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Biotech in the built environment is turning Tallinn’s city waste circular

One of Marco Poletto's Urban Algae Farms
One of Marco Poletto's Urban Algae Farms

What happens to waste from cities? Could we build cities in future which will produce energy while consuming it? And how can we create interactions between nature and our urban architecture?

Speaking at TedxBucharest in April, Marco Poletto, Director of ecoLogicStudio, explained how the historic quest for sanitation has shaped the footprint of our cities today, our architecture, and the movement of energy production and waste treatment away from where we live, and out of our consciousness.

He thinks the strains of an increasing urban population lead to our failure to stay within biospheric boundaries, and the reason we fail, is our concept of nature.

He argues we should embrace ‘dissolution, destruction, digestion and death’, components fundamental to the circularity of natural ecosystems.

‘Anthropocene Island’

One example he cites is a place he calls ‘Anthropocene Island’, the site of the main waste water plant in Tallinn, Estonia. Noticing how birds are quite happy to hang around in the warm nutritious waters of the waste processing plant there, he brought together a team who took a non-anthropogenic, bird-like approach, inviting them to imagine a new city model that would grow from the waste of contemporary Tallinn.

What was proposed is the integration of microorganisms into Tallinn’s built environment, with bio-digestion becoming the founding principal of the new city. Little bio-digesting gardens could receive the waste water, beginning to process it, producing heat and nutrients which would begin to produce microclimates and niches, expanding the ecosystem, increasing photosynthesis, and the amount of biomass, which all would be fed back to the city.

Urban Algae Farm

Another idea is that of an urban “algae farm”, displayed in Astana in 2017, algae living in transparent tubes around the skin of a building were used to produce 1kg of low-carbon protein each day, enough food to feed twelve people (the equivalent of 8 cows), or 1 litre of bio-fuel, enough to power the average UK household.

Using urban microbiology, Poletto thinks the technology could help move us away from centralised power grids to entirely distributed networks. If Poletto’s ideas take hold, each of our houses, parks and public spaces could act as both a producers and a consumer of energy.

You can watch the full TedX talk below.

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