Two weeks ago I made it across the river for a talk at the MFA by Mitchell Joachim, an MIT SA&P grad who, according to Rolling Stone, is changing America.
Mitchell is co-founder of the non-profit design and research group Terreform One, based in Brooklyn. His talk focused on a number of projects in ecological architecture and urban design that he has been involved with during and since his time at MIT.
He began with the questions, “Why is design powerful? What does it contribute to the public?” For Mitchell, inspiration has come from figures he calls “urbaneers” – Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and Frederick Law Olmsted – who were active in their environment, city, or neighborhood. Jules Verne played a role in his interest in future cities, as an inventor of unthinkable mechanisms simplifying travel. Though his work emphasizes making our cities better, he stressed that he wasn’t interested in a utopia, just on improving the current condition.
The projects he’s worked on range from the micro: a fungus-based styrofoam replacement, a chair grown from bacteria, to the macro: a parametric installation examining population growth in cities through thermoformed plastic and cell biology, an entire village grown from pleached trees.
A large part of Mitchell’s work has to do with mobility and the new potential for vehicles. Insisting that transport doesn’t have to be a metal box, but could rather be soft, slow, and shared, he presented projects like the Car LAMB, and other reconfigurations of vehicles that promote shared transport options and compact storage. 20th century cities were planned around cars, which in today’s cities are parked 85% of the time. Mitchell’s projects underscore his belief that technology should fit the place it’s in.
Mitchell’s message was one of both hope and frustration; he spoke with such passion about the things he and his team are designing and moving forward with, but there is also a gap where things like a bacterial chair and foldable cars become mainstream. More than anything, his work raises awareness and brings overpopulation, waste, and urban living to the forefront of the conversation, using design to change the way we’re looking at our current environmental crisis.