Project description by jury
The Indus tile system uses the principle of microalgal bioremediation to clean polluted water. The ability of microalgae to convert complex organic and inorganic waste into less toxic products is the basis of this modular bioreactor – and has clear applications in developing countries, such as the textile industry. The surface was inspired by the veins on a leaf that have evolved to uniformly distribute water. Microalgae are grown on the tile using a novel seaweed-based hydrogel and are secured to the surface’s vein-like channels. Wastewater that flows down the wall is purified as the microalgae isolate heavy metals and degrade compounds from the dyes. The tiles can be used as a façade cladding element or can be tessellated to stand-alone vertical surfaces. The Indus tile system targets small-scale artisanal industries such as those in rural India that lack access to on-site wastewater treatment infrastructure – but with broad applicability in diverse geographies. The innovative building component would enable water regeneration and reuse within manufacturing processes, avoiding dangerous contamination of soil and natural water bodies. The tiles can be made from locally available materials and fabrication methods. Local communities can engage in the manufacturing process as well as in the maintenance operations, contributing to a circular economy.
The LafargeHolcim Awards jury Europe commended the project’s low-tech but high-impact approach. The bio-based technology with an extremely simple production not only makes it widely accessible but also promotes social sustainability through local skills. Based on careful research work, the multilayered and multipurpose character of the project was particularly appreciated: the tile not only purifies the water but can also initiate virtuous economic and social cycles in the communities that adopt this device. In addition, it offers the buildings a beautiful expression that changes over time – showing that a tile can do much more than what we might first think.
Tackling water pollution at the grassroot level
There are a large percentage of small-scale artisanal entities across the globe which have no access to any kind of wastewater treatment. Forcing them to discharge the water into surrounding natural water bodies, further contaminating them on a massive scale. With Indus, we aim to empower these local communities to regenerate water locally for reuse within their manufacturing processes. Tackling the problem of water pollution at the root. By using an off-grid system that performs a completely biological process, challenging the ways with which we interact with our existing surroundings and our natural resources. The tiles can be made by the artisans themselves from locally available methods of fabrication, assembling them into a wall as big or as small depending on the space available.
Empowering communities, spreading awareness creating new forms of employment opportunities
Just the way we all have preferred cuisines, different species of algae like to eat different types of heavy metals. Allowing Indus to be tailor-made to suit the manufacturing process and the relative pollutants identified in the polluted water. Further, the microalgae containing biomaterial will need to be replenished from time to time, just like the cartridges in a water filter. Therefore, through community engagement workshops, we will educate the local artisans, their wife and even their children, with the techniques of preparing and maintaining their own algae-gel solution - creating new forms of employment opportunities. Indus is a system integrated with biology, that makes human interaction and human involvement a key factor, especially in the current climate crisis.
Designing living systems for the circular economy
The algae will either break down the pollutants into a completely harmless state. Or they can be extracted from the gel and brought back into the system for creating other valuable products, closing the loop. The construction of Indus will also create an interdependent network - between the local tile artisan and the biomaterial supplier, allowing them to maintain their systems locally - giving shape to a truly circular economy. Indus uses the resources and techniques readily available to our artisans. While still managing to introduce futuristic techniques of wastewater treatment. A system that performs naturally, transitioning the artisans linear process into one of a circular economy. By converting one species trash into another's treasure.See more
Water pollution is a problem in many countries, often due to a lack of adequate infrastructure for wastewater treatment. Shneel Malik, doctoral student at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, proposes a system to purify water using microalgae: “It’s not only sustainable, it’s bio-integrated,” she says. “We aim at setting new forms of daily practices by rethinking our relationship to our natural resources – in particular, water.” The project is based on the ability of microalgae to convert complex organisms and inorganic waste into less toxic products. The algae are grown on ceramic tiles, and they isolate heavy metals from the water flowing over them. The design of the tiles is inspired by leaves and can be made with locally available materials. The tiles must be periodically renewed to maintain the system efficiency, and tile production and replacement provides new jobs.
The Awards jury commends the effective approach of the project. Bio-based technology with simple production lends itself to widespread application. “What makes this project stand out is the very elegant, carefully crafted prototype,” says Marilyne Andersen. “The project tests itself against reality. It was actually built to see how it would perform on a one-to-one scale.”Read more »
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