WaterLilly is a family of experimental prototypes and installations conceived by Cesare Griffa to act as photobioreactors to grow micro-algae within the built environment. They are the staring point of a larger process that continues through the transformation of the algal biomass into algal-ink collected in 200 cc jars (LillyJars), and ends up in the creation of algal drawings (PaperLillies). The entire process is a celebration of human ingenuity and the claim for a collaborative design practice in which humans and nature celebrate a love affair, instead of practising a suicide design strategy in which humans try unsuccessfully to overcome nature.

On the side of the tangible world, Cesare  believes that integrating microalgae cultivations within architecture and design is a way to create virtuous symbiotic behaviors that tend to bring artificial environments to life by closing some loops: reducing the building CO2 emissions, purifying air and grey waters, enhancing passive behaviors through the algal thermal mass, and producing valuable biomass to be used by local communities as food, feed, or energy source.

On the side of the intangible, the WaterLilly project aims to activate human consciousness. The bubbling enlightened green water solution is a trap for the eye that creates a sort of hypnotic state of general relaxation in which time loses meaning and the mind enjoys a form of archaic fascination of natural wonders while reflecting on the brevity of human presence on Earth (only a few tens of thousands of years) compared to the most ancient living creatures (a few billion years). Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are among the first living organisms appeared on Earth almost four billion years ago. They are the simplest organisms, the most fragile, yet the most resistant. They are responsible of the Oxygen Catastrophe that close to three billions years ago created the atmospheric conditions for the life of later creatures, including humans. They were here much before humans, and will stay much longer. It’s an evidence of how nature is much stronger than us. It’s an evidence of how saying that humans are destroying the planet is an anthropocentric and arrogant statement. What humans are really pursuing is the suicide mission of destroying the conditions for them to stay longer on this planet.


The Lillies so far:

LillyJars (2020)
PaperLillies (2019)
WaterLilly 20 (2019)
WaterLilly 3.17 (2017)
Bioskin (2015)
MiniLilly (2015)
WaterLilly 2.0 (2014)
LillyBot 2.0 (2014)
LillyBot 1.0 (2013)
DemoLilly (2013)
Lilly Starter Kit (2013)
WaterLilly 1.1 (2012)
WaterLilly 1.0 (2012)

The Lillies have been presented and exhibited in the following events:

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).

22 thoughts on “Lillies

  1. su technogeek in occasione del compleanno del fablab torino e presentazione della makerfaire di roma:

  2. WaterLilly 2.0 è un sistema per coltivare microalghe sulle facciate architettoniche. L’attività fotosintetica delle microalghe è molto più intensa di quella degli organismi vegetali più complessi. Ne risulta una maggiore capacità di assorbimento di CO2 e maggiore produzione di ossigeno. I nutrienti di cui hanno bisogno per la concimazione sono ricchi in nitrati e fosfati, normalmente presenti nelle acque reflue di uso domestico.

    Le alghe crescendo in ambiente urbano purificano aria e acqua.

    Le microalghe crescono fino a saturare la soluzione acquosa. A quel punto vanno raccolte e la biomassa ottenuta può essere usata per la produzione di proteine per l’industria alimentare, omega 3 e altre vitamine per l’industria nutraceutica, molecole farmaceutiche e cosmetiche, bioplastiche e biocarburanti come etanolo e biodiesel. Nel frattempo la cultura riparte, e nel giro di poche settimane si può procedere a un nuovo raccolto.

    1. Waterlilly 2.0 is a system for cultivating microalgae on architectural facades. The photosynthetic activity of microalgae is much more intense than that of more complex vegetable organisms, resulting in a greater capacity to fix CO2 and increased O2 production. The nutrients needed for fertilization are rich in nitrates and phosphates, normally present in the waste water from domestic use.

      While growing in an urban environment, microalgae purify air and water.

      Microalgae grow to saturate the water solution. At that point they need to be collected and the biomass obtained can be used for the production of proteins for the food industry, omega 3 and other vitamins for the nutraceutical industry, cosmetic and pharmaceutical molecules, bioplastics and biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Meanwhile, the culture starts again, and within a few weeks you can proceed to a new crop.

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