Sgreen was a project commissioned by Martela Oy which is biggest contract furniture manufacturer in Finland. This project was the pinnacle of my bachelor studies in University of Arts and Design Helsinki. It was done in PDP course (product development project) between 2008-2009. The annual class is arranged in Otaniemi campus at Design Factory which is interdisciplinary creative hub. I was the project manager of nine person student team which included members from design, agro-biology, economics and engineering backgrounds.
The brief we got from Martela was very challenging and way ahead of the curve compared to the competitors. We were asked to build a living space divider which would sustain living plants without traditional soil based growing. The system also had to include lamps to ensure well-being and growth of plants even during the darkest months. In consumer market hydroponic and aeroponic solutions were in total infancy back in those days. This meant we had very few existing products against which to compare our creations.
The key lessons learned from this project were on the meta level. Working in teams is familiar for industrial designers from day one but being a project manager was completely new for Me. The experience wasn't entirely positive and at times I felt like pushing the whole team uphill. Level of people's motivation can vary a great deal in student projects and there is very little the project manager can do if team members don't deliver. This experience taught Me a great deal of leadership, patience and understanding of group dynamics.
Our final design wasn't too bad but it could have improved a great deal if we just had gotten few weeks more time. We were struggling for a long time with two concepts that were if not crappy then not particularly great either. Then all of a sudden I got a rush of inspiration when the stars aligned and gods of creativity were smiling. I pretty much drew the final concept in one go. Right before we were supposed to start developing final prototypes we started from a clean slate with the new concept.
The finalized Sgreen consisted of vertical "totem poles" with holes on both sides. Below each hole there was a place for hydroponic growing basket filled with volcanic rock pebbles. The system becomes stable when a few poles are joined together which automatically starts forming an arc shape out of them. Pivoting luminaires can be placed between each pole into the snapping connector pieces.
Each growing tower had a five liter water reservoir in the bottom. The system had two water pipelines running between the towers. One was for lifting water up to the topmost plant pots. The other pipeline connected the water reservoirs together. The water levels of individual towers were automatically balanced with hydrostatic pressure.
Although the Sgreen concept wasn't adopted by Martela for production, it became clear that we were onto something with it. In the coming years the marketplace of hydroponics was flooded with almost similar concepts with only slightly more refined product architecture. There was also sheer bad luck with the timing as the great depression really started kicking in right when the project finished.