This tiny living home made from wheatgrass, jute, and felt brings nature into our brutal cityscape

Getting close to nature through architecture comes in many forms. Some homes take to glass facades, dissolving the barrier between the outdoors and inside, then some homes feature blueprints that wrap around trees, incorporating their canopies and trunks into the lay of the house. Omri Cohen, a student designer at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, has a different idea. Cohen developed the Living Shell, an architectural shell built by growing jute, felt, and wheatgrass into a form of a textile that’s laid over a bamboo frame.

Turning to textile technology, Living Shell was born from Cohen’s quest to evolve layers of wheatgrass root systems into elastic, textile materials. Settling on the shell’s curvilinear structural shape, the wheatgrass textile wraps over its bamboo frame, forming layers of insulation and shade while it continues to grow. Cohen found durability in the inexpensive building material he developed from jute, felt, and wheatgrass. Layering the different roots together in a pattern that allows room for sustained growth periods, the textile’s thickness and durability increase over time as the roots continue to interlace and grow. While he has yet to build a life-size Living Shell, Cohen crafted 1:10 models to demonstrate the feasibility of introducing the Living Shell into rural and urban environments alike. Connecting the structure to an irrigation system, the textile overwrap would most likely receive nourishment from a programmed watering method.

While Living Shell functions like a house, it would more likely offer natural refuge hubs for small animals to gather nesting materials from and inhabit. Additionally, Cohen developed Living Shell so that urban dwellers and rural farmers have the opportunity to watch nature in action, for all of its natural growth, regenerative, and decay processes.

Designer: Omri Cohen

Layered around a bamboo frame, Cohen’s Living Shell is made from a textile developed from jute, felt, and wheatgrass.

Before building its life-size debut, Cohen created tiny 1:10 models of Living Shell.

Following tests to show how wheatgrass root systems grew through textile sheets, Cohen settled on some that could be woven together into a single textile sheet.

Cohen found a textile sheet that he could sew together and integrate the seeds of jute, felt, and wheatgrass.

Wheatgrass growing through the textile sheets.

The growth process of wheatgrass shows that the textile’s thickness would increase with continued irrigation.

These bee-friendly living roofs on the Leicester city bus stops is part of their goal to become carbon-neutral by 2030!

Everything from honey bee colonies to honey production is on the decline. Even walking down the street, the bees crawling on the sidewalks seem to look weaker and weaker as the days get hotter and pollution only increases. Air pollution, drought, pesticides, and global warming all contribute to the overall decline in bee populations across the world. Doing something about it, city officials of Leicester, United Kingdom have installed green roofs on top of their bus stops called Living Roofs or Bee Bus Stops to attract pollinators like bees and to make the city a little greener.

The bee roofs will cover thirty bus stops around the city of Leicester with a mix of wildflowers and sedum plants, luring in pollinators like butterflies and honey bees. Conceived as a mode of climate resilience, the Bee Bus Stops will help bring in more biodiversity into an otherwise declining cityscape and absorb rainwater that falls on the roof to produce a natural, blooming garden atop each roof. In cities across the globe, concrete can get monotonous. Integrating natural gardens into the city fabric will help break up that monotony with some greenery, birds, and insects. Introducing Bee Bus Stops to the city of Leicester will also help mitigate the effects of urban heat islands by absorbing some of the heat during the summer months, collecting air pollutants in the process.

Built on a ten-year contract with Leicester’s city council and Clear Channel UK, the Bee Bus Stops will feature solar panels once the city has the means to attach them to every bus stop for green energy and smart lighting. Leicester’s deputy city mayor councilor Adam Clarke leads the city’s environment and transportation initiatives. On the city’s future goals of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030, Clarke explains the potential of the Living Roofs to bring them there,

“The new, modern shelters will be great for passengers and the mix of solar power and living roofs is another step forward for our ambition to be a carbon-neutral and climate-adapted city by 2030. The new shelters will also be a perfect complement to our work to deliver a new, carbon-neutral bus station at St. Margaret’s.”

Designer: Leicester City Council

Thirty bus stops across the city of Leicester have tacked on wooden boxes to their roofs, attracting pollinators like butterflies and honey bees.

Leicester’s Living Roofs mark the beginning of the city’s green initiative to become carbon-neutral by 2030.

This sustainable office building uses passive energy practices and promotes biodiversity with their green roof!

CABI is an international nonprofit committed to solving problems related to agriculture and the environment through fact-based scientific expertise, improving the lives of people across the globe– those who work for CABI needed an office that reflected their mission. Taking on the project, Scott Brownrigg designed a sustainable headquarters based in the UK that features a rolling green roof and encourages biodiversity through highly energy-efficient building practices.

CABI’s new headquarters in Wallingford hones in on passive sustainability as its main focus. The building’s location and orientation were specifically chosen to minimize solar gains, allowing for shade in the warmer months and plenty of sunshine during the colder months. To achieve natural air ventilation, the building dons a perforated facade, allowing cool air to flow throughout the interior day and night, and then heat recovery ventilation pre-warms fresh air during the winter months. While this means for maintaining natural airflow is energy-efficient and passively sustainable, it also works to keep office workers comfortable in the age of COVID-19, allowing for fresh air to enter the building throughout the day. While all the energy-efficient practices take place inside the building, CABI headquarters’s exterior promotes biodiversity through a living roof, attracting insects and birds to its sprawling green hills.

Scott Brownrigg firm director Ed Hayden describes a sort of symbiotic relationship between the building and its occupants that was achieved through, “A traffic light system [which] alerts users when the building gets too hot or doesn’t have enough fresh air. It will prompt occupants to open their windows and increase the levels of fresh air in the building.” CABI has come a long way since its conception in 1910, hosting close to 180 members inside its new, sustainable headquarters.

Designer: Scott Brownrigg

From the outside, CABI’s new headquarters appear as two rolling hills.

CABI HQ is filled out with floor-to-ceiling windows that dissolve the barrier between the outside and inside, bringing its occupants even closer to the environment.

Inside, office workers enjoy natural air ventilation through the building’s perforated facades.

Scott Brownrigg designed CABI’s new headquarters to merge seamlessly with its surrounding environment.

Situated in the middle of a manicured lawn, CABI’s location was specifically chosen to minimize solar gains.

A perforated facade allows fresh air to flow into the building throughout the day.

A traffic light system was put in place to indicate when the office could use some fresh air, signaling workers to open their windows.