Harvesting the intelligence of photosynthetic microalgae to de-carbonise future cities

Ubiquitous computing enables us to decipher the biopshere’s anthropogenic dimension. In front of our eyes, a new computational panorama appears, a mathematical landscape that we are interpreting as the biosphere’s new nature. Welcome to the Anthropocene: The time when our civilisation reached global impact. 

We know this is happening because the machines that we built to measure it tell us so. In this respect, we are already in a post-anthropogenic condition, where the impact of artificial systems on the natural biosphere is indeed global, but their agency is no longer entirely human.

This paradoxical condition raises questions for the discipline of architecture and all other industries with the ability to innovate us out of our current climatic and ecological crisis. Is there a new conceptual position that enables visions of co-evolution between urban and natural systems? How can we move beyond the incommensurable dominant ideologies of nostalgia for a rural past on the one side and positivistic faith in a technocratic future on the other? 

A key challenge in my opinion is to enact a paradigm shift in the conception of urban sustainability. In the Anthropocene, sustainability is the unquestioned mantra of any new project, however, its meaning must evolve within this new cultural and scientific regime where the boundaries separating architecture and the urban landscape or the city and the natural biosphere are increasingly blurred. Today, no system operates in isolation as it is inextricably part of a dense network of information, matter and energy that sustains our increasingly demanding metabolism while offsetting the fluctuations and deficiencies of the natural biosphere in providing the required levels of resources in the right place at the right time.

In the project Photo.Synth.Etica, which my company ecoLogicStudio has developed for the EIT Climate-KIC annual Climate Innovation Summit, we have introduced a new spatial metric to measure human induced climate change. Ecologic value, measured here in terms of CO2 emissions, is reframed spatially to include what economists call “externalities” towards other social and ecological systems.

This implies a network of relationships that are activated in space and time, fed by continuous exchanges between individual agents and their neighbours. So, for example, when the Printworks building emits CO2, this is captured by each of our facade’s photobioreactors and feeds the living algae cultures within them. When the sun shines, its energy is captured by the algal cells within the photobioreactors that are designed to form an urban curtain in front of the existing building.

Photosyntesis is activated and oxygen produced and released at the top of each facade unit. The energy and the carbon molecules are stored in algae cells as biomass and can be released later as useful resources. In fact, the biomass can be used to produce more of the same bio-plastic that constitutes the main building material of the photobioreactors themselves. And the chain of reactions can spread in multiple directions and involve a variety of stakeholders. We can use this metric to measure the emissions of entire countries and their potential impact.

In the near future, each link in the chain will be managed by a collection of algorithmic protocols. Significantly, this implies the direct co-action in time and space of disparate systems including planning authority and active citizens but also the intelligence of other digital—as well as natural—organisms (sun, algae, carbon trading algorithms and so on). The result is an “in-human” assemblage that revolutionises the notion of urban sustainability as we know it.

This notion represents a functional evolution of architecture in the age of ubiquitous computing. It shifts the current subject-object relationship as it proposes to consider humans, intelligent bio-components and surrounding territorial systems simultaneously engaged as agents of design. It therefore sets the conceptual ground to re-evaluate the role of technological innovation in supporting the emergence of alternative models of sustainable inhabitation of the urban sphere leading to new forms of urban intelligence.

Smart cities, smart homes, autonomous vehicles, robotic factories, etc. dominate the current panorama of popular futuristic scenarios but all desperately need spatial and architectural re-framing to engender beneficial societal transitions. In other words, the anthropocentrism immanent in the mobilisation of technology in urban design limits its operative scope. This is especially true today, in a dynamic world where design problems require broader and more distributed solutions.

With our installation at the Climate Innovation Summit, we are suggesting that in the Anthropocene age, we need more than ever a non-anthropocentric mode of reasoning and deploying cutting edge technologies. Therefore, we have been testing the potential to bring, at the core of urban design novelty, the interdependence of digital and biological intelligence.

We hope that the piece will stimulate our collective sensibility at recognising patterns of reasoning across disciplines, materialities and technological regimes thus establishing progressively higher degrees of synthesis among the heterogeneous systems of the urban sphere.

Photo.Synth.Etica by Ecologic Studio will be shown at the Climate Innovation Summit, Dublin, 6-8 November 2018. 

TO REGISTER FOR THE CLIMATE INNOVATION SUMMIT PLEASE CLICK HERE

 

 
Location
United Kingdom
Related Focus Area
Urban Transitions
Related Goal
Goal 2: Nurture nature-based resilience for cities
Articles you may be interested in
In The News
New European Bauhaus: what kind of future do you want to live in?

