An idea planted in the mind of MFA Interaction Design Department faculty member Robert Faludi has blossomed into an incredible honor for the telecommunication expert: a permanent spot for one of his projects at the Museum of Modern Art. The Botanicalls Kit, which allows household plants to communicate information about their needs via Twitter, was plucked from the MoMA exhibition “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects” to take root in the museum’s permanent collection. Faludi, who collaborated on Botanicalls, spoke with the Briefs via email about this opportunity.
Where did the concept for Botanicalls come from?
Botanicalls originated as a graduate student project at NYU’s [Interactive Telecommunications Program]. The idea was to produce a personal connection between plants in the student lounge and the people who might care for them. We came up with the idea that they could make a phone call to the lounge phone and request water and light, each in their own species-inspired voice.
How does Botanicalls work?
When the plant’s soil gets dry, a moisture sensor triggers a connection to Twitter over the Internet and posts a request for water. When the plant is watered, the same sensor triggers a connection that posts a thank-you message. Too-frequent or insufficient watering are also detected, and reports are made.
What is the significance of Botanicalls for the average person? And what is its significance from a design perspective?
The main intent of the project is to build the relationship between plants and people. So we specifically avoided creating any kind of automated watering system because we wanted humans to notice and attend to the plants directly, as a way of enhancing their experience of other living things.
I think it’s significant from a design perspective because by focusing on that relationship instead of some mechanical problem, we created a compelling engagement that turned out to grab the imagination of so many who heard about it.
What does its inclusion in the MoMA permanent collection mean to you?
It’s a great honor to be included in the MoMA collection, of course. Beyond that though, it was an instant guarantee that this project would turn out to last longer than I do since everything in the collection is intended to be preserved for the ages. Realizing that was a dizzying moment.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m always busy with new things. Right now I’m teaching a graduate course that centers around networking a 28-story, 300-unit apartment building on Central Park South. I’ve also been toying with the creation of a networked breathalyzer that tracks tipsiness in various cities around the world. And recently I’ve begun thinking about the possibilities for networking cars.