Algae Monster

48-300,  Environment, Form, and Feedback Studio
Professor Dana Cupkova, Madeline Gannon, Matt Plecity
Third Year, Fall 2012

Tasked with developing a riparian ecopark along the Allegheny River, Algae Monster resolved to situate the architectural object in a complex spatial and cultural field. Encouraged to move away from the design of discrete city forms, Algae Monster emerged from the synthesis of system logics, parametric form-finding, and physical computing within the context of an expansive, hybrid ecological network. The resulting form and logic of the project proposed using Pittsburgh’s 446 bridges as the foundation of a massive network of algae bioreactors. Integration within the city’s existing infrastructural network of bridges harnesses the massive amounts of atmospheric carbon released during rush hour traffic while also allowing for the advantageous and elegant optimization of solar exposure and nutrient flow.  

Bovine Urban Algae Bioreactor

Initial explorations into algae bioreactors led to the development of a three-tiered system inspired by the form and flow of the digestive tract of cows. Siting a provisional network of scaffolding across the flats of the Strip District, we then inserted a secondary, organic network  of "stomachs" to mediate between the rigid urban/industrial context and the intended ecological function of the network.

Each stomach is conceived of as a flexible, semi-permeable cell. Each cell then transforms over time in response to specific environmental input relating to algae production. Mature cells expand and stretch to the ground as algae settles to the bottom for harvesting. Less mature cells remain at the top of the system to allow for optimal solar exposure and air flow. 

Conceived of as stomachs, each bioreactor cell mediates between the rigid urban/industrial context and the intended ecological function of the network.

Component Matrix


Infrastructural Integration 

Rather than deploy cells across a discrete structural system, the second major iteration of the system relied on stringing the bioreactors throughout the existing superstructure of Pittsburgh’s 16th Street Bridge. By collocating the cells above and around exiting networks of vehicular circulation, the bioreactors are able benefit from the carbon dioxide emitted by passing cars. Additionally, the inherent vibration of the superstructure provides the constant agitation necessary to circulate nutrients, fresh water, and dead algae cells. 

Component to Canopy

Encouraged by the possibilities of engaging with the city’s bridges, our third and final iteration of the project moved away from developing discrete cells and instead focused on the creation of an integrated field condition of quilt-like panels. The penalization of the system relied on traditional origami operations to give each standard cell a multiplicity of formal, structural, and spatial arrangements while the material thinness assured that light could still penetrate the structure and illuminate the road below.