In some ways, H.O.R.T.U.S. feels like any other greenhouse. It has the usual phalanx of wide-spectrum light strips overhead and sunlight pouring into the windows and fresh oxygen pumping through in the air. It’s just missing one thing: actual plants.
Instead, 325 transparent “photobioreactor” bags–enclosed vessels for producing biomass–dangle off the ceiling and incubate nine different species of algae. Interspersed between the algae are 25 additional, larger sacks that contain bioluminescent bacteria. In theory, both organisms can be used to manufacture green energy. H.O.R.T.U.S., then, isn’t so much a greenhouse as it is an unusually chic alternative energy mill.
Here’s another way it differs from most greenhouses: It’s thoroughly interactive. Each algae sack has a long clear plastic tube into which visitors are encouraged to gently blow, oxygenating the algae with the carbon dioxide in their breath. QR codes on each bag give anyone with a smart phone detailed information about the algae they just helped nurture; they can tweet about the organisms, too. Those tweets and QR scans help “grow” a virtual garden on a display screen nearby.
The point? For all the talk about harnessing nature to develop more sustainable ways of living, there’s still a huge disconnect between where green energy is harvested and where it’s consumed. H.O.R.T.U.S. puts algae cultivation right there in your face–or, more precisely, in your mouth–and adds some 21st-century cyber action to show how all of us can participate in sprouting a greener future.
H.O.R.T.U.S. (an acronym for Hydro. Organisms. Responsive. To. Urban. Stimuli) was designed by London-based ecoLogicStudio and is on view at the Architectural Association in London until February. More info here.