This past semester the Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program at NYU’s Tisch school conducted its first ever course in living systems, which encouraged students to take on projects related to ecology, environmental data management, and, obviously, living systems. After six months of field trips (including a visit to Inhabitat favorite, The Omega Institute), in-depth discussions, and in most cases, very late nights on computers guided by Open Source Cities’ Marc Alt, the results were incredible. From location-based socially networked computer plants, to human breast milk, to moss-shrouded air-quality monitor polygons, the students covered almost every base possible – read on for a look!

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Planting Steps by MIke Cohen, David Phillips, and Michelle Temple

Planting Steps is a fully-functional household hydroponic farm composed of 4 modular shelves that create a viable ebb-and-flow hydroponic system for your living room. Waterfalls between tanks provide a meditative aural experience while feeding plants a hydroponic solution periodically throughout the day.

ITPWC developed and constructed a bathroom aquaponic system using the concepts behind John Todd’s Eco-Machines to filter pollutants in the bathroom air. Built out of laser-cut plastic and 5 gallon water bottles, the system is divided into 4 cells: aquaculture, phytoremediation, aquatic remediation, and a bio-filter that creates a seemingly closed ecosystem. Dracaena, Boston Fern, and English Ivy absorb chemicals in the air while algae and anaerobic bacteria in other cells break down potential toxic chemicals in the water. Interior air quality is monitored and uploaded in real-time to the open source online environmental sensor database

Michael Zick Doherty, itp sensors, NYU ITP, sustainable design, green design, tisch school, Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program, green design, sustainable design, living systems, gardening, urban food systems, technology botany

Numerous groups focused on data analysis, like Crabsense, who gathered air quality data inside a hermit crab vivarium, constantly analyzing its chemical makeup and drawing correlations between it and hermit crab activity while simultaneously streaming video from inside of the tank creating a simulated living system experience online. Michael Zick Doherty even built an Android capable interface that allows anyone to connect their homemade sensor device and automatically upload to a global database of environmental data.

ITP has been around for over 30 years and although previous students have shown interest in similar concepts, this is the first time the course has been offered. A complete list of projects and more information on the course can be found here.


With shortages in food, clean water supply and air quality issues affect individuals worldwide, developing technologies able to address these global issues is paramount.