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Neoplasmic architecture: Alga(e)zebo by MAM in London

AR_EA 2015 Commended

Part of London’s dressing up in preparation for the Olympics took the form of the Greater London Authority’s Wonder: Incredible Installations, a selection of 14 ‘moments of wonder’ scattered through the city for the visitor to stumble across between July and September 2012. While the half-hearted icon that is the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the bizarre mascots Wenlock and Mandeville have perhaps permanently tainted the memory of Olympic sculptures, most of the ‘incredible installations’ thankfully displayed more nuance.

Oscillating between gimmicky, playful and thoughtful, five were the work of staff at the Bartlett and were of a particularly natural bent (Alga(e)zebo, Bloom, Drip and CJ Lim and Matthew Wells’ Tr(ee)logy). The others varied from an interactive Song Board near King’s Cross to an invasion of giant shot puts and bows and arrows – so-called ‘gifts from the Olympic gods’.

‘Alga(e)zebo is a blend of sophisticated geometry with the growth and monitoring of algae’

Mam Algaezebo London uk

Mam Algaezebo London uk

Source: Richard Beckett

Alga(e)zebo in Euston Square Gardens was the work of marcosandmarjan (MAM) architects – the Bartlett’s Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti – with UCL’s algal biology researchers. Blending sophisticated geometry with the growth and monitoring of algae, it brought to the heart of the project a relationship MAM feels is too often wasted on facade treatments. 

Algae is something of a theme for MAM: at the Naturalising Architecture exhibition at the Turbulences Frac Centre in 2013, the practice produced an ornamental wall structure that doubled as a scaffold for algae that slowly overtook its surface. 

‘Alga(e)zebo is perhaps indicative of more experimental architecture research to come’

MAM refers to its work with new technologies as ‘neoplasmatic design’, a term encompassing work that uses design as a means of exploring and manipulating biological material, and conversely emphasises the impact that developments in surgery, biology and medicine could have on architecture. While the biological has long been a formal or an organisational reference point for architects, developments in other disciplines make concepts such as evolution or self assembly more immediate concerns for the built environment.

Mam Algaezebo Uk4

Mam Algaezebo Uk4

Source: Richard Beckett

In this sense, Alga(e)zebo is something of a built manifesto for these neoplasmatic theories. The three tree-like Corten forms of Alga(e)zebo reference the filigree structures of traditional gazebos as they stretch up and outwards to create a perforated, lily pad-like canopy. The shapes were created with a bespoke parametric script, allowing for a calculation of the distribution of forces through the complex geometry. 

Recycled Corten was shipped from Germany and bolted together on site. This was also intended to refer to London’s exposed steel paraphernalia – railings, fountains and pipes.  

The largest of the three ‘trunks’ wraps around a seating area; the other two house a column of cylindrical algae jars, appearing as the fleshy interior of this steel bark wrapping. Specifically, these were photobioreactors, containing samples of Chlorella sorokiniana – microalgae with a distinctive emerald green colour used in biofuel efficiency research – in different strengths of agar.

Mam Algaezebo London UK8

Mam Algaezebo London UK8

Plan of Algaezebo

Over the course of two months, ventilation tubes leading into the cylinders encouraged the entry of local algae, which gradually mutated the form of the original samples and served as a physical manifestation of the negotiations between architecture and nature MAM was seeking to explore.

The weathered steel and large, misted jars of Franken-algae lent the whole installation something of a ‘mad scientist’ feel, bringing to mind the displays at the Wellcome Collection opposite. Although modest in scale and brief in duration, Alga(e)zebo is perhaps indicative of more experimental ‘architecture research’ to come.

Alga(e)zebo

Architects: marcosandmarjan

Photographs: Richard Beckett

 

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