Metabolic Venice | Algae and protocells anticipating evolved landscapes

“So no, I don’t accept that the future is over-sold : it’s productised an as a result it’s over constrained by our current ways of thinking and immediate practices …”
– Rachel Armstrong, letter to ARUP

The Venice Lagoon is the most important survivor of a system of estuarine lagoons that in Roman times extended from Ravenna north to Trieste. Later, it provided naturally protected conditions for the growth of the Venetian Republic and its maritime empire. In a context where the present aspect of the Lagoon is the result of human intervention, the need to provide Venice and other built-up areas in the lagoon with an effective sea defense system, has driven some experimental projects as MOSE Project or Paisajes Emergentes’ project “The Hours“.

Within all this references, the project Ecological Research & Macro Algae Monitoring Facility [North Arsenale, Venice] by Christopher Christophi reacts to recent pressures facing the Venetian Lagoon, specifically focusing on the increasing threat of invasive algae growth and the rising issues regarding the welfare of the lagoon, due to the nearing completion of the Lagoons MOSE flood gates.

Flood gates by Progetto Mose

Monitoring structures from the Macro Algae Monitoring Facility

Monitoring structures from the Macro Algae Monitoring Facility

Situated in the derelict naval warehouses at the North of Arsenale which face out onto the Lagoon, the project proposes a group of laboratories and structures that will monitor, analyse and understand algae growth and the welfare of the lagoon, whilst collecting and harvesting the existing crop for Bio-fuel to give back to the city. Christophi pointed:

These structures will stand alive, living symbiotically within their environment, by using the lagoons invasive species to drive the sustainability of the project whilst also creating a site specific architecture. The local living materials will create an interactive building which will evolve throughout the year reflecting the changing state of the lagoon and the Venetian climate.

Mimicking coral reefs

Grouped in colonies, corals secrete a stony cup of limestone around themselves as an exoskeleton thus formatting underwater structures called coral reefs. This layer is nothing more than Calcium Carbonate which is a common substance found in the rocks, but also in the snail shells and eggshells. Resembling this phenomena we should remark this interesting proposal for the Venice lagoon by Dr. Rachel Armstrong presented as a “remedial environmental intervention”. She has wrote about Venice environment in terms of an incredibly complex and precarious relationship, suffering with incredibly damage, desiccation, flooding through the aqua alta, chemical digestion and through the deposition of minerals unto the brickwork. And her response to this challenge is to create a kind of architecture that could be an interface between the artificial and synthetic technology, which can be able to provide a framework for new forms of interaction between nature and man structures.

Rachel Armstrong project for Venice

Armstrong’s project Architecture that Repairs Itself works with the idea that it is possible to grow an artificial reef by engineering photosensitive protocells with light aversive mechanism. As Dr. Armstrong explains, this process works because protocells respond very quickly to light with the right chemical ingredients in, moving away from the light filled canal and the lagoon and find a way into the darkened foundations underneath the city where then they create an artificial shell-like structure. This is not an exact science, it’s more like cooking, or like an agricultural practice, where the deposition needs to be farmed and engaged within a human context, not just left and walked away from and then expecting some kind of results in a number of decades. This approach mimicking nature shows glimpses of what future architectural practice would be. A task aware of living conditions around, in Armstrong case formed over time with the movements of the tides and currents. Architecture in symbiosis rather than isolated from it’s context.

Three interacting protocells. Via The Grayanat


We like to see these new kind of proposals dealing with floods in cities like Venice, as manifestations of mental evolution regarding our position into Earth. Maybe the very deep reason of proposals such as Christophi and Armstrong, is nothing more than preparing our mental frame to envision a future of plenty connection with nature. Despite our anthropocentric cultural perceptions, we are nothing more that another agent into the complete biosphere system and the final destiny of our human achievements is to be absorbed and nurture the nature to come.

Jason de Caires Taylor. Vicissitudes. Grenada

– On Evolution and Coral Reefs
– Videos on the behavior of protocells
– Dr. Rachel Armstrong on Facebook and Twitter
– On the artwork of Jason de Caires Taylor

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