Microalgae play an important role for life on earth. Capable of performing photosynthesis, these amazing organisms produce about half of the atmospheric oxygen while simultaneously using carbon dioxide to grow photoautotrophically. They also leave behind an energy-dense and nutrient-rich material that's an untapped renewable resource for humans. To shed light on this missed opportunity, architect Jacob Douenias and industrial designer Ethan Frier created an installation called Living Things, which uses furniture to cultivate a symbiotic environment between people and these microorganisms.
The piece, which was displayed at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, featured three stations–a living room, dining room, and kitchen–that each used the microalgae in a different way. The green, eerily-glowing glass vessels had photobioreactors inside of them, which provided heat, light, agitation, air supply, nutrient, and waste control to the living algae inside.
The entire system was connected through mile of wiring and plumbing that supported the main network located in the kitchen. Here, each of the 9 orbs could be adjusted individually, controlled by the 3D-printed knobs built into the table. These handles allowed the algae to be harvested once it became dense enough to supply energy to the installation. Through this unconventional set up, Douenias and Frier hoped to highlight a lesser known, sustainable form of power and show it's capable of powering our homes.
Photography by Tom Little Photography LLC, courtesy of the Mattress Factory.