Conceptualized and built by:ZURI CAMILLE DE SOUZA (INDIA)
Visiting Faculty/ ISDI Parsons
in collaboration with:KASPAR FLUECK (SWITZERLAND)
Writing/Layout/Graphic DesignbyZURI CAMILLE DE SOUZAPhotographybyKASPAR FLUECKunless mentioned
2 Our Idea
3 Put into Practise
5 What I learnt
7 In retrospect
DR. BRAGANZA PEREIRA ROAD
This issue of Fantacity explores the Floating Flower Garden project done by Kaspar Flueck and myself this December 2014/January 2015 for The Story of Light festival (January 14-18th 2015).
It is one part of a month-long residency that took place in Porvorim, Goa and eventually led to a public festival on the streets of Panjim, Goa. Each project for the festival explored the theme of light, in accordance with the UNESCO Year of Light 2015.
My project looked at how plants use light energy (the sun) to clean water by a process known as rhizofiltration. I believe that without plants, humanity lacks an
intimate connection to the sun. We have no means by which to harness the life-giving energy it radiates. Plants provide us this service whilst simultaneously replenishing and nourishing the air, soil and water on our planet.
However, the p r o c e s s e s
that involve p l a n t s and light are both u n d e r -utilized and
approached with scepticism
in urban design and architectural practises. Often, they are seen as too simple to actually work. My respect and love for the sun, water and plants, as well as dedication to the quality of urban public spaces has lead me onto this path and as I walk it, I find immense potential as well as initiatives hat have really made a difference the world over. This month was a time
of exploring, learning and understanding in a practical environment. Whilst our plans seemed beautiful on paper, the execution was often difficult and filled with unexpected circumstances. Whilst frustrating at the time, it has given me a far clearer perspective of my ideas. What we did essentially was test different plants, floating devices and water conditions. I do not proclaim that I have established a concrete system yet. However, I believe this is the start of a project with many possibilities. What needs to be done next is to develop, refine and delve deeper into these ideas.
On a more personal level, the project-site (St.Inez Creek opposite the Herald office in Panjim) is a place that holds many memories within its waters. My father reminds me of a time when it was filled with birds and clean water. Today, the creek, though still serving its functions as a channel, is no more than a sewer in most parts. Private groups, citizens forums and businesses situated on its banks have campaigned, protested and hired people
to clean it. Money from the government has been allocated for the purpose of cleaning it but has not been given out to the concerned authorities yet or perhaps, has been given out and never been used.As we spent increasing days by (and in) the creek, people stared, laughed and questioned us. Some didnt care, but many asked us what we were doing with tire-tubes and plants. I heard a woman talking about how the creek in her days had a beautiful path on either side, and that in the evening people would walk along its banks; I heard stories of people swimming and fishing in its water; some even say there is a crocodile or alligator that lives in it. One student talked to us about the work he was doing to preserve the creek from ruin and another spoke about his research projects on its history; two old women talked to us about how happy they were to see the plants in the water; journalists told to us about the politics of this space (since we worked opposite the Herald Newspaper office). Others were sceptical and kept reminding us that it wouldnt work.
I had to then keep reminding them that yes, it would not work. Not if we keep dumping more sewage into the creeks waters everyday; not if we dont create a system of waste-water management; not if the slums up-river are ill-equipped with proper sanitation and certainly not if we cultivate an attitude of indifference towards our water.
I believe that this project is the start of my journey into an education of ecological urban design based on practical work and positive action. With time, I hope to refine and implement this idea in several locations.
I would like to thank the entire team from The Story of Light (thestoryoflight.org) for the invitation to participate; Mr.Farmer and Waylon DSouza for donating plants; Tallulah for her valuable knowledge of the creek; Kaspar for his help, energy, time and persistence; Kabir for the boat; Douglas and Sachin for the car; Olivia, Andrea, Stephie for their insights and energy; and lastly, my family for their love and support during a time of learning for us all.
When I was approached by Nash from The Story of Light,
the idea to do a project connecting plants to the sun
came effortlessly. I knew I had to work with these two
At the time of its conception, I was in Switzerland and spent most days by the lake in Biel or the river in Solothurn. This showed me the value of clean and accessible public water bodies, and I realized how much these were lacking in India.
I had been researching the ways in which people were integrating plants into the urban ecology, not just as a source of food, but as tools that would manage waste materials that had leached either into the air, soil or groundwater.
It fascinated me that perhaps I could use this residency as a space to explore these ideas myself. Having done a fair amount of gardening and farming, I felt confident in working with plants. I decided to use this project as a space to learn and understand what was going on in India since I was, after all, returning home after almost two years.
