NURSE POD | Premise

The aim of the Nurse Pods concept is to address a major ongoing issue, the loss of forests due to wildfire and climate change, with thoughtful, design-driven approaches to explicit ecological and environmental challenges, spanning disciplines to support the natural world.

Nurse Pod Axon

CONCEPT | Blind Nurse to Nurse Pod

Historically, fires were key to forest life cycles where post-fire regeneration created the next generation of trees. Today, however, fires are burning hotter and spreading faster than previously recorded, breaking the rhythm of the traditional regrowth cycle. In 2020 alone, Colorado saw three of the largest wildfires recorded in state history. The intensity of these fires left native soils sterile and increases soil erosion, damaging the landscape and watershed. Despite human efforts to replant lost forests in the face of a warming and drying climate, newly planted saplings often experience a high early mortality rate due to soil loss, sterilization, and low water availability. ‘Nurse Pod’ aims to assist in forest regeneration by providing a support system for vulnerable tree saplings. 

In 2020, we formed a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team to develop prototypes informed by ecology, architecture, art, and engineering called the Blind Nurse. After two years of development and experimentation, the concept changed from an omnidirectional figure to a set of interlocking tripods now known as the Nurse Pod. This collaboration generated a design process that critically considers the notion of life support, decay, and the relationships between a designed object, its surroundings, and its purpose. By putting a design’s life cycle at the forefront of its development, we can better understand how our projects are wed to the environments in which they are built. 

DEVELOPMENT | Considerations for the Nurse Pod

The established design criteria for Nurse Pods is a system that collects, retains, and distributes resources to a sapling tree while dissolving into its surrounding environment, matching its pace of decay with the growth of the new tree. Inspiration for the initial concept was derived from the benefits of naturally occurring nurse logs, fallen trees that elevate and protect young seedlings in established forests. The pods sequester and distribute water and provide key nutrients for adolescent plants as the pods decompose. Initial concept iterations were tested in controlled greenhouse experiments, yielding results that have influenced the current prototype. 

The current pod prototype is 3D printed out of a biodegradable PLA (Polylactic Acid, a renewable bio-plastic) and crushed stone composite material, which allows the object to naturally decay over time. The design features two modules, a rain/snow water collection and retention module, and a nutrient-rich soil-filled module. Each module contains a centralized aperture that snaps together for easy assembly and deployment. These apertures create a central void through which a wicking material spans vertically, absorbing collected water from below and distributing it to the sapling tree planted in the soil module above. Future design iterations will test other printable bio-materials such as recycled wood pulp and paper pulp, or locally sourced clay.

EXPERIMENT | Greenhouse Research Summer 2022

During the summer of 2022, a new series of controlled greenhouse experiments will occur, collecting data on water collection, retention, and distribution relative to the sapling’s growth. This data once reviewed and analyzed, will inform the next generation of nurse pod development. 

The nurse pod project is a critique of the way architects and designers think about our built work and its decay in relation to the natural world. By prioritizing the full life cycle of an object in its related environment, material and lifespan considerations move to the forefront of the discussion and become a crucial part of its function and performance. Capitalizing on the use of recycled and biodegradable materials we can be material stewards that work within the growth and decay cycles we often fail to consider.

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College of Architecture and Planning

CU Denver

CU Denver Building

1250 14th Street


Denver, CO 80202


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