Coral, source of inspiration for architects

More and more engineers and entrepreneurs, concerned with developing more sustainable and energy-efficient solutions, are turning to the way nature works. With this bio-inspiration are born numerous research and development projects in sometimes very different fields, such as the design of anticancer or antiviral drugs, or of structure or “corallo-inspired” material for the urban architecture of the future.

→ READ. Corals, a fascinating and little-known ecosystem

Thus, intrigued by the ingenuity of the natural phenomena of photosynthesis and the symbiosis between unicellular algae and the coral itself, Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières, architects of Agence XTU in Paris, worked for ten years to integrate photosynthetic microalgae into the southern envelope of a residential tower. ” What we call a bio-facade “, Specifies Anouk Legendre.

Mimic photosynthesis

The idea is simple: mimic photosynthesis. From CO2 of air, water and energy brought in by the sun’s rays, a small chemical factory located within each algal cell works hard to produce oxygen (O2) and carbohydrates (sugars), recoverable and recoverable as food, pharmaceutical or cosmetic ingredients.

The main difficulty? Invent a system mimicking the surface of the water on which the sun’s rays strike, the inputs arrive (CO2) and output the outputs (O2 and algae) so that the chemical reaction is carried out under the best possible conditions. The solution ? Invent a kind of double glazing with one compartment filled with air and another, such as a flat aquarium, containing water in which the algae live fed by air bubbling. In short, a kind of bioreactor producing microalgae. This system also makes it possible to regulate the building thermally, saving energy, the heat recovered can, for example, supply hot water tanks.

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→ MAINTENANCE. Nature is a great reservoir of solutions

Inspired by the work of engineers from NASA and the European Space Agency aimed at producing consumable plants for long-lived inhabited trips, the architects and their team decided to produce spirulina, a food algae rich in proteins, minerals and trace elements.

Design “bio-organic concrete”

Two patents, French and international (Europe, China), have been filed, and the project received the prize of the Single Interministerial Fund in 2015. For five years and with a budget of 5.4 million euros, the architects collaborated with private partners (Viry, Oasis, Algosource) and the State. A prototype was built at the Scientific and Technical Center for Building in Champs-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne). The construction of the first tower should see the light of day in the 13e arrondissement of Paris in the fall.

Besides algae, another aspect of coral attracts the attention of innovators: The ability of coral to rebuild echoes the search for a self-healing material, the grail for us architects “Admits Anouk Legendre. The idea? Design a kind of “bio-organic concrete”, made by mineralizing bacteria from an organic frame and why not recovery material. But the subject is not yet mature enough.


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