Review of first Biolab Workshop 



Our "Build Your Own Bioreactor Workshop" with Angelo Vermeulen started off with a big shopping tour. First, we needed algae: either Spirulina or Chlorella. The latter we got from the befriended artist Thomas Feuerstein. He breeds algae in lovely bottles of TAIGA vodka at home. He also has been using algae in his art works 'Planet Paradies' and 'Manna Machine'. It seems that these days algae have become a perquisite in artistic practice and they are more easy to be obtained in the artist's studio than in the biologist's lab.

For a bioreactor, we, of course, needed stuff from the aquarium shop. Aeration pumps, tubing and stones, and a small aquarium. Growth also needs light, so all kinds of fluorescent lights were carried to the Greg Lynn studio at the University of Applied Arts, mostly equipment each of us had horded at home. LEDs and traditional light bulbs are equally valuable if you want to recreate our bioreactor workshop.

It is truly great fun to venture through thrift stores to get the odd bits and pieces you will need; metal baskets, or other frames one can fix the aeration or water tubes to and which can be built up into towers, racks and sculptural forms where the algae containers and the pumps can be mounted. Fixing is easily done with cable ties, duck tape or any other fastening elements such as clamps. To be able to assemble everything you need simple DIY tools.

In only two days of our workshop we created a bioreactor sculpture with the items mentioned above and even tried out to expose a thin layer of algae to a standing sound wave to see if and how it reacts. As it happens with probably most of first-time experiments it did not go that well. We could not see anything in particular let alone a wave or two on the algae but speculated a lot on the reflection of the artificial light in the algae-watered aquarium; if this was the wave or not. It was late in the day so this fact did not contribute to any kind of findings, either … I guess next time we will get closer to our aim. The idea to bring the bio-reactor parts into a closed loop emerged and we thought about sourcing energy for the light from solar panels.

With this workshop we inaugurated our Biolab and we are now transferring all our hardware and the bio-reactor equipment from the studio Lynn into our laboratory space. We revisited our QFD approach to decide which experiments we will be running. The QFD helps us to chose experiments of identified biological role models which are linked to selected growth principles and our architectural targets. With Julian Vincent we altered our selection of role models and experiments and with Angelo Vermeulen we decided in experimenting with mycelium and slime moulds (both on our QFD list) at the next workshop.


So stay tuned for new updates on GrAB - growingasbuilding!


by Barbara Imhof, Dec. 2013

PS: BTW plants like red and blue.
PPS: Plants don't like green because they are
*full of the light-absorbing chemical known as chlorophyll. They appear green but actually bounce back green and yellow light waves (

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