The gardening tradition has deep roots in England: picturesque landscapes cultivated in the 18th century made way for the first greenhouses, and 19th century England was soon dotted with miniature Crystal Palaces to house lush, exotic environments. But the relationship between nature and architecture has evolved drastically since then: manmade technologies have all but surpassed nature in programming the flows of our planet, and nature itself is becoming increasingly unnatural as we invent more and more ways to preserve its essential qualities.
One patent sign of this increasingly complex symbiosis can be found at the Architectural Assocation in London in a new exhibition called H.O.R.T.U.S., or Hydro Organism Responsive to Urban Stimuli. Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of London-based studio EcoLogic have created a sci-fi ‘greenhouse’ in which 325 transparent photobioreactor bags containing nine different species of algae have taken the place of traditional plants. A recent visit from Domus revealed a catenary structure of acrylic rope strung with sacks of algae, which range in color from green to pink to brown. The bags come attached with clear plastic tubes, into which visitors can blow and assist the oxygenation and growth of the algae with their very own carbon dioxide.
H.O.R.T.U.S. is designed to be a thoroughly interactive environment. Visitors meander through a field of green carpet, gently exhaling into plastic tubes that dangle like the exposed roots of an orchid. Like in any good interactive exhibit, visitors are also invited to whip out their smart phones and scan QR codes to access information about the algae, triggering a flow of information in tandem with the flow of biomass. Scans and tweets about the exhibition are harnessed to actively shape a virtual garden rendered in real time on a screen in the exhibition.
This literal interaction between man and nature in H.O.R.T.U.S. is not only a means of promoting algae as potential alternative source of energy and food but also a hands-on exploration of the forecasted relationship between architecture and biology. The intriguing yet indisputably disturbing aesthetic of EcoLogic’s urban ‘garden’ asks the question: at what point does nature become artifice and vice versa? Here, ideas are being cultivated, perhaps more so than organic life.
[All images via Domus]