If you live in New York City, you may soon have the chance to check out the Waterpod, an incredible self-reliant eco-habitat, exhibition, and living space designed to showcase sustainable grassroots technology. The Waterpod just launched this Saturday, and it will now dock for public viewing at various locations in Manhattan’s five boroughs. We had the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Lonny Grafman, the project’s sustainability advisor, about this floating model of self-sufficiency.

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Inhabitat: How did you get involved in the Waterpod project?

Lonny: A colleague of mine at Appropedia called me at 11 PM one evening and said, “Hey, there’s this project you really need to work on.” He handed the phone to the Waterpod’s visionary, Mary Mattingly, we hit it off, and started talking about the project. My official role is sustainability advisor, so I look at how systems integrate together. My role has also been to coordinate volunteers and fix problems, but there is also a lead designer and a lead builder.

Inhabitat: What technologies have you been working on?

Lonny: Physically, I’ve been working on everything. My students [at Humboldt State University’s Environmental Resources Engineering Department designed 11 projects for the Waterpod, and we sent them out here to New York… including rainwater catchment and filtration systems, bicycle power, wind power, hydroponics, a composting toilet, and a chicken coop. We had 11 teams of three or four students each, and each team met with Waterpod workers at least once per week via Skype and email. They’re sophomores in college, but this is still all sophomore-level stuff. Now that we’re here at the barge, the projects are going through many different iterations, but some projects, like the bike power one, are ready to install.

Why is there a chicken coop on the Waterpod?

Lonny: Four or five chickens will be living on deck, eating food scraps, and providing eggs for food. We’re also looking at ways to convert chicken waste into hydroponic solutions.

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Inhabitat: What have been some of the challenges in building the structure?

Lonny: We literally have challenges every day because we’re trying to balance reuse and appropriateness and demonstration and aesthetics and livability and regulations and cash. Balancing those criteria is difficult. We had all this donated plexiglass for gardens, but it proved too challenging to mount it. We ended up having to go with plywood, which isn’t a very sustainable choice, but it was donated. It’s hard to balance those things. Do we go with something easy, free, and donated that’s probably getting wet and rotting without us, or do we use some recycled plastic product? In the end, we went with the plywood.

Inhabitat: What are some of the more unique materials used on the Waterpod?

Lonny: Our chicken coop and composting toilet are both built from shipping crates. Our greywater tanks are made with plastic molasses and high-fructose corn syrup containers used by breweries.

Inhabitat: Are most of your materials donated?

Lonny: Some things we buy, some things are donated. We have well over $100,000 worth of in-kind donations. We’ve had two kilowatts of solar donated to us, a beautiful composter from Arcata, CA, and a partial donation for the world’s most energy-efficient electric fridge.

Will new technologies continue to be installed as the Waterpod moves from port to port?

Lonny: Absolutely. The technology will grow and adapt and change, but the people and exhibitions will also change. For example, we’re planning on installing wind power, but now that we have two kilowatts of solar power installed, we can wait on the wind power. We’re also looking at using glycerine from biodiesel, mixed with sawdust and coffee grinds as a fuel source, but we don’t have that figured out yet. We’ll have different people living on the barge at different times, including visiting artists from Germany, Mexico, and Canada. The Waterpod will always be adapting.

+ Waterpod

Lead image by Piotr Redlinski for the New York Times

Waterpod rendering by James Halverson of Lux Visual Effects