Andrew Mowbray has developed a new kind of natural modular building unit. For the past two years, the artist has been growing Lagenaria gourds in reusable acrylic forms, creating square blocks that can be stacked and locked together. The gourd is believed to be one of the earliest cultivated plants; it is easily dried and made into functional vessels such as bottles, instruments, and birdhouses. In a time of immense resource scarcity, Mowbray has created a new and sustainable use for gourds. By training them to grow in a square shape, Mowbray is able to produce inexpensive, organic building blocks.

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When the gourds dry they become hard like structural wood. In order to best utilize this material strength, Mowbray has created a square framework that has flat sides with cut round holes that the gourd will fill while growing, as to form nubs or buttons. The nubs can be kept or removed after curing, in order for the gourd to lock in and become modular with the other gourds.

In addition to manipulating the gourds in his garden, Mowbray has been experimenting with forming different materials into the modular gourd shape. Cement and plaster units can be stacked along with the gourds to form modular sculpture and installations. “The gourd is a living plant that can be grown and molded into a predeterminded, structural unit that can then be used to create formal sculpture, functional design, or architecture,” Mowbray explains on his website.

Mowbray suggests that the concept could also apply to other materials: “What if our water bottles and plastic packaging had the potential for a modular multiuse before being recycled?” he asks. He plans to continue producing the gourds and experiment with making more complex geometric shapes. The potential to sell reusable gourd-growing kits offers extraordinary possibilities for a person to grow their own space. Individuals could create “lasting objects for display and collection” out of something they can grow in their back yard.

Mowbray envisions that the gourd modules could be assembled together from various growing sites, creating collective community spaces. Growing areas could occur in parks or on the grounds of a museum. The modular Lagenaria gourd shows us that perhaps the key to sustainable development lies not only in adaptive reuse, but adaptive produce.

+ Andrew Mowbray

Lead photo by Stewart Clements