For the exhibition “Survival Architecture and the Art of Resilience,” organized by the Oakland, Calif., nonprofit Art Works for Change, Mitchell Joachim, Assoc. AIA, envisioned a structure that would provide not only shelter, but also a source of sustenance that could endure climate change and natural disasters. The food source? Crickets, whose protein-rich bodies require little water and energy to grow. “They’re good for you and good for the planet,” says Joachim, the co-founder of Brooklyn, N.Y.–based Terreform ONE and an associate professor of practice at New York University.
Ultimately, Terreform ONE’s prototype cricket shelter and farm is less about providing emergency relief, and more about experimenting with food culture and ecology through architecture. Currently cricket protein is ground up in energy bars that “taste like wood,” Joachim says. He suggests that the insect could be integrated into refined dining culture and cuisine, similar to how sushi took off in the U.S. in the 1980s. And crickets can—and should—be grown and harvested locally, he says, to match the farm-to-table values of today’s eco-conscious gourmands.
Crickets have long been farmed in several countries, Joachim says, but the standard practices are unsanitary because they do not effectively screen out carcasses, baby crickets, feces, and dirt. In contrast, Terreform ONE’s carefully considered design allows handlers to maintain hygienic conditions and to harvest living adult specimens only.
The 144-square-foot structure comprises 224 interconnected modules set within a vault of 16 CNC-milled wood ribs. Each module consists of a 5-gallon plastic container lined with a nylon mesh sac and equipped with a ventilated door, a shading louver, and “mobility tubes” that lead to other modules. These 0.5-inch-diameter PVC tubes are lined with soft nylon mesh. Cocoon-like “sex pods” affixed to the outside of the shelter make mating a potential spectacle. Once the baby crickets, or nymphs, are strong enough, they can hop freely into the main farm via the tubes.
“This is a brilliant architectural proposition combining science, cuisine, and construction—all executed with a sense of humor,” said juror Elizabeth Whittaker, AIA.
Crowning the shelter are 25 spiky quills, made of pipe cowls attached to 4-foot-long fins of plastic and coated masonite, that draw air and heat out via the stack effect, and amplify the sound of the crickets’ chirping. Sculpturally, the quills nod to Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space and John Hejduk’s The House of the Suicide, and reflect the designer's desire to “do something fabulous,” Joachim says.
Details like these led Whittaker to call the project “a combination of the elegant and the grotesque.” Juror Doug Stockman, AIA, added, “It sort of reminds me of the scene in The Martian (2015) when he’s trying to grow the potatoes.”
The shelter and farm will be exhibited at the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Fla., from Sept. 10 to Nov. 13. The first harvest, overseen by Robyn Shapiro of Seek Food, was used to make an infused vodka. Next on the menu? Cricket-flour bonbons with fruit and nuts.
Project Name: Cricket Shelter: Modular Edible Insect Farm, New York
Client: Randy Jayne Rosenberg
Design Firm: Terreform ONE, Brooklyn, N.Y. · Mitchell Joachim, Assoc. AIA, (co-founder and primary investigator); Melanie Fessel, Maria Aiolova, Assoc. AIA, Vivian Kuan (project management); Felipe Molina, Matthew Tarpley (research assistants); Jiachen Xu, Lissette Olivares, Cheto Castellano, Ivan Fuentealba, Sung Moon, Kamila Varela, Yucel Guven, Chloe Byrne, Miguel Lantigua-Inoa, AIA, Alex Colard
Consultant: Seek Food · Robyn Shapiro
Fabricators: Shandor Hassan, Christian Hamrick
Funding: Art Works for Change; Terreform ONE
Photography: Mitchell Joachim, Matthew Tarpley
Special Thanks: David Stewart, Christian Hubert, Heather Lord, Scott Pobiner, New Lab, Brooklyn Navy Yard, GMD Shipyard, New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Size: 144 square feet