Ecological Laboratory for Urban Agriculture


Team lead:
Zihao Zhang | Landscape Architecture, CCNY

Susan L. Epstein | Robotics, Hunter College
Christian Volkmann | Architecture, CCNY
Zhigang Zhu | Computer Vision, CCNY

This interdisciplinary research designs, tests, and evaluates innovative models for community-based,robot-assisted urban rooftop agriculture as part of a smart connected urban food garden and community. The Solar RoofPod and Harlem Garden for Urban Food at City College will become pilot laboratories for deep collaborations among experts in architectural and landscape design, artificial intelligence, robotics, and urban ecology. To ameliorate dysfunction in the urban food system and food insecurity in US cities, our proposed research seeks innovative solutions that integrate sensing networks, machine learning, and robot-assisted systems for a new type of urban agricultural practice. Outcomes will provide theoretical advancement in urban ecology, and smart cities research with a conceptual framework that posits intelligent machines as an integral part of society, urban ecosystems, and biophysical environments. This research has substantial potential impacts on increasing urban food security, biodiversity, and the ability to adapt to climate change. The project will also build collaborations with community partners and high schools, and thereby motivate the next generation of scientists and urban farmers through STEM curriculum development and community outreach.

This project was partly funded by a 2022 CUNY Interdisciplinary Research Grant and a CCNY College-wide Research Vision Award.

Lab Assistants and Alums:
George McCracken | Landscape Architecture, CCNY
Casey Breen
| Landscape Architecture, CCNY
Gael Oriol | Landscape Architecture, CCNY
Sophia Xia | Computer Science, Hunter College
Albi Arapi | Computer Science (Computer Vision), CCNY
Donald Lushi | Computer Science (Computer Vision), CCNY
Kevin Lin | Computer Science, Hunter College
Rachel Ng | Computer Science, Hunter College
Ghazanfar Shahbaz | Computer Science, Hunter College
Katlin Labatt-Simon | Architecture, CCNY
Nicole Girdo| Architecture, CCNY
Aparna Ramanathan Ramesh | Architecture, CCNY
Griffin Pollak | Landscape Architecture, CCNY

Partners and Friends:
Ian Marvy | NYC-based Urban Agriculture Pioneer, Social Entrepreneur, Farmer and Educator
Margrethe Horlyck-Romanovsky | Assistant Professor, Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College
Big Reuse
NYC Clean Soil Bank

Climate Sense


Team lead:
Zihao Zhang | Landscape Architecture, CCNY

Ricardo Toledo-Crow | Next Generation Environmental Sensor Lab (NGENS)

Research Assistants and Alums:
Katlin Labatt-Simon | Architecture, CCNY
Griffin Pollak | Landscape Architecture, CCNY

By interpreting climate change – a “hyperobject” that exceeds human temporal and spatial capacities to comprehend – into relatable and tangible experiences and phenomena, we prototype cybernetic installations that generate discussions and motivate community infrastructures to combat the climate crisis. The project Climate Sense brings together sensing and responsive technologies, physical computation, citizen science, and digital fabrication to construct landscape installations that explore the possibilities of landscape design, digital art, and cybernetic technologies in raising public awareness of climate change and its impact on socio-ecological systems. The installations expand the role of architects and landscape architects in the climate adaptation discourse through material-based practices and community engagement. The installation uses digital sensors to monitor an array of climate indicators – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, ground ozone level, temperature, and humidity – and translate the data into responsive forms and experiences through light, motion, and sound.

This ongoing project is partly funded by a 2022 PSC-CUNY grant.