Water Lilly is a family of intelligent architecture components conceived to act as photobioreactors to grow micro-algae within the built environment. We’ve been working on that since 2012 collaborating with Prof. Mario Tredici and his amazing team of micro-biologists at the University of Florence.
We believe cultivating healthy food within the built environment is a crucial issue. Integrating microalgae cultivations within architecture is a way to create virtuous symbiotic behaviors that tend to close loops: reducing the building CO2 emissions, purifying air and grey waters, enhancing passive behaviors through the algal thermal mass, and producing food to be used by local communities.
The Lillies so far:
WaterLilly 3.17 (2017)
WaterLilly 2.0 (2014)
WaterLilly 1.1 (2012)
WaterLilly 1.0 (2012)
LillyBot 2.0 (2014)
LillyBot 1.0 (2013)
Lilly Starter Kit (2013)
The Lillies create the conditions for growing photosynthetic organisms (phytoplankton, micro-algae) in a closed biologically active controlled environment (photobioreactor – PBR) within architecture. We think there are four main relevant issues to be discussed:
1. Food: it has been maybe over-discussed over the last few years, but it still a major point when talking about the future of humanity in this planet. Malnutrition and undernutrition are among the most scary threats we already face. And arable land is reducing. And population is growing. Polyunsaturated acids Omega 3, antioxidants and veggie proteins are only a few of the healthy nutrients we can get from algae to ameliorate our health. We think that cultivating healthy food within the built environment is a crucial issue to be addressed. Also insects are interesting, but algae are definitely easier to integrate in the western culture.
2. Energy: well, first of all, let’s clarify that, with today’s technologies, it is not possible to efficiently produce energy with algae. The EROI is very low, and we honestly don’t know anybody in the world that is able to grow, harvest and down-stream process algae for bio-fuels spending less energy that what is produced at the end. But it remains a crucial issue, also because at the end of the day, as photosynthetic organisms, they are capable to transform water, CO2 and solar light into chemical energy that is what we, humans, need in all forms.
3. Symbiotic behaviors: architectural photobioreactors are more expensive and produce less biomass compared to industrial ones. To make money out of the biomass, one should go for an industrial system. What is interesting in integrating microalgae cultivations within buildings is the possibility to create virtuous symbiotic behaviors that tend to close loops: reducing CO2 emissions from the thermal plants, purifying air, purifying grey waters, producing food to be used locally, etc.
4. Origins: it’s the less technical, but maybe the more inspirational topic: microalgae (cyanobacteria) are the origins of life as we know it on our planet. They are responsible of the Oxygen Catastrophe some 2.5 billions years ago that created the atmospheric conditions for us to be here, and the idea of going back to them to restore our atmosphere is fascinating. They were here much before us, and will stay much longer. Let’s collaborate!
Water Lilly components have been presented and exhibited in the following events:
- Traces of Centuries and Future Steps, collateral event of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, Palazzo Bembo, Venice, August 25th – November 25th 2012
- Bio.23 Ljubjana Biennal of Design, Museum of Architecture and Design, Ljubjana, September 27th – November 11th 2012
- Share Festival 2012 – Open your City, Museo di Scienze Naturali, Torino, October 30th – November 11th 2012
- 8th Swiss Design Network Symposium 2012.SUPSI, Lugano, November 9th 2012
- Conference Abitare il Futuro, Universita’ Federico II, Napoli, December 12-13th 2012
- Fablab Torino, Birthday Party, Torino, February 15th, 2013
- MIT Senseable City Lab, Pechakucha presentation, Cambridge (MA – USA), February 19th, 2013
- Milano Design week 2013: We Make Open Design: Design dai Codici Apertie la Rivoluzione dei Makers al Fuorisalone, Area35 – Via Vigevano 35, Milano, 10–14th April 2013
- Milano Design week 2013: Bottega Digitale con il Fablab Torino al Salone Satellite, Fiera di Milano, Rho, 10-14th April 2013
- Maker Faire Rome 2013, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, October 3-6th 2013
- Dutch Design Week 2013, Now Future, Klokgebouw Composed Exhibition, Eindhoven, October 19-27th 2013
- Milano Design Week 2014: 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)
- La Potenza di Helios, Cascina Cuccagna, Milano, 17-18 May 2014
- MiniMakerFaire Torino, 31 May 2014
- Popup Makers Torino, 24 September 2014
- MakerFaire Rome, 3-5 October 2014
- ITU Telecom World Conference, Doha (Qatar), 7-10 December 2014
- Home/Sick – post domestic bliss, Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, 1 May – 19 July 2015
Conceived and designed by Cesare Griffa, every Lilly has been created by a vast team involving collaborations with other designers, institutions (including Politecnico di Torino, MIT Senseable City Lab), and companies (including Arduino, Fotosintetica & Microbiologica) that share the common background of exploring a more sustainable future based on digital technologies, bio-hacking and sharing knowledge.