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
A new air and climate plan for Milan

The City Council of Milan approved the Air and...

A new air and climate plan for Milan
In The News
Meet the three EIT Climate-KIC innovators nominated for EIT Awards

Three innovators from EIT Climate-KIC’s community have been nominated...

Meet the three EIT Climate-KIC innovators nominated for EIT Awards
In The News
100 European cities take up the challenge to become carbon neutral by 2030

On Monday 13 June, the representatives of the 100...

100 European cities take up the challenge to become carbon neutral by 2030
In The News
The role of cities and regions in transforming wood value chains

Climate smart forest economies It’s a crucial decade for...

The role of cities and regions in transforming wood value chains
In The News
Glasgow City Region pioneering forest economy innovation to drive climate acti...

Scotland’s largest city region is actively tackling climate change...

Glasgow City Region pioneering forest economy innovation to drive climate action
In The News
Forging sustainable timber construction in Europe

EIT Climate-KIC and Built by Nature, announce an initiative...

Forging sustainable timber construction in Europe
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC launches new Circularity Thinking training programme

EIT Climate-KIC is launching Circularity Thinking courses to tackle...

EIT Climate-KIC launches new Circularity Thinking training programme
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC announces four winners of EIT Community Booster

EIT Climate-KIC selected four cleantech start-ups to be part...

EIT Climate-KIC announces four winners of EIT Community Booster
In The News
Science reveals last paths to stop irreversible planetary damage

Climate change is going to get worse, but curbing global warming is...

Science reveals last paths to stop irreversible planetary damage
In The News
EIT Community presents New European Bauhaus Ideation Awards winners

Supported by the EIT Community, the New European Bauhaus...

EIT Community presents New European Bauhaus Ideation Awards winners
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC joins forces with the Government of Ireland to stimulate clima...

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Marine of...

EIT Climate-KIC joins forces with the Government of Ireland to stimulate climate innovation in the agri-food sector
In The News
Climate Lab: EIT Climate-KIC co-initiates hotspot for Vienna’s climate ambit...

Climate Lab in Vienna will give climate actors an...

Climate Lab: EIT Climate-KIC co-initiates hotspot for Vienna’s climate ambitions
In The News
Seven takeaways from the latest IPCC report

On 28 February, the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)...

Seven takeaways from the latest IPCC report
In The News
EIT launches new Global Outreach website

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

EIT launches new Global Outreach website
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC and Amazon launch call for sustainable start-ups

Working on transformative, systemic innovation to accelerate a net-zero...

EIT Climate-KIC and Amazon launch call for sustainable start-ups
In The News
Votes open for the 2021 New European Bauhaus Ideation Awards – Audience Awar...

Do you want to support innovative solutions that integrate...

Votes open for the 2021 New European Bauhaus Ideation Awards – Audience Award
In The News
Brill Power’s new innovation radically increases battery life and storag...

Brill Power, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, has launched the...

Brill Power’s new innovation radically increases battery life and storage capacity
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop gives TEDx Talk

EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop delivered a talk,...

EIT Climate-KIC CEO Dr. Kirsten Dunlop gives TEDx Talk
In The News
Putting theory into practice: EIT Climate-KIC Pioneer innovating the Greek mar...

To tackle complex climate challenges, we need a broader...

Putting theory into practice: EIT Climate-KIC Pioneer innovating the Greek maritime sector
In The News
EIT launches call for proposals to boost innovation in Higher Education Instit...

Unlocking the potential of higher education institutions for innovation...

EIT launches call for proposals to boost innovation in Higher Education Institutions
In The News
Dolomites forging climate resilience

The Italian Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are...

Dolomites forging climate resilience
In The News
People-powered resilience: Andalusia announces new climate action plan

The region’s climate action plan has been announced, with...

People-powered resilience: Andalusia announces new climate action plan
In The News
Built by Nature: new initiative to accelerate the transition to sustainable co...

The built environment accounts for close to 40 per...

Built by Nature: new initiative to accelerate the transition to sustainable construction in cities
In The News
The State of California and EIT Climate-KIC advance partnership for climate in...

Glasgow, 8 November – The California Governor’s Office of...

The State of California and EIT Climate-KIC advance partnership for climate innovation
In The News
COP26: UN Climate Change and EIT Climate-KIC partner to establish new Global I...

A new digital Global Innovation Hub has been launched at...

COP26: UN Climate Change and EIT Climate-KIC partner to establish new Global Innovation Hub
In The News
ClimateLaunchpad announces 2021 competition winners

EIT Climate-KIC’s ClimateLaunchpad – the world’s largest green business...

ClimateLaunchpad announces 2021 competition winners
In The News
EIT Cross-KIC New European Bauhaus launches Ideation – Deadline Extended

EIT Climate-KIC has launched a call for ideas on...

EIT Cross-KIC New European Bauhaus launches Ideation – Deadline Extended
In The News
Call for proposals: Scaling the New European Bauhaus Ventures

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

Call for proposals: Scaling the New European Bauhaus Ventures
In The News
Glasgow City Region in the race to resilience

Glasgow, which is hosting this year’s UN Climate Change...

Glasgow City Region in the race to resilience
In The News
Gipuzkoa’s quest for sustainability

Gipuzkoa, the smallest Spanish province located in the Basque...

Gipuzkoa’s quest for sustainability