1 September 2021

Jericho: an Italian team invents a machine to analyze and treat sick soils

jericho innovation soils fertilizers

The invention is exhibited in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale: the terraforming device, designed by the OFL Architecture studio, detects the amount of CO2 in the soil and then injects the biological fertilizers necessary to re-naturalize the soils lacking their original production capacity

by Emanuele Isonio

At first glance it resembles a Leonardo Da Vinci machine updated to the 21st century. A wooden top, connected to four wheels but stuffed, inside and in the upper part with sensors, solar panels and detectors of the latest generation.

The definition given by its inventors of Jericho is “terraforming architecture”. Its goal can already be understood from the name: Jericho in fact takes inspiration from the homonymous rose, also known as the “resurrection plant“. The mechanical-biological mobile device inserted in the machine is in fact conceived to study, fertilize and re-naturalize soils lacking the original productive capacity. In practice, the soils impoverished by the action of climate change and, ultimately, by the consequences of human activities harmful to the environment.

Behind Jericho, a multidisciplinary team

The project, developed by Francesco Lipari’s OFL Architecture studio, is so original that it has found hospitality in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. To achieve it, it was necessary to put together an interdisciplinary team made up of architects, agronomists, landscape architects, engineers, led by the urban planner and environmental journalist Giuseppe Milano.

Inside, the Arduino hardware platform manages the autonomous and electric driving system equipped with brushless motors and lithium batteries. It also controls the flow of fertilizer, obtained from plant nutrients drawn from communities of microorganisms and local mycorrhizae spores and which starts the soil regeneration process, injecting it into the soil on the basis of a satellite spectrometric analysis. Finally, the vertical rods house external sensors to detect meteorological values. The machine is completed by a drone that operates in the most complex areas to be fertilized.

A quarter of European soils lacking in organic matter

Soil experts recall that both Italy and Europe need innovative and urgent interventions that restore the health of the soil. Slowly the same awareness is also spreading among public opinion. “Today 33% of the world’s soils are degraded by artificial processes triggered by human action that are compromising its biological and physical properties. In Europe alone, the percentage is 60% ”recalls Francesco Lipari. “In Italy, 7% of the soil is waterproofed. In 2019 alone, 57.5 square km of it were transformed. On average 16 hectares per day, at a speed of 2 square meters per second. It is as if, in just a year, we had built a city as large as Bologna”.

If we then think of the content of organic matter, crucial for guaranteeing production yields and therefore food security, 25% of the land in Europe is below the threshold that allows the correct functioning of the soil / plant system.

All this has environmental and health risks (let’s just think of the many ecosystem services endangered …) but also economic ones: “The costs associated with soil degradation in the EU exceed 50 billion euros per year” he recalled in an interview to Re Soil Foundation the economist Angelo Riccaboni, national delegate to the Mission Soil Health and Food.

I servizi ecosistemici assicurati dal suolo e che sono a rischio a causa del suo degrado. FONTE: FAO, 2015.

Ecosystem services provided by the soil and which are at risk due to its degradation. SOURCE: FAO, 2015.

A broader strategy of territorial regeneration

But the terraforming machine, although futuristic, is only part of a larger project set up by the OFL Architecture team: Jericho includes a complex strategy of territorial regeneration that aims to involve and sensitize entire communities. The goal is to build a new, more harmonious and emotional vision of urban centers, based on the analysis of its ecosystem data. In cities, according to the Jericho project, so-called interstitial spaces must be identified. Abandoned or underutilized areas that are recovered and in which the so-called “ecosystem devices” are placed: architectural solutions that increase urban biodiversity and help to provide food and services to the urban environment in a sustainable way.

The pilot case of Favara in Sicily

An example in this sense – the first in Italy that hosted the Jericho project approach – can already be touched today in Favara, a small town in the heart of Sicily. In this village of just over 30 thousand inhabitants, surfaces inside the urban fabric have been identified that can be recovered and converted to green areas. “Our goal – continues Lipari – is to make spaces suitable for hosting ecosystem devices of communities: tools that encourage aggregation among citizens”. Depending on the size of the land recovered, these soils have hosted bird feeders and houses, urban hives for bees, slugs, chicken coops, ponds, architectures suitable for hosting colonies of various insects, urban gardens and multisensory gardens.

suoli fertilizzanti biologici invenzione jericho

The insectarium wunderbugs, during a presentation at the Auditorium in Rome. The structure allows to attract and breed colonies of various strategic insects for the increase of urban biodiversity.

To make the residual areas inside the urban center suitable, a satellite mapping was carried out. This analysis detected the amount of CO2 in the soil and identified the health of the soils in these areas. The Jericho terraforming machine then allowed them to be fertilized and healed.

At the moment, Jericho’s device is a prototype. However, its structure makes it easily replicable. “Our hope – concludes Lipari – is to spark the interest of local, Italian and foreign administrations, who decide to carry out concrete actions in favor of the health of the soils of their city. It would be a success not only for us but for those in Italy. they invest their time and professionalism to improve human well-being and our territories”.