Think of urban farming, and you might picture a rooftop vegetable garden.

But designers from EcoLogicStudio in London think that cities should start to take a different approach to their farms: Instead of lettuce or kale, the architects are experimenting with new artificial systems that grow algae.

In prototype gardens built in Sweden, London, and Paris over the last decade, the architects created hanging structures filled with algae, carefully arranged to take advantage of the light in the space.

To help the microorganisms grow, visitors could move the containers around to follow the light, and blow air into tubes to provide carbon dioxide.

In Paris, the architects experimented with what they call "cyber-gardening." As the algae grew, the garden sent out tweets reporting data like growth and lighting levels, so people could monitor it in real time from a distance.

As visitors tweeted, they could help direct nutrients to the algae. The design wasn't intended to produce algae at a large scale, but to suggest new ways that city dwellers could begin to interact with urban farms.

2014-08-08

Co.Exist

These Reinvented Urban Farms Grow Algae, Not Kale

If we're serious about tackling the sustainability challenges that cities face, the urban bucolic vision is going to have to mean more than hipster vegetables.

Think of urban farming, and you might picture a rooftop vegetable garden. But designers from EcoLogicStudio in London think that cities should start to take a different approach to their farms: Instead of lettuce or kale, the architects are experimenting with new artificial systems that grow algae.

"Algae are everywhere in the urban environment as well as in the wild," says studio founder Marco Poletto. "However, they are not recognized as valuable, and as an urban layer that can be designed, cultivated, and harvested. We believe that activating this layer can provide an incredible boost in the amount of energy, food, and even natural medical products that can be produced and consumed in the urban environment."

In prototype gardens built in Sweden, London, and Paris over the last decade, the architects created hanging structures filled with algae, carefully arranged to take advantage of the light in the space. To help the microorganisms grow, visitors could move the containers around to follow the light, and blow air into tubes to provide carbon dioxide.

In Paris, the architects experimented with what they call "cyber-gardening." As the algae grew, the garden sent out tweets reporting data like growth and lighting levels, so people could monitor it in real time from a distance. As visitors tweeted, they could help direct nutrients to the algae. The design wasn't intended to produce algae at a large scale, but to suggest new ways that city dwellers could begin to interact with urban farms.

"When it comes to urban farming, technology is essential to condense and intensify productivity, to achieve a vision of farming that is suited to the extreme conditions of the urban environments," says Poletto. "I love allotments and those funky urban farms that you find in cities like London or New York...but we also need to challenge these visions of 'urban bucolic' and begin to seriously engage the potentials of digital design and biotechnologies in reinvent the boundaries of the natural and the artificial or man-made in contemporary cities."

Along with the gardens, the architects are also adding algae directly into building facades and roofs. Their obsession with algae stems from the fact that the microorganism can not only provide food and other products, but it can also clean the air more efficiently than plants and trees. By their estimates, a typical 10,000-square foot roof on a commercial building covered in algae could produce as much oxygen as around 10 acres of woods.

"Algae are 10 times more efficient as photosynthetic machines than large trees," Poletto explains. "Since cities are dense and polluted, we need to harvest that power. A park full of large trees is not enough to oxygenate and feed the surrounding buildings, but the same area full of algae would be 10 times more capable."

Their latest project, a fully algae-covered building that can be harvested to make algae ice cream, will be on exhibit at next year's Expo Milano.

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5 Comments

  • Jason Hader

    That doesn't seem to be a helpful comment, ComDotMaleCool. If you know of alternate concepts and installations, wouldn't it be more helpful to direct us to them?

  • Sunho Lee

    perhaps he is saying that this article is pretty short on specifics and other useful data, and i would agree. i clicked on this, because i've been following developments in this area for some time, and i'm a firm believer that spirulina, chorella, and other algae has the potential to solve many of man's problems...fuel, food, carbon dioxide, sewage, even skin care, and more, but not that many people are taking it serious enough..and this article is really not very serious at all. if some rich investor was to put a billion or so into this field, it could change the world, and make him richer too. but people neeed to be convinced, not "wowed" with hip language and words like "tweet" and "funky"..... still, this is better than no article at all.

    i'm saying it is time for the world to take algae serious ...serious as a heart attack!

  • Nik Forman

    Too early to knock down trees. Algae will not out-compete trees! Oxygen generation is not the only things trees do: forests moderate continental moisture, temperature, carbon sequestration, aerating soil and have a great impact on soil life, supporting fauna and providing a respite to humans, as well as lumber, etc Would you rather your child play in an algae garden or a park? Trees are cooler! Pun intended

  • comdotmalecool

    As a professional intimately involved with the algae industry, my only comment regarding the supposed "garden" concept is, "what a complete crock of BS; absolute fantasy without a shred of integrity". Why couldn't you report on the REAL concepts and installations?