SOM presents an alternative to cement made with microalgae

During the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill presented a pavilion made entirely of Bio-Block Spiral, an experimental brick capable of sequestering carbon dioxide from the air.

For this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill did not present a specific architectural project, but rather a new building material. In fact, to build the installation placed inside The Mews, in the vibrant Fulton Market district, the American firm used algae-based bricks inside the pavilion. Called Bio-Block Spiral, the experimentation presents an alternative to the use of concrete in the construction industry.

Made in collaboration with Prometheus Materials, the building module is composed of microalgae-subjected to a patent-pending photosynthetic biocementation process-already naturally capable of sequestering carbon. According to the styles offered by the study, the material would be capable of reducing global CO2 emissions by an incredible 8 percent. While currently in the performance testing phase, Bio-Block is already available for selected projects and is a direct replacement for the carbon-intensive concrete masonry units (CMUs) commonly used in modern construction.

The architects conceived a spiral form for the occasion that invites visitors to Fulton Market to step off the street and immerse themselves in the installation. A central space provides a view of Halsted Street by using Bio-Blocks rotated at regular intervals to create openings, emphasizing the elegance of the block-and-wall construction. Pleated ends further highlight the versatility of the block and enhance the structural rigidity of the installation, allowing it to stand independently.

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