Julia Molloy and Taka Sarui of Brooklyn design collaborative XLXS created the GrowShelter, a highly unique living environment where humans, plants and animals may co-exist. Consisting of three spherical shells embedded with seeds, the habitat is designed to evolve with the seasons – starting the cycle in spring, the spheres are embedded in a mixture of earth/mud/seed, and as summer approaches, the plants will be in bloom and the embedded food in the mud will create a mini haven for local animals and birds. The earth should weather away by fall and winter, leaving the permanent shells ready to be packed again for spring.

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The shells of the GrowShelter are embedded into a 100 x 100 sq. foot space within the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, a 350-acre nature preserve near Philadelphia. Each shell is made out of lime mortar, which is 80% more environmentally friendly than regular mortar, formed around a reinforced frame, and embedded into a mixture of mud, seeds, nuts, and water. 18 species of Philadelphia native plants and flowers, along with birdseed ingredients, like peanuts, sunflower seeds, and corn, are planted in the growing layer of the shelter.

GrowShelter brilliantly lives up to its mission to “create space within an evolving and devolving living system, allowing the inhabitant to become more aware of the complexities and fluctuations in the natural environment.” The shelter is the winner of the Schuylkill Environmental Education Center’s Sustainable Design/Build Competition. With their entry, XLXS answered the competition’s call for architects, artists and designers to demonstrate and promote new, unique, and inspiring approaches to sustainable design and building techniques.


+ GrowShelter

+ Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education