The MBAD African Bead Museum has been described as “a true jewel in the city of Detroit”. Simultaneously outsider art, African interpretive cosmology and urban renovation, the walk-though murals and small bead shop draw hundreds of tourists every year. But there is no local source for the beads; “make your own beading” kits and workshops use plastic. This project will combine the African traditions of generative economy with contemporary technology design to create an African Futurist greenhouse.
The greenhouse structure combines African Indigenous circular architecture with typical hoop-house style enclosure. The interior will grow plant materials for bead creation. It will also supply fresh vegetables and, from an aquaponics tank, fresh fish. By using photoelectric and thermal solar energy, a rain catchment system, and AI-controlled automation, we can create a small scale model for what could become a broader set of self-sufficient, sustainable urban practices that restore the links between living, making and growing so important to Indigenous traditions.
While we wait for the pandemic to subside enough for construction to start, we have been doing some pilot studies. A Zulu
tradition makes use of Job’ Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi). These beautiful pseudocarps grow with a hole through the center, making them ready-made for stringing. UM design student Keesa Johnson Muhammad has been growing these from seeds, tracking water use, light needs and other factors. Finally we should note the work from the terrific team of students in Engineering 450, who carried out a thermal and mechanical stress analysis in this report, examining how to keep our plants warm and safe in Michigan winters.