After Architecture co-founders Katie MacDonald and Kyle Schumann recently installed Homegrown, a large-scale installation built from invasive plant species and forestry waste. Presented at the South Garden of Tennessee’s Knoxville Museum of Art, the architectural sculpture was crafted in the likeness of a large outdoor room with four walls and openings that serve as doorways and windows. The components of the 10-foot-by-10-foot structure were built of biocomposite panels made from fibrous biomaterials uniquely shaped for varying thicknesses and porosity.

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four walls made from plants

Designed to promote an “alternative material ethic,” Homegrown shows how small-scale landscaping waste, forestry scraps that are too small or irregular for industry use and invasive plant species, such as kudzu and bamboo, can be repurposed in architectural applications. MacDonald and Schumann transformed these plant fibers into lightweight, wall-scale panels with bio-based adhesive and an innovative and reusable inflatable mold that the duo developed and dubbed “pillow forming.”

Related: Dramatically twisted timber weaves together in the Steampunk pavilion

square window in a wall made of plants
person leaning on wall made of plants

“Pillow forming allows for the design and construction of an infinite number of forms through a malleable process — the injection and removal of air — which can be repeated again and again,” Schumann explained. The architects based the molded designs on computer models for the wall panels. “Traditional digital fabrication of molds often relies on subtractive processes like CNC milling and robotic foam cutting, with each mold producing only a single unique geometry. Our system preferences variable form over repetitious form.” 

four walls with window and door cut-outs standing alone in a park
four plant-based walls in a park

Homegrown’s combination of high-tech modeling systems and primitive materials results in a one-of-a-kind sculpture with open-ended customization. The panels are covered with pine needles and set on a foundation of dimensional lumber in reference to traditional American framing. The installation and research were funded by the 2019–2020 Tennessee Architecture Fellowship at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and Homegrown was temporarily put on view through November 29, 2020.

+ After Architecture

Images via After Architecture