A Hydroponic Vision For The Future Of Architecture

Air pots, hydroponics, and “earthless cultivation,” at the Spanish pavilion of the 13th Venice Biennale Architecture Exhibition.

At this month’s Venice Biennale, you’ll find a building whose walls vibrate, a room wallpapered in QR codes, and a pavilion that changes every five minutes. What do they have in common? Each requires a certain amount of participation from us humans to be complete. The same holds true for Al Aire, an installation by Spanish architects SelgasCano, who have filled a gallery with cutting-edge agricultural technology. The architects hope to demonstrate how quickly agricultural technology is evolving, and how humans will soon be able to cultivate plant life with little or no access to the earth.


In a side room of SPAINLAB’s pavilion, the Madrid-based architects worked with biologist Josep Selga to set up a system of irrigated Air Pots, a type of super-efficient planter that’s covered in perforations, exposing plants’ roots to sunlight. The process is calling “air pruning,” and it encourages plants to grow axially instead of vertically, increasing the ratio of surface area to necessary soil (Al Aire means between air). In other words, more plants–and healthier plants–with less space.

The plants are fed hydroponically, which also cuts down on the amount of soil needed. A system called POREC delivers water and nutrients through a fabric tube full of tiny holes, meaning water is distributed evenly through the cylindrical planters. A hanging canopy of irrigation tubes are joined by dozens of wires that monitor and analyze the plants’ health.

SelgasCano have plumped the intersection of technology and nature before–look no further than their own office, which is embedded in a woodland grove outside of Madrid (Iwan Baan‘s images of the space are stunning). The duo, who both graduated from architecture school in 1992, are known for what come critics have called “pop architecture in the truest sense,” a reference to the office’s crowd-pleasing aesthetic. With Al Aire, they suggest that architects should pay attention to seemingly mundane technologies developed by industries peripheral to design. The central premise of the installation is to demonstrate the remarkable changes taking place in agriculture, sure, but it’s also a subtle criticism of the building industry. “Architecture tends to be, out of its own nature, a slow field in terms of innovation,” write the architects.

“Out of all this, a new movable agriculture emerges, and we will draw conclusions both in the botanical and architectural fields,” say the duo, adding, “by using a wide variety of plants and by working on a new paradigm of elastic, adaptive architecture.”

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.