Alumni Profile

Of Waterpods and Flockhouses


New York-based artist Mary Mattingly ’02 talks about Air Ship Air City, a chicken coop-style house made of recycled materials.

New York-based artist and PNCA alumna Mary Mattingly ’02 is a multi-talented artist who addresses the issues of our time: the environment, homelessness and sustainability while she simultaneously is stirring our imagination.

Air Ship, Air City is her latest project, a sort of nest or chicken coop-style house made with recycled materials, proposed for the top of the Metropolitan Exchange Building in Brooklyn. The alternative weekly The Brooklyn Paper dubbed it “what could be the most bizarre abode in all of Brooklyn.”


Building on the work she did for the Waterpod project, Mattingly describes Air Ship Air City (ASAC) as a “Flock House,” a sculptural and usable covered space that resembles a bird’s nest. It includes rooftop systems for rainwater collection, aquaculture and fast composting, along with gardening techniques including green walls, medicinal gardens and edible hanging gardens. This prototype system features chickens, a coop and a small forest garden.

“The structure is inspired by what I perceive as its usability and functionality in a city like New York, especially because of New York City’s problem with combined sewage overflow, directly due to all of the tar and concrete leaving nowhere for rain to go,” Mattingly says. “It is also inspired by people’s need to create communities that can function autonomously.” Construction on the structure will begin in the spring.


Mattingly’s Waterpod project was in some ways the seed for ASAC, and created a lot of buzz in New York when it launched in August 2009. Described as “a floating sculptural living structure designed as a new habitat for the global warming epoch,” the project tackled issues of art, climate change and community living. Her work was subsequently covered by Art Forum, BBC News, The Discovery Channel, NBC–New York and The New York Times.

She describes her work as “fantasy based and serious, exploring systems of survival, interaction, mobility and power structures.” A consistent thread in Mattingly’s work is a connection to the past via the future, along with her dynamic ability to use a range of mediums for expression. Though she started as a photographer, Mattingly quickly broadened her practice while still a student at PNCA to include craft, design, sewing and sculpture.

“I met Mary as a young photographer, who used her sewing skills to create survival suits for an apocalyptic future. She then asked friends and colleagues to don these new fashions and she would photograph them in everyday street settings,” said PNCA Instructor Linda Wysong, who visited Mattingly’s New York studio in 2006. “Her interest in systems and ability to translate a singular vision across diverse media is embedded in her early work and continues today with her innovative Waterpod project. Mary’s attention to detail created stunningly beautiful images with the unusual combination of individual grace and global atrophy.”


In addition to working on ASAC and a group of photographs entitled Anatomy of Melancholy, Mattingly is updating Waterpod systems and is writing a book about the Waterpod project. She also recently installed an exhibition of the Waterpod’s journey and process at Exit Art Underground with Waterpod co-curator Ian Daniel and the curators at Exit Art.

When asked how PNCA and Portland influenced her creative practice, Mattingly relates, “PNCA is a very important community space in Portland, and that played an important role in my personal growth,” said Mattingly. “The atmosphere at PNCA is so open that I never felt like I couldn’t try something and that has very much shaped the way I make art.” 

She is currently represented by Robert Mann Gallery, and has exhibited at White Box in Manhattan, with Galerie Adler in Germany, and “Ecotopia”, the triennial at the International Center of Photography.

by Leah Bobal and Wayne Bund
By Leah Bobal ’08 and Wayne Bund ’10

— Posted on 04/01 at 04:00 PM

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