Between the hydroponic vertical farm tended to by agri-acrobats, human-scale beehive and air pollution-scrubbing concrete pavilion with a $105 million dollar price tag, there’s certainly no shortage of spectacle at Expo Milano 2015, a six-month “bloated global extravaganza” poised to delight, intrigue and, ideally, get spectators to contemplate the at times sobering future of their dinner plates. 

Beneath all the pomp, pageantry and architectural one-upping, this hugely contentious, food-themed event — like with world's fairs past, the controversy comes with the territory — offers expo-goers an up-close glimpse at some truly game-changing innovations.

Urban Algae Canopy by ecoLogic Studio

Several years in development, the Urban Algae Canopy from Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of London-based ecoLogic Studio is one such standout in a sea of bottleneck-inducing standouts.

Situated in the heart of Expo Milano 2015’s Future Food District, a smart tech-driven “micro universe that explores new ways for people and food to interact” curated by MIT SenseAble City Lab director Carlo Ratti, the Urban Algae Canopy is the ultimate bio-tech multi-tasker.

A work of what Pasquero and Poletto call “bio-digital architecture,” the canopy, clad with water-, nutrient- and microalgae-filled transparent cushions made from ETFE fluoroplastic, functions as any proper canopy should: as a shading structure. Expo 2015 attendees, whether they're freaked out by the Future Food District's digital supermarket or simply seeking a cool place to rest and digest after a visit to the Nutella Concept Bar, can freely congregate under the Urban Algae Canopy. And given the photosynthetic nature of microalgae, the more sunlight the more shade — that is, the sunnier it is outside, the more quickly the translucent canopy’s living, breathing skin will grow and darken in color.

In addition to the position and intensity of the sun, the dynamic structure also responds to the movement of people.

ecoLogic Studio explains: “… visitors will benefit from this natural shading property while being able to influence it in real-time; their presence will trigger electro valves to alter the speed of algal flow through the canopy provoking an emergent differentiation across the space. In any moment in time the actual transparency, colour and shading potential of the canopy will be the product of this complex set of relationships among climate, micro-algae, visitors and digital control systems.”

Got it (mostly).

Along with providing refuge to overheated and overstuffed expo-goers, the nearly 400-square-foot Urban Algae Canopy works as a veritable lung, breathing in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. In fact, the Expo 2015 itineration of Urban Algae Canopy (ecoLogic has previously displayed smaller prototype structures harnessing similiar technology like the one shown in the below video) can produce the same amount of oxygen in one day as a 10-acre forest.

Finally, there’s the edible aspect. Capable of producing a sizable amount of biomass per day, Urban Algae Canopy also functions as a protein-rich, immune system-boosting food (or fuel) source. Early estimates released by ecoLogic put the amount of (daily) harvestable algae at over 300 pounds although that seems unlikely given the canopy's size which appears to have been scaled back for Expo 2015 since the project was first announced.

"The by-products of this process can plug directly into what we can call the expanded metabolism of the building, transforming it into a kind of power plant in itself," Marco Poletto explains to Dezeen. "It could provide the density and intensity of production that will be necessary to feed cities already now, but even more so in future years."

Expo 2015, an event that can best be described as Epot meets Eataly (or perhaps Disney's It's a Small World ride seen through the eyes of Michael Pollan), is being held in Milan — land of smooth, creamy, incredibly tasty gelato. The team at ecoLogic, however, are hoping expo-goers will expand their horizons and indulge in another variety of frozen treat. Spirulina ice cream, anyone?

Via [Gizmag], [Dezeen]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.