At a warehouse next to the Williamsburg Bridge, a new city is growing. It’s not a typical metropolis—there are no businesses, no laws, not even the steady beat of human activity—but it is alive, a thriving system. Huy Bui’s “Plant—in City,” a project he runs out of his Brooklyn studio, has all the qualities of a futuristic science experiment. It’s also the answer to the question, “How can I keep my plants alive when I go on vacation?” as Bui, a graduate of the Masters of Architecture program at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, put it.
Addressing this everyday concern is what motivated Bui’s practice of building modular, stackable systems of wood and various plants—tiny ecosystems developed and nurtured by ingenious technological artistry. “They talk to each other,” says Bui, as mist forms around a rootless plant suspended in industrial wire and planks of wood. The project has since evolved into a microcosm of a changing society. “Historically, architecture has ignored or existed outside the realm of technology. Given our future needs, it’s about time we integrated the two.”
Bui is referring to the rise of “migration-related urbanization,” a trend that will necessitate the development of “smart cities.” According to the United Nations, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The challenge now is for architects like Bui to make these growing urban areas more hospitable and efficient. “We will have to adapt,” says Bui, “and start working together to build these living, breathing metropolises.”
Bui often peppers his explanations with references to and metaphors of the body, organisms, and society; it’s a habit that fits well with his Plant—in City project. “Plants are deeply entrenched in the history of human civilization,” he says. “We have used them for shelter, for food, as medicine, and as a form of beauty. So, of course, we all like plants.” As populations continue to expand and more people move into urban areas, the goal would be to seamlessly integrate plants and buildings. In other words, Bui says, to “Make the buildings breathe.”