in the photo above, it can go anywhere that you want it go. Boasting a built-in drainage system, each seamless Nomad unit contains dual growing spaces so that complementary edible plants and herbs can be grown in tandem using shared soil.
In terms of finding and securing enough reclaimed sailcloth to further realize their prototype design, Lee Prowse and Josi stumbled across a stockpile of old and unwanted fabric during a materials-sourcing fieldtrip to City Island in the Bronx. “We basically turned up at City Island and started looking for sailmakers,” says Prowse.
After a few dead ends, Lee Prowse and Josi hit the jackpot at Doyle Sails, a Bronx-based company with a massive surplus of post-production waste fabric that was ready for the taking. Moving forward, Nomad will continue to be manufactured locally from scrap materials sourced from City Island. Localized sourcing and manufacturing will not only help to keep costs down but is very much in line with the Prowse and Josi’s overall mission to keep things close to home as possible.
In the early stages of Nomad’s development, Lee Prowse and Josi received a James Dyson Award Design Fund through Parsons that enabled them to further develop the planter prototype. Winning the James Dyson Award — the overall international winner will receive $45,000 while national winners, one per country, will be awarded with $3,300 each — will allow Lee Prowse and Josi to bring their clever urban gardening solution into the production stage. It's also worth noting that outside of the James Dyson Award, Nomad will be making its grand debut at Paris Design Week in September.
Do head on over to the James Dyson Award page to learn more about Nomad and other entries in the running for this year’s prizes including a plant-powered radio, an inflatable incubator for refugee camps, and a clever, hand-powered peanut sheller. In total, the 2014 edition of the competition received 603 entries from 18 different countries.
The national winners of the James Dyson Award will be announced on Sept. 18 while the finalists for the international award will be announced Oct. 16. The grand winner and runners-up will be unveiled on Nov. 6.
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