ALGAETECTURE | EXPO 2015 PREVIEW: Algae systems to design and feed the city

cesare griffa waterlilly 2.0Milan, 7th April 2014 – Algae is the seemingly unlikely term that is being discussed at the heart of EXPO Milano 2015. As part of the Future Food District project, being developed by Carlo Ratti Associati at the central crossroads of the EXPO site, the pavilions’ façades and canopy utilize new systems of micro-algae, designed by Cesare Griffa and ecoLogicStudio. Two prototypes – full scale models of the façade and canopy – are being previewed this week as part of INTERNI’s Exhibition-Event ‘Feeding New Ideas for the City’ – Cortile d’Onore, Università degli Studi di Milano, Festa del Perdono 7 (7-18th April 2014). These prototypes constitute a revolution in the conception of building integrated farming and urban agriculture.

“The functioning principle of the prototypes is based on the exceptional properties of micro-algae organisms, which are ten times more efficient photosynthetic machines compared to large trees and grasses” – explains Carlo Ratti, curator of the Future Food District. “The façade and canopy currently being developed for EXPO Milano 2015 develop a natural man-made ecology and explore the use of algae as an integrated architectural cladding and urban agriculture system.” Algae can represent an important part of creating a healthy and liveable planet. Giving life to mysterious urban gardens, algae can be used as an innovative energy and food production system within our cities.

Micro-algae perform an important photosynthetic activity, absorbing considerable amounts of carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, and growing into a biomass, which can be processed for energy, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical markets. “Micro-algae open up an incredible potential for new renewable energy resources, and hope for a greener future” – explains Cesare Griffa. “Building and architectural surfaces are an incredible resource of space. Urban façades and roofs represent billions of square metres that instead of being made of an inanimate material such as concrete, could become clever photosynthetic surfaces that respond to the current state of climate warming. Micro-algae could add to the green urban system that exists already, intensifying carbon dioxide fixation activity and acting as cladding for buildings, increasing their passive performance.”

The Urban Algae Canopy – based on ecoLogicStudio’s ‘HORTUS’ system, is presented here with a 1:1 scale prototype of the world’s first bio-digital canopy integrating micro-algal cultures and real time digital cultivation protocols on a unique architectural system. The potential of micro-algae have been integrated within a custom designed four-layered ETFE cladding system, whilst the flows of energy, water and CO2 are controlled and regulated in real-time and made to respond and adjust to weather patterns and visitors’ movements. Once completed, as part of the EXPO Milano 2015 Future Food District, this special edition of the Urban Algae Canopy will produce the equivalent amount of oxygen as four hectares of woodland, and up to 150kg of biomass per day – 60% of which are natural vegetal proteins.
The Urban Algae Façade – based on Cesare Griffa’s ‘WaterLilly 2.0’ system – is the prototype of a micro-algae façade, being developed in a special edition for EXPO Milano 2015. ‘WaterLilly 2.0’ is a project for a micro-algae vertical farm to be implemented as an architectural skin. The intention here is that, integrated into the green system of the cities, micro-algae can help in absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, while acting as a second skin of buildings, boosting passive cooling and increasing shading of the façade.

“It is now time to overcome the segregation between technology and nature typical of the mechanical age, to embrace a systemic understanding of architecture” – concludes Claudia Pasquero of ecoLogicStudio. “In these Urban Algae prototypes the boundaries between the material, spatial and technological dimension have been carefully articulated to achieve efficiency, resilience and beauty.”


Urban Algae Canopy prototype by ecoLogicStudio (Marco Poletto & Claudia Pasquero) & Carlo Ratti Associati; prototyping team -Taiyo Europe GmbH, Sullalbero Srl; consulting team – Nick Puckett, Paolo Scoglio, Catherine Legrand, Mario Tredici; lighting by: iGuzzini

Urban Algae Façade prototype by Cesare Griffa and Carlo Ratti Associati; prototyping team – Matteo Amela, Federico Borello, Marco Caprani; technical support by Environment Park Spa, Fotosintetica & Microbiologica Srl; lighting by iGuzzini

Details of the exhibition:
More information about the Future Food District:
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2 thoughts on “ALGAETECTURE | EXPO 2015 PREVIEW: Algae systems to design and feed the city

  1. ”Given the right conditions, algae can double its volume overnight. Microalgae are the earth’s most productive plants –– 10 to 15 times more prolific in biomass than the fastest growing land plant exploited for biofuel production. While soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons, algae can produce up to 15,000 gallons per acre per year. In addition, up to 50 percent (or more) of algae biomass (dry weight) is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees—currently the most efficient large-scale source of feedstock oil to make biofuels—yield approximately 20 percent of their weight in oil,” says Zeljko Serdar, President of CCRES

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