Marco Poletto's algae-based sculptural designs envision a new kind of sustainable city, "which may contribute to solving the global and ecological crisis in which we currently find ourselves," he says.

Marco Poletto’s algae-based sculptural designs envision a new kind of sustainable city, “which may contribute to solving the global and ecological crisis in which we currently find ourselves,” he says.

Marco Poletto, is both a PhD student at Aarhus School of Architecture and partner in London-based ecoLogicStudio, a firm which creates eco-friendly urban systems that interact with the inhabitants of cities.

As a research fellow at Aarhus, Mr. Poletto is part of the so-called ADAPT-r programme, under which architects, designers, and artists carry out research into their individual works and processes, with the aim of developing professional practice.

In this context, Mr. Poletto’s project focuses on the relocation of the sculptural prototype Urban Algae Folly from the Portuguese city Braga to Aarhus. Here he will develop further user involvement in the prototype with apps, websites, and other digital tools.

“Using bottom-up processes, we hope to further the understanding of new production and consumption patterns and promote a new kind of sustainable city which may contribute to solving the global and ecological crisis in which we currently find ourselves,” Mr. Poletto explains. He expects Urban Algae Folly to be in place in Aarhus sometime during the summer of 2016.

Urban Algae Folly was built in 2015 on Praca da Republica – the central square of the Portuguese city Braga. It is a piece of biodigital future-oriented architecture created for the cultivation of microalgae. Urban Algae Folly is a form of urban farming which develops a cheap and high-protein dietary supplements for the world’s fast-growing population.

But it does more than that says Mr. Poletto. “Microalgae are exceptional photosynthetic machines; they contain nutrients that are fundamental to the human body, such as minerals and vegetable proteins. Microalgae also oxygenate the air and can absorb CO2 from the urban atmosphere ten times more effectively than large trees.”

The cultivation of algae takes place in a pavilion covered with a kind of “skin” in which the microalgae Chlorella grow. The “skin” creates ideal growth conditions for algae and also provides comfort for visitors on sunny days where the algae grow quickly, thereby providing shade in the pavilion. And, owing to a computerized operating system, the presence of visitors in the pavilion additionally helps increase oxidation and thus algae growth and protection from the sun. In this way, a symbiotic interaction occurs between environment, algae production, humans, and digital systems.

“The Urban Algae Folly produces 35g of edible algae every day,” says Mr. Poletto. “In terms of protein, this is the equivalent of 750g of meat per day. In six months the folly will produce protein equivalent to a small-size cow – or the necessary intake for four people in the same period. The Urban Algae Folly furthermore absorbs 1.5 Kg of CO2 a day and produces 750g of oxygen per day – the amount of oxygen one person uses per day.”

In cooperation with Mr. Poletto’s partner in ecoLogicStudio, Claudia Pasquero, they have been doing research into socio-ecological urban systems since 2006. Examples of their work are the project in Braga, a similar pavilion at EXPO Milan 2015 and a series of earlier prototypes.