This Algae Canopy Breathes Oxygen And Makes Your Lunch

If ecoLogicStudio’s walls could speak, they’d ask you what you’d like for dinner.

When considering the cities of the future, some push for hardcore minimalism: Tiny living spaces, clean lines, and maximum efficiency with as little as possible. But Marco Poletto and Claudia Pasquero of ecoLogicStudio want a different kind of efficiency. They want walls, ceilings, and columns to do a lot of multi-tasking in the background. That’s why they’re designing structures that are alive.


In 2015, visitors to the Expo Milano’s food-themed pavilion will stroll beneath one of Poletto and Pasquero’s creations–a cool, green canopy that breathes a forest’s worth of algae-filtered oxygen into the space. The 900 square meters of photosynthesizing algae will also produce real food to be consumed inside the pavilion itself. Poletto and Pasquero are also working with chefs to create various types of algae cuisine–protein-packed algae pasta, for example, or maybe ice cream.

“In principle, the key objective of the urban algae farm is to articulate a new form of public space: an infrastructure of production and food,” Poletto says. “Which at the moment, only exists in the form of, let’s say, farming and it’s completely disconnected from the space that people occupy. That’s what we’re really trying to achieve, a new set of urban typographies.”

Algae, unlike trees, don’t just photosynthesize in the leaves; the unicellular organisms are wholly, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. That’s part of the reason why architects have begun experimenting with algae as a building material.

The canopy marks the latest step in an algae investigation that Poletto and Pasquero have undertaken for the better part of the last decade. EcoLogicStudio’s first experiment with algae, a vertical screen, debuted at the 2006 London Biennale. Last year, they displayed an early version of the canopy in Paris that actually used visitors’ tweets to activate the flow of nutrients to the algae beds.

For the Expo, the architects have built a prototype module full of triangular, algae-filled panels, but they’re still formulating the final designs.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.