A Living Building: world’s first algae-powered building

{The futuristic urban life}

If there are some things I find absolutely amazing about architecture is that it captures a moment in history, and is part of an evolving cultural phenomenon. I see each single building as a unique character that tells a story. Now, how will the future look like? What will the design of our buildings say about us?

Architects and engineers have been trying really hard to reshape our built environment into a living environment: cities that live in harmony with nature with buildings that function as living organisms. In recent years we have seen buildings dressing up their façades to power sustainable energy with new high tech gadgets; such as photovoltaic panels or wind-turbines. Now, scientists have managed to find a way to power our buildings with algae! Can it get any greener than this?

Image via: http://www.iba-hamburg.de

{BIQ House: Bio-Intelligent Quotient}

The BIQ House recently finished construction and was designed for International Building Exhibition in Hamburg, Germany. It is the first building of its kind that uses live algae as a smart material to deliver renewable energy. Also, this is a clever design that controls light and provides shading inside the building.


The sides of the building that face the sun contain glass louvers that enclose the micro-algae. The microalgae are continuously supplied with liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide via a separate water circuit running through the facade. With the aid of sunlight, the algae can photosynthesise and grow, which drives a dynamic response to the amount of solar shading required.

The algae will flourish and multiply in a regular cycle until they can be harvested. They are then separated from the rest of the algae and transferred as a thick pulp to the technical room of the BIQ. These little plants are then fermented in an external biogas plant, where they are used again to generate biogas. Algae are particular well suited for this, as they can produce up to five times as much biomass per hectare as terrestrial plants and contain many oils that can be used for energy.

The bioreactors not only produce biomass that can be harvested, but also capture solar thermal heat – both energies are used to power the building!

Image via: http://www.iba-hamburg.de

{The future is here}

This is definitely a glimpse into urban life in the future and clearly the first movement towards living buildings that respond and adapt to the conditions around them. And even though I think there’s something so exciting – almost poetic – about creating a building that is powered by photosynthesis, I cannot help but look at this building and think a) it looks like a dirty aquarium, and b) it looks like a crazy lab that is creating a Hulk-like creature in it.

Image via: http://www.iba-hamburg.de

But, it does say that we are stepping away from our old conservative construction ideas and we are experimenting with science and integrating this in building design. Buildings are an important part of our society and I cannot wait to see our cities transform into innovative living concepts.



Want to read more?

  1. http://www.biq-wilhelmsburg.de/
  2. http://www.archello.com/en/project/biq-house#
  3. http://www.iba-hamburg.de

4 Responses to “A Living Building: world’s first algae-powered building”

  1. setiawan says:

    Cool innovation. But what about countries that receive little sunlight

  2. hugh says:

    Really interesting! I think I remember seeing plans for a bridge that was coated in alage for energy generation..i think? Either way theyre awesome organisms with heaps of interesting applications

  3. This is indeed an interesting concept and I have seen it live in may. I will be there again in Decemember (and that basically means low temperatures, ice and snow in northern Germany) and am looking forward to learning how algae might perform under that conditions…!

  4. Kristie says:

    This innovation is really exciting!
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    I agree that buildings themselves also undergo evolution throughout human history.

    During photosynthesis by the algae I wonder if the consumption of carbon dioxide can be regarded as another strategy to reduce carbon footprint! Now this building is truly a living thing in which multiple biological cycles help balance the resources human use.

    I wish more buildings like this are going to be established all around the world! 🙂