Preview: Project H Design

"Change for change" innocently declares a bright green vending machine, but this design intervention delivers more bang for your buck than the typical candy dispenser. The latest initiative from the non-profit Project H Design is a series of vending machines that swap gumballs for greenery: Deposit two quarters and GreenAid delivers a Jawbreaker-sized seed bomb into the palm of your hand. Project H has placed about eight machines across L.A. (including one that lives on the Coolhaus ice cream sandwich truck), one at the 360SEE gallery in Chicago, and the newest, at the Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. Gather up your loose change: They'll be displaying their concept, as well as other Project H work, at this year's Dwell on Design.

Project H's latest initiative is a vending machine that gives you California poppies, not cavities.
Project H's latest initiative is a vending machine that gives you California poppies, not cavities.

"L.A. is one of the grayest cities in the U.S, which makes it a prime candidate for an initiative like Greenaid," says Daniel Phillips, who, with Kim Karlsrud are the chapter heads of Project H L.A. as well as principles at Commonstudio. While most vending locations are currently located on L.A.'s Westside, or in sustainably-minded stores and galleries, Project H is hoping to expand their reach into more corners of L.A. that need it, hence a current Kickstarter campaign to raise more funds. "We'd really like to start focusing our efforts on more underserved communities in need-based areas like Compton, Watts, and other areas of downtown," says Phillips.

Project H relies on its community to not only disseminate the wildflower seeds, but also to help track and expand the network. A Google map application allows guerrilla gardeners to report on where they deploy their bombs and highlight areas that are in need of bombing. A Facebook page allows fans to tell Commonstudio where they think new vending machines should be placed. Bombs can also be purchased directly from Commonstudio and the Greenaid Kickstarter page offers several more options for supporting the cause, from buying a starter kit (which includes a slingshot!) to a unique model for owning your very own Greenaid franchise.

Seed bombs contain a regionally-appropriate wildflower mix.
Seed bombs contain a regionally-appropriate wildflower mix.

The seed bombs themselves are handmade from a mixture of clay, compost, and wildflower seeds, which are curated for each region—the Southern California mix includes White Yarrow, California Poppy, Lupine, and Blue Flax. This mix is hand-rolled into balls by Commonstudio at their studio in Culver City, where they often throw seed bomb making parties that begin with wine and end with a big, happy mess. To create the Greenaid stations, Project H works with an American company called Northwestern that has been making candy machines since 1909. "We liked them because they were able to do a vibrant green color for us," says Phillips, "but we do all the other modifications to the machines ourselves." Even though L.A. might be blessed with an overabundance of concrete, Project H sees their methods as part of a growing movement of greening efforts that are afoot in the city. "There are a lot of guerrilla gardens around L.A.'s Chinatown, which is where we incidentally placed our first prototype machine," says Phillips. He even has his own favorite place to drop bombs. "We love to throw them near the L.A. River actually, which is such an interesting mix of natural and artificial ecology."

Abject Object's hammock folds up into a shoulder bag.
Abject Object's hammock folds up into a shoulder bag.

That's not the only project on the Project H's plate. The chapter is also continuing Abject Object, a line of multi-function products designed and manufactured in partnership with the Downtown Women's Center and Chrysalis. The chapter continues to conduct skill-building workshops with the women, and some of the products, including a hammock that converts into a bag, will be sold in a brick-and-mortar social enterprise store at their new facility opening December. Phillips is looking to expand their enterprise to serve more groups, he says. "We are also currently seeking other local non-profit partners with men and women who already posses relevant skills."

One more bit of news from the Project H camp: Last year we interviewed Project H Design founder Emily Pilloton, who was speaking at Dwell on Design about her new book, Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People. She was about to embark upon a 35-school tour in a 1972 Airstream trailer filled with the products featured in her book (and she even ended up appearing on the Colbert Report). Now Pilloton is making a rural county in North Carolina her permanent home as part of a new design-build program Studio H, and that 1972 Airstream, with most of the products from Pilloton's book, just sold on eBay for $15,000. The woman who purchased it, Stacey Frost from Urban Re:Vision hopes to carry on the legacy of Pilloton's road show, she reports. "It will likely be related to public education, K through 12," says Pilloton. "We're going to work with them on how best to use it and tie it into their existing—amazing—programming."

Project H Design's L.A. chapter will be part of the exhibition at Dwell on Design, happening June 25-27 in Los Angeles. Register now!

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