Irene Wing Sum Wu explores in her graduation project how micro-algae can be integrated into the building or if they even can become construction material.
Can you (briefly) explain your choice of subject?
Alive Algae Architecture combines the knowledge of science, art and architecture. As algae bloom is something harmful to our ecosystem, But I see there is the opportunity to turn its problem to a solution for the current climate crisis. Therefore, this project was seen as innovative research, and I searched for the new potential building material and promote its use for the future next to designing architecture. It demonstrates the built environment’s opportunities with micro-algae and how it can be integrated into the building. I designed 5 towers with 5 different ways of using algae and applied them in a diverse landscape. With the quality of Het Twiske in Amsterdam, enhance this new material in a self-sufficient ecosystem with unique experiences of the landscape.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
The Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) building in Hamburg was the initial source of my inspiration. I found it to be incredibly unique, showcasing how architecture doesn’t have to be static; it can be dynamic and incorporate life. This approach allows for the urban or landscape to come alive. Additionally, my fascination with micro-algae began when I started studying it. I was astounded by its multifaceted qualities beyond being a mere “installation.” Micro algae can absorb CO2, produce oxygen, generate power and fuels, serve as a source of food, purify water through its growth system, and yield a substantial amount of biomass. These realisations led me to question further: “Can micro-algae be utilised not only in liquid form but also in solid form? Can it be integrated structurally rather than just as cladding? Is it possible to manufacture algae bricks? Can we truly grow our buildings?” These inquiries propelled me to embark on my graduation project centred around micro-algae.
State and (briefly) describe the key moment in your graduation project.
During the research phase of my graduation project, a key moment occurred when I delved into material exploration. This process of experimentation with microalgae revealed an abundance of inspirational possibilities. I discovered that microalgae could be harnessed to create diverse materials, including bio-based construction materials and bio-reactive facades. Beyond their functional aspects, I was captivated by the aesthetic qualities that algae introduced during the making process. It became a transformative and meditative experience, almost like a ritual. This realization compelled me to integrate this profound experience into my design, aiming to create not only visually striking architecture but also spaces that evoke a sense of tranquility and contemplation.
Can you (briefly) explain what design(ing) means to you?
Alive Algae Architecture could be the successful implementation of a living algae system within an architectural structure. By utilising algae as a living and dynamic component, micro-algae could have numerous potential benefits, such as energy generation, carbon sequestration, and improved indoor air quality. The project involves showcasing the algae’s growth, its ability to adapt to environmental conditions, and its interaction with the surrounding space.
The successful realisation of my vision would emphasise the potential of merging biology and architecture to create more sustainable and environmentally conscious structures. It could inspire further exploration and adoption of living materials within the field of architecture, highlighting the importance of integrating nature into our built environments. To consist sustainability in design is not about how to use the material, but more about how can we human integrate with the nature.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
From my graduation, I had never seen it as a end project, but it is a starting for an innovation. With the experience of my graduation project with micro-algae, I inspired myself to continue exploring sustainable design practices with the integration of living organisms, such as algae or others, into architecture can foster a connection with nature. I aim to create buildings that minimize their environmental impact, incorporate renewable energy systems, or use innovative materials that promote ecological balance.
It is an innovative project.
It is a material-based project.
It is research of an organism.
It is built from micro-algae.
It is built for the material.
It is built for the ecosystem.
It is built for the landscape.
It is about nature-culture.
It is about the basics of life cycle, so is architecture.
Alive Algae Architecture is a project combining the knowledge of science, art and architecture. Research as a scientist, craft as an artist and design as an architect. For this project, it is seen as innovative research. I search for the new potential building material and promote its use for the future next to designing architecture. It is focused on bio-based material with the scale of microbiology and combines it into architecture.
Say ‘algae’: most people immediately think of pond scum – but what they do not realise is that we would not exist if algae didn’t exist. Micro-algae is the oldest organism on Earth and the beginning of a food chain. In the past few years, it has been made clear that we can no longer ignore the threats to climate change, the economy and future energy security. Meanwhile micro-algae also grows too hard and harmful algae bloom occurs everywhere. BUT! If we can use this organism smartly, we can turn this problem into a solution for it’s own problem. As they can absorb CO2; produce oxygen, power, fuels, and food; purge water during their own growing system; and produce a large amount of biomass. Even though it has many advantages, the development is very small and expensive. This project aims to boost the market field for micro-algae to encourage faster and cheaper development of the micro-algae system. Or at least through this project to broaden the public’s horizon about this new potential material.
Alive Algae Architecture demonstrates the built environment’s opportunities with micro-algae. This project explores how micro-algae can be integrated into the building or if they even can become construction material. With the quality of the location – Het Twiske – to enhance the quality and atmosphere of this new material in a self-sufficient ecosystem with diverse experiences of the landscape. Over time, the building changes dynamically, and the express building is no longer static and permanent, but it can be a living object and contains life. With a rich quality of different types of landscape: forest, inner still water, edge of polders, reed field and open wavy water. Five towers (Consolidating> Growing> Dissolving> Transiting> Waving) are created representatively, allowing you to experience the material and landscape one by one in a different atmosphere and perspective. The towers are connected by different bridges, which also harmoniously reflects this feature of Het Twiske: from spot to spot by bridge to bridge. This design will provide a poetic experience for the visitors toward the material and landscape, in the way to provoke discussion of using algae as a future material or resource.
Irene Wing Sum Wu
Academie van Bouwkunst Amsterdam