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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Algae Green Loop in Chicago, Illinois by Influx Studio

December 16th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Influx Studio

While the world is looking for alternatives to fossil fuels, Algae is an unlimited source of energy, food, and most important, a remarkable natural CO2 absorber. Every industrial energy system inscribes its technological order into the urban fabric. Therefore, what shall be the shape and the fingerprint of the next ZERO CARBON economy in the big cities? So, which spatial implications shall have Algae’s new technologies, and which potentials integrations could be imagine for Algae bio reactors in central urban areas? Re-use is by far the most sustainable option: that’s why the key issue is how anticipate Algae’s green future in the core of the major cities, transforming existing building,  there where most of people live and where emissions of CO2 are the most important.


  • Architects: Influx Studio
  • Project: Algae Green Loop
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois

Closed Loop Diagram


Big cities around the world, like Chicago, are confronted by the same paradox in order to envision a livable future: supporting a bigger economic development while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by this growth. In that way, the Chicago Central Area Action Plan (CAAP) seeks to ensure and expand the downtown role as the engine of the regional economy. The goals established in 2003 were met or exceeded in 2009 and residential growth has far surpassed expectations! By 2020, the Central Area will reach an average growth of 5.000 jobs/year increasing in about 30% its residential population and according to CAAP; the downtown must improve its office growth by adding an annual average of 1.5 million sf. of office space! We can see easily that if buildings account for nearly 70% of greenhouse gas emissions (old buildings contribute the most) it seems really hard to conciliate these development goals with those of the Chicago Climate Action Plan (2008) which seeks an 80 % reduction in GH-gas emissions from ’90 levels by 2050.

Bridge View

This situation reveals the enormous need to introduce a new sustainable model which allows benefic closed loops in terms of providing clean energy, reducing and absorbing CO2 emissions, and finally, allowing sustainable economic growth. The Introduction of the Algae green technology has a major role to play to achieve zero environmental footprint in the core of the city.



This proposal anticipates an Algae retrofitting for one of the most innovative buildings constructed in the Loop of Chicago: The Marina City’s Towers. Promoted as a “city within a city” and built in1964 to stop an exodus to the suburbs, this 20th century masterpiece conceived by the architect Bertrand Goldberg, was not only the tallest apartment building in the world but also the first mixed-use complex in the USA to include housing. Few buildings in the world could have embodied better than Marina City’ towers the spirit of their time, reflecting in such iconic way the pattern of the fossil fuel economy in the built environment.


In the aim of the Chicago DeCarbonization Plan, and showing how Algae could be integrated in existing buildings, this project seeks to reduce the carbon footprint of the Loop area, going further than a classical “Retrofit” operation ( A comprehensive work on building envelope, heating & cooling, hot water, lighting systems, etc would be only the starting point). The main objective is to showcase Algae potential connecting with new emerging green technologies, to create a whole new CO2 scrubbing integrated system, which includes: to clean polluted air, to create energy onsite, allow food production, and to process all waste water to be reused.

Zoom View

Using bio-engineering processes, a synergetic closed loop integrates three different levels of carbon reduction: direct carbon sequestration from the air (used to feed the Algae bioreactor), absorption by vegetal photosynthesis (Algae, vertical farming and phytoremediation), and reduction by energy saving (introduction of solar and wind harvesting energy).


View within Balcony


Renewing both towers, including its lower 18 floors spiraling parking ramps, this project can be defined as a toolbox to reduce CO2 emissions and increase energy harvesting.

-          Advanced techniques are nowadays developed enough to allow the energy-efficient capture of CO2 from ambient air in a sustainable and economic way, like the ‘humidity swing,’ developed by Dr Klaus Lackner (Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, at Columbia University) In that way, two carbon scrubbing plants located on the towers’ top capture the CO2 from the air, filtering it, releasing oxygen and absorbing CO2. Closing the carbon cycle, we create a valuable product for beneficial use to feed the biomass production. At the top of both towers, new wind power turbines will enhance the carbon-scrubbing device air flow and providing it with electricity power.

Algae Diagram

–          The Algae Bioreactor shall produce energy enough to fulfill all building’s energetic needs. Located on both tower’s top and in one of the parking ramps, a modular system of algae tubes will be adapted to fit between the parking structure, and absorbs the sun’s radiation to produce bio fuel. The interior of former parking surface shall be widely reduced, to adapt it to new electric and biodiesel powered compact cars size.

-          The other parking ramp will be transformed in a phytoremediation device to clean used water. A really biodiversity spot, the Phytoremediation Garden uses natural gravity on the parking ramp to deploy a 2 km filter layout, producing recycled water, allowing to feed almost 1 ha of vertical farming, becoming a qualitative interface with near urban environment and being  a crucial contribution to the Loop biodiversity.

With algae

-          The semicircular balconies are improved to allow solar energy harvesting and vertical farming. Re-skinning the balconies envelope with photovoltaic and solar thermal panels, a supplementary source for electricity will improve the system autonomy. Vertical farming considers people participation as a driving force in CO2 reduction process: producing locally their own biological food, people take an environmental and social active role.

Street View

Deeply innovative by its global approach, this project represents surely the first architectural proposal which integrates an onsite Algae bioreactor with this new CO2 sequestration technology into an existing building, to reach the main goal of a strong DeCarbonization impact. Further benefits to this “cocktail strategy” are the creation of closed energy loops and development of social participation levels; this advantageous experience will make the Algae Marina City a benchmark for sustainable strategies all over the world.

Night View

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