Living Umbrellas

Nick Cloyd.

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

February 24, 2017

When Nick Cloyd lived in Ocean City before starting grad school, his girlfriend called him the Umbrella Police. “I’d see three or four umbrellas blowing around the beach and there I am, grabbing them, because I don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Cloyd laughs.

Cloyd is still pursuing umbrellas with the idea of doing good, but his incentive is a far cry from the beach mission. For his master’s thesis in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST), Cloyd is looking at how umbrellas made of living plants can not only make people more comfortable, but might inspire a connection to the environment and ideas for new waysto grow food.

Called “Living Umbrellas,” ten of these green canopies are already providing shade on patios around campus. But, says Cloyd, “The product is so much more than a shade structure. We hope it will foster the excitement to bring the experience of nature into our urban environments. I think this can excite people to understand they can grow plants in a small space to produce their own food, even in urban areas.”

The idea of a Living Umbrella and its first design had already been hatched when Cloyd arrived on campus in 2015 to study with Dr. Dave Tilley, Associate Professor of Ecological Technology and Design. Tilley, who has worked with green walls and roofs, “pulled me into his office my first day to talk about my thesis,” says Cloyd. “He told me about this idea of a Living Umbrella that popped into his head when he was out west, sitting around a hot pool deck.”

Cloyd jumped onto Tilley’s living umbrella team, along with JoseLuis Izursa, PhD, and another recent graduate of the master’s program, Tim Williamson. They knew they wanted to apply vertical farming techniques using a self-contained irrigation system. They wanted something practical, a producible patio umbrella that people could easily use. And they wanted to use the design to explore possibilities for enhancing green connections and growing food. Read more>>