In recent years, the architectural community has faced many ecological, geopolitical, and socioeconomic challenges. This paper delves into the potential of algal biotechnologies, with a specific focus on microorganisms, such as microalgae, for architectural and design applications. With the ability to offer a wide range of applications in architecture and design, they encompass small-scale objects, living systems on building exteriors, and urban (rural) scenarios, thus enabling systematic research.
This study investigates the integration of microalgae biotechnologies in architectural designs, considering factors such as maintenance requirements, material and technological adjustments, potential environmental impacts, and the possibility of enhancing public spaces and society across various dimensions from both short-term and long-term perspectives. Considering these factors, potential environmental and social impacts should be analysed within the design process and the further implementation of microalgae-based systems in real-life scenarios. The paper delves into a series of interdisciplinary projects and research revolving around the study of microbiology, architecture, and design. The projects propose various hypothetical scenarios exploring the integration of human and non-human perspectives. Collaborative academic efforts invested in the projects showcase the potential for combining microalgae cultivation with architectural applications.
Microalgae-based architectural systems offer potential benefits, but some concerns must be addressed. Energy consumption is a significant issue, as cultivating microalgae often requires artificial lighting and temperature control, potentially negating environmental advantages. Additionally, the maintenance of and operational requirements for microalgae-based systems can be both resource-intensive and time-consuming. Ensuring optimal conditions for microalgae growth may necessitate regular monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance procedures. Also, the scalability and adaptability of microalgae systems remains a challenge. Translating the accomplishments seen in controlled laboratory settings or small-scale prototypes to a large scale might prove difficult in practical applications. Elements such as regional climate, environmental conditions, and building orientations can considerably impact the effectiveness and efficiency of microalgae systems in architectural contexts. To ensure the long-term viability of microalgae-based architectural strategies, detailed knowledge of these aspects and adaptable design solutions are needed.
Several projects are highlighted within the paper, including the project entitled Photosynthetic Landscape: a modular photobioreactor system that demonstrates the potential for integrating living systems into building exteriors and landscapes, thus contributing to the aesthetics and sustainability of the built environment. Synthesizing/Distancing addresses the challenges of coexistence in global epidemics by examining how these systems, integrating humans, microalgae, and other aquatic microorganisms, could enhance the relationship between the natural and technological, and human and non-human to understand the individual or collective roles in these systems. A permanent interior installation, Biotopia, demonstrates the potential for integrating living systems into interior spaces. This project highlights the role of microalgae in enhancing air quality, providing natural insulation, and potentially contributing to the internal microclimate. The Exchange Instruments project deals with a semi-closed cultivation system that allows for microalgae’s growth. Cultivated Environment is a user-friendly microalgae cultivation apparatus that enables individuals and communities to harness the potential of microalgae biotechnologies on a smaller scale. The project aims to encourage the widespread adoption of microalgae-based systems. Further research, interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovative design strategies are needed to overcome the challenges associated with energy consumption, maintenance requirements, and scalability. To achieve this, adopting a non-human perspective in architectural design and practice is imperative, acknowledging the interconnectedness of these entities and ecosystems.
In view of the importance of rethinking our relationships with the environment and non-human species, we must strive to design architectural systems that foster further dialogue with other systems, both natural and technological. This approach encourages us to consider the mutual benefits and co-evolution of human and non-human entities, fostering relationships that promote all living systems’ overall well-being. Enhancing the integration of design and architecture research, material science, and technological adaptations with the fields of microbiology and biotechnology necessitates a multidisciplinary approach that promotes innovation and synergy among these diverse areas of expertise. To achieve this, it is vital to create a collaborative environment that encourages sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources, ultimately enabling the design and creation of new mechanisms and apparatuses that harness the potential of microorganisms and biotechnologies. Incorporating this interdisciplinary approach is particularly important for research by design, as it enables a more comprehensive understanding of complex challenges and fosters the development of innovative, context-specific solutions. By integrating insights from diverse fields, research by design can address the multifaceted aspects of the built environment, taking into account the ecological, technological, and sociocultural dimensions. This holistic perspective ultimately results in more effective, sustainable, and adaptable designs that cater to the needs of both human and non-human inhabitants.