GreenLab: A Biomimetic Greenhouse & STEM Classroom

A call for a lightweight greenhouse, classroom and science lab on the roof of a school in lower Manhattan provided an opportunity to rethink the greenhouse as both a performative and a pedagogical structure.

An inquiry into biological systems and natural phenomena informed a biomimetic approach to form, structure and materials resulting in what we propose will be a more energy-efficient greenhouse.  Taking a cue from the efficient packing of seeds on the head of a sunflower, Vogel’s formula for phyllotaxis was used to generate an equally spaced distribution of structural nodes along a dome-like surface.  These structural nodes are connected via chords by following the parastichies (implied opposing spirals) that result from connecting ‘closest points’ in a phyllotaxic point array.  The resulting network is developed as a type of gridshell – a ‘phyllotaxic lattice shell’.

Enclosure is achieved using ETFE pillows which provide both transparency and insulation exceeding that of triple-glazed glass at a fraction of the weight.  The dome-like form minimizes surface area and consequently loss of heat in winter and facilitates cooling and ventilation via the ‘stack effect’ in summer.

The project overall serves as an instructional tool for faculty and students, demonstrating the potential for innovation to be found in natural systems and the use of computation to bring these learnings to bear on the problems facing future generations.

NEST+M (New Explorations Into Science, Technology + Math) School
New York City Department of Education

Rooftop Greenhouse and Science Lab.

~2000 sf

Design Intent, Fundraising Begun

Rik Ekstrom, Darrick Borowski, Michael Kim,
Sean Karns, Chaerim Shin, Derek Lee

ARUP (Engineering)
NY Sun Works (Growing Systems)
Caliper Studio (Fabrication)
Architen Landrell (Envelope)

The GreenLab is designed as a lightweight structure that rests on the existing roof with minimal need for invasive construction work in the classrooms below.
Section showing evaporative cooling strategy.
Section showing passive ventilation and cooling via ‘stack effect’.
Envrionmental analysis, including these solar studies, informed the location, orientation and form of the greenhouse.
Phyllotaxis exhibited by the arrangement of seeds in the head of a sunflower.



New York, NY

Keene Energy & Agriculture Project

Keene, NH

Troy Mills Sustainable Food Center

Local Farms Project
Troy, NH

Edible Infrastructures