Algaevator: Spatializing Biotechnology Infrastructure

In collaboration with Jie Zhang

Part of the Burglars of Transnatural Transparency (BoTT) Lab pavilion, instructed by Jose Selgas (Selgascano Architects)

Fall 2013

Images copyright Iwan Baan

Selgas Cano MIT 6453 CORRECTED

What does it mean to spatialize and inhabit infrastructure? The Algaevator investigates the potential of biotechnology utilities to create transparent and lightweight architectural surfaces, such as roof membranes.

An algae photobioreactor is an artificial environment used to increase the production of algae through the introduction of slow movement, carbon dioxide, and increased access to sunlight. The algae is then used for various consumer products and alternative fuels.

The continuing development of uses for algae as a renewable resource has lead to its increased industrial production. Typically the devices used to propagate algae are hidden in agricultural and industrial structures. This proposal creates a weather-tight roofing system that can add both spatial value and agriculturally productivity to our everyday environment.


Research shows that gravity-based photobioreactors (a form of the device where the algae are never touched by moving mechanisms and pumps, but instead gently moved by air bubbles and gravity) have increased yields as they offer a milder form of movement and carbon dioxide introduction.

Algae Diagrams

The Algaevator intercoils three separate spirals between a heat-fused, water-tight, layered membrane.

Spiral 1: Introduces CO2 from the environment to the bottom of the Algaevator via a low-energy pump.

Spiral 2: Through a specially-designed valve, CO2 from Spiral 1 enters this algae-filled coil. Bubbles gently transport algae to the top of the Algaevator while providing it with CO2 for photosynthesis.

Spiral 3: Once at the top of the Algaevator, the algae is able to off-gas oxygen into the environment.  It then travels back down, through this spiral, to the bottom of the Algaevator for further cycling through the system.

Not only does the funnel shape optimize proper sun exposure for algae propagation, but it is able to harvest rainwater for adjacent bio-tech functions while dividing the otherwise open cube of the BoTT pavilion, providing spatial experience and implied visitor circulation.


The Algaevator operated successfully through the three-month deployment of the BoTT pavilion in Cambridge, MA, USA.


Selgas Cano MIT 6585