Evaluative Module

Approaching the Evaluative Module last allowed for reflection upon the entire semester, as well as an analysis of the work completed to date. Download the week_10 presentation here.

This module facilitated reflection upon the all the previous modules, including the filtration specific module. This module allows for the evaluative frameworks to be applied. In approaching the evaluation of the work completed during the Fall Thesis Section, it became important to find other frameworks to support the project. Realizing that the projects main goals were to support sustainable economies and communities, it became evident that the Five Principles of Ecological Design written by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowen would provide strong framing for the examination and its potential success.

The Principles of Ecological Design are outlined as follows:

1. Solutions grow from place
2. Ecological accounting informs design
3. Design with nature
4. Everyone is a designer
5. Make nature visible

This guiding framework led to another guiding framework for my own prototypes as seen here (figure7.a).

The evaluation document serves to showcase glaring flaws and potential directions for prototypes. As future prototypes are built they will be designed using successful elements while avoiding past pitfalls. This also provides opportunity for reflection and analysis in illustrating the components and advancements of the prototypes. Categorizing the sections serves as a checklist for each sequential examination. In doing so a greater understanding of choices, decisions and outcomes is fostered, as well as a concise metric for evaluation.

Filtration Updates

Its been quite a busy week, Monday morning arrived on schedule with a surprise. A giant leak on the floor! Of course this became priority number one, finding the leak and stopping it. In the end this leak provided a turning point after analysis of my failed prototypes inevitably spawning a change in direction.

During the past weeks prototypes proved hopeful; successfully using the arduino to control solenoid valves. Solenoids provided the ability to have water continually recirculating for fish while intermittently watering plant beds, augmenting a hydroponic method known as an Ebb & Flow System (EFS). An EFS is achieved by filling and draining a grow bed with nutrient rich water. The bed is filled and drained every 15-30 minutes depending on climate. The modification to the EFS was in the continual flow of water for fish. Generally in an aquaponic EFS a bed is filled and drained as the only filtration for the fish. When the system is not running the water sits stagnent, generally with an aerator for oxygenation. The solenoids were a means to circumvent all stagnant water in an EFS providing continual flow from the tank to the filter. The hypothesis was to generate more oxygen, remove ammonia( fish waste ) through its conversion into Nitrates( plant food ).

Implementing the flow control into the EFS illuminated 3 main issues: 1. Wire tensions  2. Circuit/Water Safety 3. Filtration Methods. The areas of insight provided a new more cohesive direction for the ecosystem itself.

Wire tensions proved to be a big hurdle; with limited space the connections were pulled causing solenoid miss fires. A pretty big issue when these valves are intended to regulate watering cycles. After re-soldering the devices, with extra slack, the prototype was re-tested. But, again a fail.

Upon circuit analysis a flaw in the system was discovered. When a solenoid was the lowest resting point for water and the valve shut off, it trapped liquid in the tube above it. Eventually, this water dripped (slowly) on to the valve and caused more malfunctions – luckily not shorting out the valves. After this point the valves no longer fired as individuals, but only fired synchronously, the opposite of their intended function within the system. This prompted a day long investigation, where each part was dismantled, analyzed and reassembled. The task resulted in an unsuccessful diagnosis, the only outcome was to realization that the circuit must be rebuilt.

Before pushing further down the same path, it became apparent that there might be another means to achieve the goal of continuous flow. This led to the inquiry of other aquaponic filtration methods (in this sense also nutrient delivery methods). The EFS is one way to achieve a thriving ecosystem, but has flaws in aquarium based aquaponics. An EFS uses the bed as its filter however this means that large waste particles are not removed, and water clarity can suffer although it is nutrient rich.

Research presented itself in the form of an online video (via the urban farming guys) and a direction to clearer water, through the use of a raft system (RS). Raft systems demand the utmost of clean water because the roots of the plants live directly within the water, if the roots are coated with build up it will hinder their absorption of nutrients. The means to executing this method is through adding a filtration measure known as a clarifier. Clarifiers remove large waste from the system before it get to the filter. Their purpose is to provide a simple means to remove fertilizer from the system.

In an apartment and aquarium water quality are extremely important. A cloudy tank looks unsightly due to implied negligence. The goal of the last prototype was to run water through a filter more ofter in order to provide cleaner water. However research suggests that rather than use a control point for this a water flow filter should be used to remove larger particles from the water.

Waking up this Monday, after a day trying to diagnose the ails of the solenoid circuit to find the custom filter leaking, pushed the realization that there is an alternative method to  clean presentable water in aquarium aquaponics. Moving forward a clarifier and new sump are being created from materials as quickly as possible. A raft bed and vertical planters have been created. The clarifier and new sump will have the new system ready and online shortly.




Soft Walks

Had a really interesting meeting the other day with a team member from the Transdisciplinary MFA program here at Parsons. They are doing some interesting work, and are framing it around the notion of the Infrastructure of Sanctuary, which really sparked my thought processes. After our discussion we saw great deal of overlaps in our work and research, there may be some co-aligning of research here at certain junctures.

Check out some of there work here »

Thanks Tami and Steven for facilitating the cross studio collaborations!


More and more I am thinking about aesthetics, after my last in class presentation, where I examined methodological aspects of my project, I began to realize that there is a need to make things beautiful. My reaffirmation for this has been speaking with some people over at Hack Manhattan – that pushed my thinking further that there needs to be aesthetics. This also presented a realization that there are different types of spaces, so far I have identified three, public-public, city owned land, or streets, public-private, a place someone would have to be a member in order to visit and finally private a house, home or other personal space.

In my presentation Friday, to the Internet of Things(IOT) Meet Up, I discussed these areas and their relation to the aesthetic nature of adaptive agricultural systems. I have broken these areas in to four approaches to examine, Automation, Awareness, Integration, Interface. I think that using these four areas I will be able to evaluate the different prototypes I create, and categorize them as to what they examine. This talk opened up a lot of great questions, comments and feedback. Thanks to everyone who was there.

You can check out my presentation from IOT – here »

You can check out my methodology presentation – here »


The methodological module provided the opportunity to examine successful projects, in
order to understand the methodologies they implemented. During this time period a
variety of precedent projects were researched. Three projects were highlighted as key precedents to the body of research being conducted. The rationale for their role as a precedent was articulated and then each project was examined by a framework, in order to best understand its approach and results. Download the methodological presentation here (presentation-wk9).

Each precedent was outlined by its Approach, Medium, Planning and Result. The three projects analyzed were Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates, Britta Riley’s Window Farms, and Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs’, Farm Fountain. These projects showcased themselves as the most relevant to UNAS, and their successes, warranted further analysis (figure5.a). In the end, this task facilitated a keen understanding of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as avenues for adoption and an outline of what makes successful projects in Urban Agriculture.

The exercise highlighted the need for community involvement, through the methodology of both Edible Estates and Window Farms, and their success being related directly to fostering communities of people. Farm Fountains inability to foster a community highlighted a disconnect and a potential area of growth for them. Overall the methods for success were noted and are key to set the methodology for which this work must observe. At the same time this analysis facilitated the projects analysis into the Evaluative Module.