In the living room of the not-so-distant-future, you might have a glowing green blob of microorganisms next to your sofa instead of a lamp. A new line of photosynthetic furniture is filled with spirulina–a tiny, edible bacteria–that the designers imagine could help feed us without the incredible environmental footprint of conventional agriculture.
“We’re looking at how we can produce supplemental food by recycling things we don’t need,” says architectural designer Jacob Douenias, who created the conceptual line of furniture with industrial designer Ethan Frier. The custom glass bioreactors use waste heat, light, and carbon dioxide from a home to feed the spirulina inside. Periodically, someone can turn a tap, empty out the green sludge, and eat it.
“They’re super nutritious,” Douenias says. “As much as half their weight is protein depending on how they’re grown.” Spirulina, colloquially known as blue-green algae, is already sold as a supplement in health food stores. But the designers see it as the perfect candidate for ultra-local food–something that’s possible to grow in the living room, without the energy requirements of the typical indoor garden. The vessels could also double as heat storage for the home, or help shade part of a room.
With their prototypes, now on display at a Pittsburgh art museum called the Mattress Factory, the designers wanted to explore what it might be like to live with a microorganism farm in your apartment. Is it a pet or an appliance? Something like a houseplant?
“Some of the glass vessels we built are the size and shape of a fish tank, and you could see them more as a pet,” Douenias says. “Some you could see more as elevated pieces of furniture. … The microorganisms are little photosynthetic factories in a liquid form. That gives a designer a lot of flexibility to pump it into whatever shape they like, or overlay it with other systems in a building.”
The designers also see the furniture as a way to remind people that we’re already surrounded by microorganisms. “People don’t really think about the importance of microorganisms, and how much of our lives are driven by bacteria,” Douenias says. “So we were thinking about make these little microscopic organisms visible and tangible–a tangible resource.”