The initial idea I had was to create a raft that would grow sunflowers and mustard, as well as reeds and rushes...several members of the Brassicaceae family and Asteraceae family are known to remove heavy metals from soil and water and Vetiver grass is used all over the world to clean water bodies.
However, given the time constraint and number of hands working (four), we decided to create individual floating systems that could be reproduced by anyone in an affordable and efficient manner. We also constrained ourselves to materials that almost anyone would have access to.
ILLUSTRATION: IVAN LUCAS
As expected, this was where we faced the most challenges. I am glad though because each difficulty was a point where we had to refine our ideas.
We spent a long time figuring out how to fit the plants into the tires--baskets, sacks, rope, we tried everything and finally decided on a basket made of rope, into which a gunny sack would fit, into which a box would then sit, into which the plant would then be placed. We tried to make the design and biodegradable as possible and used coconut coir rope which, in fact, is the only rope resistant to both water and salt (which is why old fishing boats use it!) and chose coconut-peat as our growth medium. Though I wanted to use sun flowers, we dropped the idea they were not easy to source in Goa. We instead used local plants and chose Elephants Ear, Ginger, Chinese Papyrus and Canna Lily.
Elephants Ear (Colocasia) often grows besides streams, sewage inlets and near the drains besides kitchens, as does Canna Lily (Canna indica). The Papyrus and Ginger was more an experiment and both plants did not appreciate the slight salinity of the water or its pollution. I would use Vetiver (again difficult to source at the time) and Iris. These plants spread over a short
period of time so they were all contained in individual tire-floats.We also made a sign-board because I believe it is important to share such a project with anyone who might pass by, live in the area or work close to where we did the installation. Once we had the signboard up, people often approached us with questions when we were at the site. It showed me the importance of giving people the chance to involve themselves, should they feel like.
The basic elements: An innter-tube, coconut rope,
coco-peat as a growth medium, a gunny sack
and a cardboard box for structure.
1. We used a fishing net to create a basket around
the tire. However, we then found that it was better to
create a mesh using coconut rope (see below).
2. The coconut rope was both flexible and biodegradable so we
decided to use it as much as possible. We wove a net
out of it to lock the sack in place. We could also then use the rope to anchor the
floats in the creek.
In this version, we decided to try a float using the fishing net. The base
supports a gunny-sack lined with cardboard and filled
PHOTO: MITWA ABHAY VANDANA
Our first test-site collected so much garbage after one night! We had to rethink our entire design to prevent it from catching all the
debris that is thrown in the creek on a daily basis.
This project showed me the intrinsic connection between my emotional self and my practical self. Working intuitively was a process of constant learning and letting go of old ideas for new ones.
As this design evolved, so did my understanding of the space I was working in. This might seem obvious to many, but actually experiencing this process was an invigorating experience that showed me the essentiality of experience-based design.
The plants that I chose, in theory, might have worked well. In practise though, several died over time. This was mainly the ginger and papyrus that were raised in nurseries. I could not understand why this was happening until I plunged my hands into the thick, acrid-smelling sludge whilst setting one module to float. The flecks of grey clayey earth burnt my skin, and the first night after we worked in the water, both Kaspar and I had burning fevers. I didnt question why the plants were dying anymore. It was obvious--the waters were saturated with too many substances and some of the plants could not handle it.
In retrospect, I would also use a mixture of dried hay, a little coco-peat, a little soil and a lot more compost. I assumed the plants would get a fair amount of nutrients through the water but many of them did not like the coco-peat even before they went into the water. I would also have used only
the inner tubes from truck-tires and no car tires, because
the centre is far too small to support large plants.
I also learnt that working in
a public space without intentionally
involving the public works sometimes, but not always! Though we talked with many, many people--I would have liked for a much greater intentional involvement. Next time, I will start the design process with a community meeting. A further problem I faced was a language-barrier. I find that because our main sign was in English, some people didnt bother looking at the diagrams. Though we made a Hindi sign, it was taken by someone (!) after the first night.
In conclusion, a greater community involvement, more time and more plants will do wonders to this project!
My idea is to continue on this journey. I need to work on the following:
1. sourcing plants
2. developing the structure of the prototype.
3. involving the community and establishing a long term plan
Currently, Steffie has offered to document the gardens progress since. On the following page are photographs from February (one month post-installation)
If youre interested in this project, do write to me. My email is on the back-cover.
ps/ we took the neon pink flags out because we didnt want them breaking off and entering the river.