From kelp to unicellular cyanobacteria, many different species of algae populate the waters of Venice. Native and invasive species are competing, impacted by the growing tourism industry and the local effects of climate change. Algal blooms that occur are mainly symptoms of larger human-induced phenomena. At the same time, algae are frequently touted as a miracle solution for producing energy, cleaning up pollution and producing materials, creating momentum in the biotechnology sector.
From November 16 to 19, Atelier LUMA led a two-part workshop in Venice with the aim of researching algae and its many manifestations in the local context. One group explored the potential of materials derived from algae, while another explored the algae landscape and its entanglements with the natural, industrial and cultural networks of Venice.
A boat trip was organized for the first group, focusing on materials, to explore the urban area and see the algae growing in different parts of the city, such as the canals, the staircases and the water bus stations. A total of seven species of algae were identified. Samples of the most abundant species, Ulva and Sargassum, were collected for materials research.
The team then experimented with different formulations of algae-based paste mixing freshly harvested algae with ingredients such alginate, lithothamne and glycerine (the still-wet algal biomass represented up to 90% of the mix). They mixed by hand to produce a smooth and homogeneous paste, with a consistency similar to clay. Using a clay 3D printer, they processed the mixtures into different shapes. 3D-printing algae paste is a simple and low-tech way to put macroalgae’s properties to use: it involves a minimal number of steps between harvesting and shaping. Furthermore, it makes hyper-local transformation and temporary production runs possible during algal bloom periods.
The second group looked at how algae functions in Venice’s local context. The algae inhabiting the lagoon are mainly unseen or undesired, so researching them requires looking for traces around the city. The group investigated local fishing activity, local food traditions, the archiving practices of the Natural History Museum of Venice, and industrial algae-based applications such as paper production, waste treatment and coastal defense strategies against rising waters. The team worked on mapping the role of algae in the lagoon by connecting it to this broad range of urban activities.
This two-part exploration aims to make algae and underlying urban infrastructures more visible. It approaches algae as a fascinating interface between geographical zones (the lagoon and its surroundings), between systems of activities (cultural, economic, industrial) and between humans and non-humans. Further development of the workshop will focus on designing scenarios that give algae an active role to play in the context of the lagoon.
Workshop by Atelier LUMA as part of “Non-Extractive Architecture” at V-A-C Zattere, curated by Space Caviar
With the participation of:
Soo Jung Ryu
And “Non-Extractive Architecture” research residents:
Pablo Prado Serrano
With contributions from We Are Here Venice, Simona Armeli Minicante from CNR-ISMAR and Daniele Brigolin from the University IUAV di Venezia