Algal infused, living furniture generates heat, food and light (Video)

Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier
© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier

Versatile and abundant, algae has figured prominently as an alternative biofuel, as a food source, and as an architectural material. But for designers Jacob Douenias and Ethan Frier, spirulina algae could also have a role in our homes as lighting and furniture, producing food, fuel, heat and light.

© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier

In their collection Living Things, now on display in Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art in Pittsburgh, the pair of Carnegie-Mellon University graduates demonstrate the different uses of cyanobacteria, or more specifically, spirulina, which was “chosen for its rich green hue, light absorbency, and culinary qualities,” and cultivated in hand-blown glass vessels filled with alkaline water. The designers created three "vignettes" of dining room, living room and a control centre -- each lit with a different version of these glowing algal farms mounted on walls or set into tables.

Living Things from Ethan Frier on Vimeo.

They envision a kind of symbiotic relationship between residents and the spirulina, where the algae can be grown and harvested from "glass vessels [that] function [as] high functioning photobioreactors, which provide heat, light, agitation, air supply, nutrient and waste control to the living algae inside."

© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier

The system is connected via a series of tubes and wires, housed in the central control cabinet:

[...E]ach of the nine vessels' life support systems can be adjusted individually. The 3D printed nylon knobs embedded in the surface of this workstation actuate eighteen valves which allow for the harvesting of Spirulina when the culture becomes dense enough, and the supply of fresh liquid media to each vessel. Inside the cabinet the pumps, tubing, manifolds, LED drivers, air pumps, heater connections and filters which comprise the heart of the life support system.

© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier
© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier
© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier
© Jacob Douenias & Ethan Frier

In addition to heat and light, these algal incubators can produce food for the home. Spirulina can be transformed into a powder that is over 60 percent protein by weight. Packed with nutrients, it can be added to smoothies and other food. To prove this point, the designers plan to harvest spirulina from the installation throughout the year, and will work with chefs and bartenders to create spirulina-inspired cuisine and drinks for events that will be held at the museum.

So might we be growing food by virtue of having these kinds of lamps? Tackling issues like alternative energy and food security all at once, the integration of living matter into multifunctional home furnishings in order to generate biomass for heat, fuel and even food is ultimately an alluring idea that we might actually see incorporated into more homes someday. More over at Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art.

Tags: Furniture

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