The Urban Algae Canopy is an interactive pavilion integrating living micro-algal cultures, a built example of architecture's bio-digital future. It was built in 2015 in the public piazza of the Future Food District within the site of EXPO Milano 2015.

The Canopy provided an efficient habitat to grow microalgae, in this instance Spirulina. This organism contains nutrients that are fundamental to the human body, such as minerals and vegetable proteins. As such the urban algae canopy embodies the future of urban horticulture.

 
 

Architecture and

Responsive Environments

The innovative architecture of the Alge Canopy originates from the evolution of the well known ETFE architectural skin system. In this instance it provides the ideal habitat to stimulate Spirulina's growth and to guarantee visitors' shading and micro-climatic comfort.

On sunny summer days the microalgae grow rapidly thus increasing the shading potential of the canopy and improving human comfort; visitors, with their presence, activate the digital regulation system which stimulates algal oxygenation, exposure to solar radiation and growth of the living cultures.

In any given moment the effective translucency, the color, the reflectivity, the sound and productivity of the Urban Algae Canopy are the result of this new symbiotic relationship of climate, microalgae, humans and digital control systems.

The Prototype

The Urban Algae Canopy is a bio-digital living system converting solar energy into biomass and oxygen.

On average the Folly produces 2kg of Oxygen per day, the equivalent oxygen that 3 adults need to survive; 3 adults could go in space with the folly and survive. It takes 25 large urban trees to do that.

Moreover being the Spirulina the food of the future, the folly produces the equivalent in proteins of 2kg of meat per day, enough for 12 adults, with no animals being killed and no methane being released; in fact the folly also capture CO2 at a rate of 4kg per day.

 

All this happens in front of everyone in the public realm. This is the key idea of the project; embed production in the urban realm.

Urban Agriculture 2.0, embedded in space and architecture.

 

The Bio-digital System

The Folly is sensitive to human presence and movement; there are 8 proximity sensors on the 4 columns directed to cover all the space in and around the folly; as people move we read their presence and speed. 

 

These numbers are transmitted to a central brain that computes the status of the 9 solenoids or electrovalves controlling the algal flow when exits from the pumps before entering the bioreactors or ETFE cushions.

 

The logic of connection between sensors and actuators has been scripted and designed by us and we are adjusting it as we go; so the behaviour of the folly is evolving in real-time.

 

Credits

A project by ecoLogicStudio:

Marco Poletto and Claudia Pasquero (London, UK) 

 

Design Team: Marco Poletto, Claudia Pasquero, Elisa Bolognini, Alessandro Buffi, Julien Sebban

Digital responsive systems: Alt N – Nick Puckett

Structural Engineering: Ing. Mario Segreto, Ing. Nicola Morda

Project Managment: Arch. Paolo Scoglio

ETFE contractor: Taiyo Europe GmbH

Timber contractor: Palumbo Legnami

Microalgae supplies: Algain Energy srl