Originally commissioned by Art Works for Change for their show, “Survival Architecture and the Art of Resilience,” Mitchell Joachim’s (BPS ’94) Cricket Shelter—a modular edible insect farm—went on to become one of five winners of the prestigious Architect Magazine R+D Awards for 2016.
When Joachim was asked by the organization, a nonprofit that produces socially and environmentally themed art exhibitions, if he and his research group Terreform ONE could develop an emergency shelter for their latest show, his answer was: “Well, kind of.” Of course they could, but Joachim wanted their submission to be more than the “typical” survival shelter design explored by every architect in the business. He wanted Terreform ONE’s prototype to provide food—to be part sustenance farming, part shelter. He wasn’t sure how that was going to happen yet, but he needed a bigger challenge.
Joachim’s group, which he began with friends in 2006, actually attempted something like this before—called Insectopia—and failed miserably, mostly because, he says: “I’m not eating bugs. I’m not eating legs and wings and faces.” He later discovered cricket powder: flour made from ground and roasted crickets, which he found a little easier to swallow.
The flour revelation led to Joachim’s desire to create a technology for hygienically growing crickets for human consumption.
“Essentially, the crickets became our clients," Joachim explains. "We looked at their life cycles, what makes them happy and healthy. Where they look to eat, sleep, reproduce."
Through trial and error, the group created cricket pods where males roam freely to find females; where babies stay safe until large enough to join their adult family members (the size of the mesh in the “baby pods” is finer); and where at the end of the crickets’ life cycle, they are harvested for food. Even death is humane: the temperature is lowered so the insects fall into a deep hibernation before passing on.
The dazzling white, 144-square-foot shelter is composed of 16 structural support ribs and 224 bio-units that can hold 22,000 crickets. The individual plastic modules are lined with a so mesh and connected by tubes to other units, like a giant, much cooler Habitrail. But the most striking feature of the structure—and Joachim’s favorite—is the set of quills that provides natural ventilation to its inhabitants via the stack effect.
When developing the ventilators, they noticed that air—and sound—passed through the tubes, so the quills were extended to capture and magnify the crickets’ melodious stridulation (chirping). “We’re architects, not engineers,” says Mitchell. “We had to make them fabulous.”
The result is visually, and audibly, stunning. Joachim was thrilled. “The whole shelter sings as the crickets chirp. That was the beautiful moment. That was the ‘aha’.” Not only had Terreform ONE created an exquisite design, it brought survival architecture to a new level and, he says, “We helped create a cricket opera.”