Is This the Future of Living Walls?

John Hill
22. February 2019
Photo: NAARO

A "living sculpture" on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris consists of oxygen-producing bacteria inserted into a 3D-printed substructure. Could this be the next generation of living walls that adorn buildings?

Project: H.O.R.T.U.S. XL Astaxanthin.g, 2019
Location: La fabrique du vivant, Centre Pompidou, Paris
Designer: ecoLogicStudio
ecoLogicStudio Project Team: Claudia Pasquero, Marco Poletto, Konstantinos Alexopoulos, Matteo Baldissarra, Michael Brewster
Research Partner (biological, 3d printed systems and production development): Synthetic Landscape Lab, IOUD, Innsbruck University; Photosynthetica consortium
IOUD Project Team: Prof. Claudia Pasquero, Maria Kuptsova, Terezia Greskova, Emiliano Rando, Jens Burkart, Niko Jabadari, Simon Posch
Research Partner (3d printed systems and production development): CREATE Group / WASP Hub Denmark - University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
SDU Project Team: Prof. Roberto Naboni, Furio Magaraggia
Engineering: YIP structural engineering, Manja Van De Vorp
Materials: 3d printed substratum, micro-algae in biogel medium
Microalgal Medium Material Support: Ecoduna AG 
3D Printing Material Support: Extrudr
Photo: NAARO

H.O.R.T.U.S. XL Astaxanthin.g is one of two sculptures by London's ecoLogicStudio that is on display in La fabrique du vivant at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. H.O.R.T.U.S. XL Astaxanthin.gHortus for short – is a "collaboration" with colonies of photosynthetic cyanobacteria, while the other piece, XenoDerma, was created with a collective of Asian Fawn Tarantula, making it reminiscent of Tomás Saraceno's "cosmic webs." Hortus, the focus here, is particularly impressive, given its size, the way visitors can move inside it, and the potential applications of its bio-technology.

Photo: NAARO

ecoLogic's two contributions ("thick biophilic architectural skins receptive to urban life," in their words) respond to the curators' assertion that "in the digital era, a new interaction is emerging between creation and the fields of life science, neuroscience and synthetic biology." The studio – working with Innsbruck University - Synthetic Landscape Lab, CREATE Group / WASP Hub Denmark - University of Southern Denmark – basically designed and 3D-printed an armature for the cyanobacteria, which obtain their energy through photosynthesis and produce oxygen in the process. The bacteria's name hints at their blue-green color, accentuated in Hortus by the whiteness of the 3D-printed substructure.

Photo: NAARO
A statement from ecoLogic explains the complex process of making the piece and hints at its applications:

[In Hortus] a digital algorithm simulates the growth of a substratum inspired by coral morphology. This is physically deposited by 3D printing machines in layers of 400 microns, supported by triangular units of 46 mm and divided into hexagonal blocks of 18.5 cm. Photosynthetic cyanobacteria are inoculated on a biogel medium into the individual triangular cells, or bio-pixel, forming the units of biological intelligence of the system. Their metabolisms, powered by photosynthesis, convert radiation into actual oxygen and biomass. The density-value of each bio-pixel is digitally computed in order to optimally arrange the photosynthetic organisms along iso-surfaces of increased incoming radiation. Among the oldest organisms on Earth, cyanobacteria's unique biological intelligence is gathered as part of a new form of bio-digital architecture.

Photo: NAARO

Living walls are nothing new, but the typical approach – plants growing in a medium – is heavy and high on maintenance. Hortus, on the other hand, has a relatively lightweight armature, while the cyanobacteria theoretically only need sunlight to survive and thrive. The interface of the two in Hortus is quite beautiful: highly structured yet flowing, punctuated by the nodes where the cyanobacteria are fed into the substructure. While I doubt we'll see this "new form of bio-digital architecture" popping up on facades in the near future (I'd love to be proved wrong!), it's exciting to consider that some of today's most pressing concerns have architectural solutions.

Photo: NAARO

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