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Expressing Beauty with New Technology

Flower Street BioReactor by EMERGENT
Los Angeles, 2009.

Our point of departure for this project was to engage the nascent cultural paradigm shift from thinking about energy as something which comes magically from distant sources to something which can be generated locally in a variety of ways. Our goal was not, however, to undertake an engineering experiment, or to simply express material processes, although this is certainly one dimension of the project. Our primary goal was to create a sense of delight and exotic beauty around new technologies by decontextualizing them and amplifying their potential atmospheric and spatial effects.


The project is an aquarium-like bioreactor inserted into the facade of the building (our given site), which contains green algae colonies that produce oil through photosynthesis. The aquarium is made of thick transparent acrylic, molded to create the intricate relief on the front. This relief tracks along with and supports an internal lighting armature which is based on the Bio-feedback Algae Controller, invented by OriginOil in Los Angeles in July of 2009. This new type of bioreactor uses tuned LED lights which vary in color and intensity to support algae growth at different stages of development, maximizing output. According to OriginOil, “this is a true bio-feedback system… the algae lets the LED controller know what it needs as it needs it, creating a self-adjusting growth system.” At night, when this system intensifies, it generates a simultaneously urban and jungle affects: glittery reflections on acrylic combine with an eerie élan vital of glowing algae.

A solar array, used to collect energy during the day, spirals and winds up into the branches of an adjacent tree, jungle-style. This energy will be stored in a battery and used during the night to run the various systems.

Designer: EMERGENT/ Tom Wiscombe, LLC
Client: Dept. of Culture and the Arts, LA (DCA)

Type: Public Art Installation (2010)
Floor Area: N/A

Design Team:
Tom Wiscombe
Bin Lu
Chris Eskew
Ryan Macyauski

About Emergent

EmergentTom Wiscombe

EMERGENT was established, in 1999 by Tom Wiscombe. It's a a platform for architectural experimentation, dedicated to the transfer of techniques, logics, and sensibilities from science, technology, and computation into architecture.

EMERGENT’s primary directive is to move beyond categorical thinking and the stratification of building systems toward a more integrated future. This involves a re-examination of assumed hierarchies and discreetness of systems toward coherent yet heterogeneous organizations.

"We are particularly interested in how the different features and behaviors of structure, environmental systems, envelope, and lighting can be negotiated to produce emergent formal, spatial, and atmospheric effects."

Their work questions the dialectic of excess and efficiency in architecture to understand a more complex biological thinking. The cyclical process of mutation and selection in nature provides a model for making ecological architecture in the broadest sense of the word. This feedback logic is lived in the office through the use of generative algorithms and computational analysis, but also through hands-on design methods and trust in our acquired sensibilities.

Our interest is not in promoting either bottom-up or top-down design techniques per se, but rather in dealing with the inherent messiness of design problems which may be ill-served by allegiance to either. We prefer to focus on rich, exotic, synergistic effects in the field rather than auto-justifying processes in the lab.

We are, so to say, moving out of the lab and into the jungle.

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