Carbon-absorbing, oxygen-producing, air-cleaning, an alternative energy source, an ecological beauty aid, a vitamin-rich future food: these are not words normally associated with a highway bridge. Yet with the addition of a system containing clear tubes, a pump system and a rich organic liquid, drivers in Geneva have an entirely new vocabulary with which to describe the function of bridges in their city.
Dutch-Flemish design group Cloud Collective installed an algae growing system on an ordinary Geneva highway bridge, turning an uncelebrated part of the city’s grey infrastructure into a platform for future urban food and fuel.
The benefits of the Culture Urbaine system to the immediate area and the city’s overall ecosystem are numerous. The algae eats the CO2 created by the cars and produces oxygen as part of its natural process. In addition, the algae produced by the bridge system, says the collective, “can be used to filter air, as a combustible biomass, or even as raw material for different cosmetic and alimentary products.”
Algae is a nutrient-rich food source, already widely appreciated and used extensively in a range of commercial products and biofuels. Less appreciated is its potential as a future urban food source given its ability to grow and thrive in urban environments and its dense nutrient content.
“The functioning and placement of this bioreactor,” says Cloud Collective, “signals practices of the future: food production in an urban environment, the conservation of green space and the reinterpretation of existing infrastructures.”
Cloud Collective’s inspiration for the project was to rethink the potential of merging natural and urban processes, to “try to prove that even these locations of highways and car routes – despite their anonymous and generic character – can play an important role in the production of food and biomass.”