Photosynthetic Facade

Holly Jordan*

Posted on Friday, November 12th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

This proposal focuses on the potential found within building skins and their unique set of functional criteria. While meeting functional aspects, these surfaces also act as the most apparent outward aesthetic of the building which they house. Internally, they modulate an occupant’s experience and exposure to the outside elements. In climates with large seasonal temperature fluctuations, building skins must satisfy even higher demands for keeping internal spaces comfortable. Sustainability objectives focus on reducing energy use (and energy waste), thus placing even greater demand for high performance building envelopes. Additionally, as occupants, we desire spaces that allow us visual and sometimes physical access to outdoors. In short, we want maximum views to the outside while we sit in the modulated comfort of indoors, paying as little as possible to achieve this.
For as long as our internal environment temperatures vary from external temperatures, net heat loss or gain is inevitable. We therefore need to develop alternate means to offset that loss or gain. By thickening the building skin and injecting it with an algae production farm, this building envelope aims to become a net producer of energy as opposed to the ‘standard’ as just a mediated heat loss/gain system. A network of flexible, ETFE tubing houses the algae, suspended in water and placed inside of a double skin façade system. The internal air naturally stratifies, and exhausts at the ceiling at each floor into the double skin cavity. The CO2 latent return air feeds a series of bubblers which aerate the algae tube system.

In conjunction with its exposure to the sunlight, the algae feeds on the CO2 and therefore grows. The water solution within the tubes also act as a heat sink to absorb heat from sunlight and exhaust air. The heat energy can be redistributed to other zones of the building by passing air through the double skin cavity. Over time, the algae solution intensifies in color as it develops, until it is harvested through a main drainage system. The cycle is completed once the tubes are refilled with fresh, young algae solution.

The tube system is aligned vertically to allow the fluids flow naturally through them. The roof is also canted to not only allow the tube system to distribute fluid and drain, but also to allow for rain water runoff on its exterior surface. The resulting network is a curtain of tubes surrounding the building. In response to occupant use, activity, and outward expression, the tubular system can be manipulated and controlled by a system of muscle wire. Muscle wire responds to charges sent through it by elongating (or shrinking).

Advisor: Rodolphe el-Khoury

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