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October 15, 2019

These algae tiles can turn any building into a pollution-scrubbing machine



As blogged on, the aquatic plants referred to as algae are single-celled, nonflowering organisms, untethered to the ocean floor beneath them. A phenomenon known as bioremediation allows these microorganisms to remove pollutants from their surrounding environment as they move—and a new project from the Bio-Integrated Design Lab at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture puts this natural process to work scrubbing polluted water.

Indus, a modular wall system created by Bartlett doctoral candidate Shneel Malik, is designed to clean water polluted with toxic dyes and heavy metals. The ceramic tiles, which are each inlaid with microalgae and a seaweed-based hydrogel, are assembled into exterior walls, so that contaminated water can enter the system and run off the other end clean and usable. After debuting the tiles at A/D/O in New York earlier this year, a wall made up of the Indus system was unveiled this fall in London’s Brompton Design District as part of curator Jane Withers’s Nature/Nurture program exploring how design is in conversation with our natural environment. The project’s broader, ongoing mission is to address water and soil pollution from textile dyes in India with affordable, l0w-tech infrastructure.

Indus‘s origins trace back to 2016, when Malik traveled to India as part of a project funded by the U.K. government aimed at solving global challenges, such as water pollution. Local, small-scale jewelry makers and textile dyers in India rely on water from natural streams nearby, which are heavily contaminated with cadmium, lead, and arsenic—thanks, in part, to the color dyes used on their fabrics. These toxic metals pollute the groundwater, soil, and air, which poses multigenerational health threats to the community.

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