Prefabrication isn’t just for people! Even tiny crustaceans can benefit from the economic efficiency of mass-produced standardized dwelling units. Case in point : Elizabeth Demaray’s fabulous conceptual art / environmental / (architectural?) design project called Hand-Up, which supplies needy hermit crabs with brand new plastic houses.
Why would a hermit crab need a plastic house? Like it’s distant human relative, the American hermit crab population is currently facing a massive housing shortage. There are simply not enough shells left on beaches anymore for hermit crabs to inhabit. Biologists routinely find crabs attempting to shelter themselves in glass jars, plastic containers and whatever other ill-fitting forms of refuse they can find. Scientists suspect that this sad situation might be due to pollution or over-collecting of seashells by humans. In order to try to remedy this environmental problem, (and perhaps draw social and cultural analogies?) conceptual artist cum bio-engineer Elizabeth Demaray has decided to give the little guys a “hand-up” by mass-producing tiny plastic houses for them.
I discovered this amazing project at the Grow conference, where Elizabeth Demaray was a speaker. Although the majority of the tactical presentations at the Grow conference were all fascinating – I must say that the beguilingly absurd hermit crab housing project stood out above and beyond all other presentations as the absolute highlight of the day – in fact, the highlight of my week.
Demaray spent a long time researching hermit crabs tastes and preferences in housing before drawing up her design for a light-weight plastic shell which can be rapidly produced on a stereolithography machine (aka 3D printer). Since the plastic in these new prefab designs is much lighter than the calcium carbonate of seashells, these new houses do not take as much energy for the little dudes to carry, and also have a larger internal volume-to-weight ratio that the crabs prefer. In addition to this, since plastic is not biodegradable, these new houses will potentially outlast the life-span of the crab itself, assuring many generations access to additional hand-me-down housing. Now we realize that the thought of small bits of non-biodegradeable plastic strewn about our beaches is somewhat troublesome, but the plastic garbage is already there, and we’d much rather see hermit crabs wandering around in these cute little house than in plastic bottle caps. We’re convinced that if and when the world is ready to house crabs en masse, it can be done in an environmentally friendly way.
Elizabeth Demaray has been testing these new houses in crab focus groups and has found that the crabs really like her designs. In her laboratory beta tests, 25% of hermit crabs opted to dump their old seashell house and upgrade to a new plastic house. Demaray believes that her designs will be even more popular in the wild, where hermit crabs grow much faster and the housing shortage is more dire.
Demaray acknowledges the slightly absurd implications of interspecies design in her writings and even based the design of her structure on the architecture of Giuseppe Terragni, an Italian Fascist active in the 1930s.
This Hand-up project is great news for the crabs, but what I really want to know is: Is this design going to produce a race of super-crabs who will terrorize our beaches?
If this thought doesn’t scare you, you may want to get involved. Demaray is currently looking for corporate sponsorship for this project, so if your business needs a memorable branding / PR stunt – look no further. I think the project could probably really use the money, but above and beyond all that – I think the artist really loves the idea of little hermit crabs running around with coporate logos on their back. And frankly, who wouldn’t? The enticement “Your logo here” takes on frightening new possibilities…
“While we recognize that this funding solution will increase the current proliferation of corporate logos on beaches and in other apparently pristine environments, we do feel that it is appropriate to utilize these insignias of global capital, and the wealth they symbolize, in the service of ameliorating environmental problems that have been caused by humans in the first place.”
Thanks to AIGA’s Marc Alt for introducing me to this awesome project!