It’s crazy… but it might just work
Petrol stations that grow biofuels. Protocells that save Venice. Visionary architects are putting science at the heart of their bold plans to green the planet
1. Energy-generating skins for buildings
Visionary: Agustin Otegui, 29, a designer in Mexico City
The scheme: Otegui’s “Nano Vent-Skin” is a self-repairing skin made up of micro wind turbines.
How it would work: The structure’s outer skin absorbs sunlight through an organic photovoltaic skin and transfers it to a storage unit at the end of each panel. Nano-scale turbines on the panel generate energy from chemical reactions. Turbines’ inner skin works as a filter, absorbing CO 2.
Credibility rating: 6/10. We see plenty of uses, from lightstarved motorway tunnels to blades on giant wind turbines.
2. Biofuels factories at petrol stations
Visionary: Alan Leo Pleština, 40, of Croatian architectural firm UPI -2M
The scheme: His “Biooctanic” utility towers rise above petrol stations, growing biofuels and cleaning the air.
How it would work: UPI -2M says its “crop production towers” will use algae and bamboo to grow biofuels for vehicles below. The towers save arable land, and cut transport costs for moving the fuel. They also filter smog-filled city air.
Credibility rating: 8/10. The project was shortlisted as a finalist in last year’s World Architecture Festival in Barcelona.
3. A sandstone wall across Africa
Visionary: Londonand Stockholm-based architect Magnus Larsson, 33
The scheme: His “DUNE ” project would fight desertification by solidifying shifting desert sands into a 6,000km sandstone wall across the Sahara. The structure would be habitable.
How it would work: Flushing bacillus pasteurii bacteria through loose sand causes a biological reaction, turning it into sandstone. Already in use in earthquake zones.
Credibility rating: 6/10. Larsson is testing a 1:1-scale prototype. But the full 6,000km wall would cost billions.
4. Protocells to save Venice
Visionary: Rachel Armstrong of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
The scheme: Venice is sinking. To save it, Armstrong proposes a novel living technology that does its own repairs and sequesters carbon.
How it would work: Metabolic materials, or “protocells” – simple chemical agents which move in, sense and modify their environment – would shore up the city on an artificial reef.
Credibility rating: 5/10. It’s awaiting further testing. But who wouldn’t want to save the “Bride of the Sea”?
5. New York’s living vertical farm
Visionary: Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut, 32
The scheme: Callebaut proposes a vertical farm, inspired by the wings of a dragonfly, for Roosevelt Island in New York.
How it would work: Dragonfly is billed as “a true living organism”, selfsufficient in water, energy and biofertilising. Spanning 132 floors and 600 metres high, it would use 28 agricultural fields to produce fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy. Solar panels and wind turbines generate energy.
Credibility rating: 4/10. Bold but unlikely.
6. The self-sufficient leisure park
Visionary: Frank Tjepkema, 39, head of Dutch studio Tjep.
The scheme: Oogst 1000 Wonderland is a “closed-system”, self-sustaining farm with restaurant, hotel and amusement park, supplying its own energy and water, and recycling all waste.
How it would work: Guests donate services for accommodation. Growing areas provide the food. Waste is processed into methane and converted into electricity: guests are paid to use the loo.
Credibility rating: 6/10. Inspired by real life but still very much a concept. Nick Ryan