News Release 

UMD sows the seeds of conscious living, wins the LAGI International Design Challenge

Winners will build the first permanent installations on the Fly Ranch (part of the Burning Man Project) this summer

University of Maryland

Award Announcement

A diverse team of recent alumni and students from the University of Maryland (UMD) was recently named one of only ten winners worldwide for their stunning self-sustaining eco-restoration base, Ripple. As winners of the 2020 Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) International Design Challenge, the team will get to actually build their design this summer on the Fly Ranch in the Nevada desert, a 3,800 acre property recently acquired by the Burning Man Project. These will be the first permanent structures on the Fly Ranch, which is a protected ecosystem with many of its own maintenance and restoration challenges. With their Ripple design, the team will create a flexible space that allows humans to regenerate native plant diversity and ecological wisdom of the Great Basin region, in an effort to pay equal homage to the land and the indigenous tribes who once lived there.

"Ripple is like a ranger base for ecological restoration," says (William) Jacob Mast, '20 graduate of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST) in the UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR). "We wanted to create a tool that enabled people to perform environmental restoration on the Fly Ranch. The idea is that you can live in this dome, harvest water from the cisterns, grow the food you need from the surrounding gardens, and all of the plants selected are of significance for their various uses to local Native American cultures and restoration benefits. It is all self-sufficient, creating its own power and harvesting its own water."

Mast co-leads the Ripple team alongside Matt Lagomarsino, '18 ENST graduate. The team also features current landscape architecture graduate student Xiaojin Ren ('19 ENST and Xiamen University graduate from the 2+2 Program), current undergraduate student Israel Orellana in horticulture, also with Plant Science and Landscape Architecture (PSLA), and a '20 UMD graduate in English Language and Literature and Film Studies, Melika Tabrizi. Other collaborators include Pierre-Yves Bertholet, who designed the solar energy system, Scherwyn Udwadia, who helped visualize the work, and Bas Kools, who co-founded Geoship SPC and designed the dome featured at the center of the Ripple design.

The design beat out over 180 submissions from over 80 different countries around the world. But beyond its technology and functionality, Ripple was designed as a beautiful physical example of permaculture at its finest, making ripples and hopefully waves to inspire sustainable living.

"Two of the main impactful components inside the dome are the seed bank and the library, which are old school technologies," explains Lagomarsino. "As people interact with the library, they learn from the writings and voices of those with regional ecological experience and knowledge. That being said, one important aspect of this project is to engage local tribes and other stewards of the land from this region in order to preserve their wisdom and send it rippling outwards. We plan to evolve this library to include a digital archive so the impacts extend beyond just the physical installation. The seed bank compliments the library in a physical way, as it preserves the genetic diversity of the seeds and ripples the regenerative powers of native plants outwards."

Orellana assembled a list of dozens of plants to include in the design, ranging from perennials and shrubs to a few trees that can propagate quickly. Plant selection prioritized native species with restorative properties to the landscape, flowering plants that can attract pollinators and wildlife, as well as plants with cultural significance to local native tribes.

"The real emphasis of Ripple is that it has to be regenerative and giving back to the environment, and that's a really key component for permaculture design and composting," says Orellana. "America is all about lawns, which isn't natural for the environment. It takes a lot to maintain things that are unnatural. If you plant natural native plant material, it is less maintenance and works with the environment. We need a movement for people to understand how we play a bigger role in the environment than we might think, and if we take this seriously, then we are moving in the right direction."

Additionally, Orellana led the design of the composting toilet based on previous research on off-grid living. The compost can be used in the outermost rim of the Ripple design on native plantlife, with a protective layer of antimicrobial moss acting as a buffer between the outer and inner layers where food is grown.

"It becomes an oasis," says Mast, "which is actually part of the ecological consideration because when you have so many plants grouped together like this, you create a microclimate -- it becomes more hospitable to native plant life and saplings. So if you did want to start more gardens in the desert, you would do something just like this and could expand it outward. It is convenient that it's good looking, but it was rooted in functionality."

Ren adds that concentric circles are the most efficient arrangement for resource management in the desert. And it is, indeed, good looking. All of the pieces of Ripple come together artistically, philosophically, and scientifically to create one single physical manifestation of what a sustainable future could look like. In this way, Ripple is a perfect example of the functional art that LAGI promotes while actively addressing all their core competencies: power, shelter, water, food, and regeneration.

"An exciting part of the design is the combination of science and art," says Ren. "Other green infrastructures like rain gardens and basins have great practical value, but they don't always have great aesthetic value. But for this design, it is beautiful. No matter if you are an adult or a kid, an amateur or professional, you will be attracted to this and willing to learn something from it about ecological design. So it also has high educational and artistic value as well."

Tabrizi's work in designing the narrative of Ripple and helping tell the story will continue to come in handy as the educational goals of the installation carry on long past the summer. Once the structure is built, she will lead an effort to convert Ripple into a functional museum as an ode to the regional wisdom of the Great Basin area.

"We want to celebrate natives and how their plants have been used, and what we can learn from their wisdom," stresses Tabrizi. "We want to gather books and archive material on the historical aspects of the land and have Ripple continue as a kind of museum. To do that, we are really looking to build partnerships in the community now even before we build so that we can have that input throughout the entire process and move forward in the best way possible. We hope that Ripple promotes a more conscious sense of living based on that wisdom. Understanding how your resources get to you and where it is all going -- it's a smart way to live for future generations."

The team promotes Ripple as a combination of knowledge from the past and future, embracing history while simultaneously looking forward. In fact, Ripple very much resembles a moon base or structure you might see in a futuristic colony. By respecting the land and the people who once lived there, the team hopes Ripple will inspire change for the future. Orellana says, "I'm really hoping it inspires people to plant some native plants at their house, and to be stewards of their own land, because little things like that go a long way."

"The name Ripple comes not just from the shape of the dome and the rings, it's also an ideology that the things that we do should have an impact," adds Mast. "And ideas like this about self-sustainability, applied ecology and environmental restoration - we want those ideas to cascade throughout society and become a movement. So by doing this, we hope that it creates models for others to go off of and furthers the discussion towards a sustainable future."

Join the Team!

The Ripple team's journey in many ways is just starting, and you can be a part of actually making sure this installation reaches its full potential. If you want updates, or want to be involved in fundraising, promotion, or building Ripple, sign up for their email list at flyripple.org and the team will get in touch with you.

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