Cricket bonbons and insect-infused vodka aren't words normally associated with Michelin-starred cuisine. But urban design and architecture organization Terreform Open Network Ecology (ONE), hopes to change the mindsets of Western diners -- and protect them in an emergency -- with their new free-range "Cricket Shelter Farm".
The prototype structure's prickly exterior and plastic, clinical interior looks more alien than human, but Terreform ONE co-founder Mitchell Joachim, said it trials a new hybrid approach to architecture that's designed to both protect and feed humans in a catastrophic situation.
"It's a combination of an emergency shelter and a vertical farm but it's also a clever, sanitary way to bring insect-based protein to fine cuisine," says Joachim. "It shifts between two worlds."
Survival of the fittest
New-York based Terreform ONE
was commissioned by Art Works for Change
to build a survival shelter and their bright white prototype solution sits in stark contrast to the blues and grays of its present home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City.
A prototype of the Cricket Shelter Farm Credit: Terreform ONE
The articulated modular structure consists of an arched CNC plywood frame and 264 plastic rectangular insect pods -- or homes -- that slot into the frame, stacked one on on top of another.
If a natural disaster should strike, the shelter's prefabricated design could be swiftly produced, delivered and erected on site. Its shell would provide both protection from the elements and a sustainable farming system which could produce high-protein nutrition in devastated areas.
"We thought, if we were going to do it, it's best to combine it with a system for subsistence farming. In a tsunami or a massive fire, everything is devastated, you don't have access to cows, pigs or chickens, so people will need access to good sources of alternative protein," says Joachim.
Seeing the added potential to introduce insects into Western diets, Terreform ONE decided to take their design further and researched cricket behavior and enhancements that ensure the shelter could also be used as a clean way of farming insects for food in urban areas.
Joachim says the team quickly observed that crickets "don't like density" and become fussy with their food in crowded situations.
"We experimented a lot with confined spaces. If they hang out too much or food runs low, they eat their young, they all cannibalized."
As a result, the pod has been built with special ventilation tubes that contain thin, nylon strands. The tubes connect the units to each other and enable the crickets to move about freely, while the nylon strands allow the insects to walk in any direction (even upside down).
Joachim says the connectivity of units avoids any overcrowding while the mobility encourages reproduction.
He also highlights the structure's visually striking "giant quills" that naturally ventilate the insects' living space by drawing out air according to varying air pressures.
"Because we're architects, we decided to make them more 'fabulous' -- and give them shape," Joachim explains of their design. "By doing that, we ended up creating cricket horns. The vibrating sounds of air that are cooling the colonies, are magnified. The chirping sounds of the crickets also get amplified."
As a working farm, the pods can produce up to 22,000 insects every six to twelve weeks on any roof or backyard and the individual plastic homes have gates at the front that provide food for the crickets and keep out waste, ensuring the insects can be easily harvested.
Joachim says traditional methods used for farming crickets -- like those presently employed in Thailand and other parts of Asia -- are cheaper but not the most hygienic.
"Once you reach adult size, you don't get out of there. You shake out the pod and just get the crickets themselves -- no feces," he explains.
Bringing bug food to Brooklyn
For all its design finesse, it's the potential that crickets hold as a clean, environmentally-friendly and high-protein ingredient to regular diets, that most excites Joachim about the project.
He says that two billion people eat insects as part of their diet everyday and notes that, gram for gram of protein, farming crickets uses four hundred times less water and produces 200% less carbon than traditional livestock farming.
And while crickets may not seem like the most appealing foodstuff to Western palates at the moment, he is working with chefs and food companies in Brooklyn to bring the insect's potential to restaurant plates.
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"Previously people wouldn't eat sushi, no one would eat raw fish at all. But suddenly, when it was presented as fine cuisine, Americans and Europeans started eating it overnight," he says.
"I'm not interested in tasting a cricket dipped in chocolate. That's ridiculous," he says.
Instead, present recipes -- like cricket pasta and bonbons -- incorporate flour made from the insects. The organization has also produced a protein bar and insect-infused vodka drinks.
Joachim says they are also experimenting with adding subtle flavor to the crickets by feeding them things like orange peel and apple cores in a bid to ensure that any food they produce isn't just sustainable but also "tastes great."
"Doing things that are essentially ecological -- it disengages a lot of people. If we say it's good for the environment, they aren't interested -- it has to meet the bar of excellence."