On 22 and 23 April, the first conference dedicated...

New European Bauhaus: what kind of future do you want to live in?
In The News
Estonian innovation to help stabilise grid as renewables increase

EIT Climate-KIC supported Estonian start-up Sympower has raised €5.2...

Estonian innovation to help stabilise grid as renewables increase
In The News
Five EIT Climate-KIC community members in Forbes 30 under 30 list

Twelve entrepreneurs from across the EIT community have been...

Five EIT Climate-KIC community members in Forbes 30 under 30 list
In The News
These eleven organisations are building a greener Europe

Google, in partnership with EIT Climate-KIC, launched the €10...

These eleven organisations are building a greener Europe
In The News
New equity crowdfunding programme unearths cleantech start-ups

Found by us, funded by you, a new start-up...

New equity crowdfunding programme unearths cleantech start-ups
In The News
From start-up to 100-person industry player in 18 months: air up is launching ...

It’s a beverage revolution: Healthy hydration while fooling your...

From start-up to 100-person industry player in 18 months: air up is launching in new markets
In The News
#TurnItAround: an event for all climate solutions seekers, suppliers and enabl...

As part of the fifth SDG Global festival of...

#TurnItAround: an event for all climate solutions seekers, suppliers and enablers
In The News
New EIT initiative to boost innovation in higher education

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is...

New EIT initiative to boost innovation in higher education
In The News
Just transition within reach for Polish coal city Rybnik

“We are preparing plans for the next decade. Mentality is...

Just transition within reach for Polish coal city Rybnik
In The News
Inclusive guide helps communities build urban resilience

The new Urban Action Kit, launched by the International...

Inclusive guide helps communities build urban resilience
In The News
Climate app among DigiEduHack 2020 global finalists

The DigiEduHack, supported by EIT Climate-KIC as well as...

Climate app among DigiEduHack 2020 global finalists
In The News
GreeMko receives Climate Reality Project Award in Spain 

GreeMko (for Green Management Technology), a Spanish start-up that...

GreeMko receives Climate Reality Project Award in Spain 
In The News
What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?

EIT Climate-KIC Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Dunlop addressed the...

What’s the future of trade in a climate crisis?
In The News
Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change

Starting today, the seventh edition of the global green...

Wanted: Green business ideas to fix climate change
In The News
Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution

Ensuring that fresh water is available, in a sustainable...

Why sustainable water management needs a systemic solution
In The News
Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation

The European Commission released the new EU Climate Adaptation...

Integrating nature with technology to strengthen climate adaptation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change

EIT Climate-KIC welcomes the new EU strategy on adaptation...

EIT Climate-KIC is a key player in helping Europe adapt to climate change
In The News
Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities

A labyrinth of cobblestone streets, dimly lit and presided...

Edinburgh: building climate resilient infrastructure and communities
In The News
Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neig...

EIT Climate-KIC is working with the city of Leuven...

Residents of Kessel-Lo, Belgium, are invited to shape the future of their neighbourhood
In The News
Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience

Start Park, a project led by citizens from Florence,...

Improved urban parks increase communities’ climate resilience
In The News
New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners

Following its Open Call, the New Accelerator programme has...

New accelerator programme geared towards systemic change secures key partners
In The News
New videogame builds climate awareness among players

Change Game, a videogame financed by EIT Climate-KIC and...

New videogame builds climate awareness among players
In The News
Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations

Carlota Mateos and Juan Vila, co-founders of PlenEat have...

Organic and homemade food brought to the dining rooms of large corporations
In The News
Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio

EIT Climate-KIC supported Climeworks, a carbon capture technology, is...

Climeworks added to Microsoft’s climate portfolio
In The News
Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs

The peer-to-peer learning platform for governments, Apolitical, included EIT...

Circular Slovenia named in 100 Climate Policy Breakthroughs
In The News
New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture

Supported by EIT Climate-KIC and developed by its partner...

New tool uses satellite imagery to accelerate sustainable agriculture
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

EIT Climate-KIC will be taking part in the Climate...

EIT Climate-KIC at the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021
In The News
Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards ...

A total of 140 teams of citizen finalists applied...

Green Invest from Stuttgart and Start Park from Florence win Climathon Awards 2020
In The News
Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation

Joe Biden will be sworn in today as 46th...

Biden’s Opportunity for Reinventing Climate Innovation
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition

It is no secret that to tackle climate change...

EIT Climate-KIC’s Open Accelerator: collaboration, not competition