"The debate linked to a more responsive architecture, connected to nature, has been growing since the 1960s," explains Irina Shaklova in her description of her IaaC research project Living Screen. "Notwithstanding this fact, to this day, architecture is somewhat conservative: following the same principles with the belief in rigidity, solidity, and longevity."
While Shaklova's argument does generally ring true, that's not to say that there haven't been important developments at the cutting edge of architecture that integrate building technologies and living systems, including The Living's mycelium-based installation for the 2014 MoMA Young Architect's Program and self-healing concrete made using bacteria. But while both of these remain at the level of research and small-scale experimentation, one of the most impressive exercises in living architecture recently was made with algae - specifically, the Solarleaf facade developed by Arup, Strategic Science Consult of Germany (SSC), and Colt International, which filters Carbon Dioxide from the air to grow algae which is later used as fuel in bioreactors.
With Living Screen, Shaklova presents a variation on this idea that is perhaps less intensively engineered than Solarleaf, offering an algae structure more in tune with her vision against that rigidity, solidity, and longevity.
Instead of the more commonly-used water-based algae, Shaklova's project incorporates aerial algae, which does not require a constant flow of water to survive. The algae is trapped inside a growth medium that is 3D printed in a pattern created from a single continuous line, with line intersections that help improve the structural strength of the final screen.
Shaklova tested two different types of growth medium for the project, agar and Methylcellulose (powder hydrogel) with sodium alginate, finding that while agar was more efficient as a growth medium it presented problems for fabrication, as the algae had to be applied after the 3D printing process. Methylcellulose, on the other hand, could be mixed with algae before printing, dramatically simplifying the fabrication process.
Shaklova believes that the final result, a delicate 4 x 1.5 meter screen, offers an alternative to more standard water pump systems, with a shorter fabrication time and less technical details. Living Screen is also simpler to maintain, as it simply needs the right humidity to function - and even when this isn't possible, in adverse conditions the algae simply shuts down into a form of hibernation, restarting operations when the conditions are right again.
Designer: Irina Shaklova
Program: Master in Advanced Architecture, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IaaC)
Supervisor: Marcos Cruz