A Visit to the Algae Lab at Atelier Luma in Arles
The Algae Lab designs ecological objects using natural resources from the Camargue region.
Let’s begin at the end – the end being no mean feat – with clean air as the waste product of everyday household items. Turning a plant into a 3D printable material need not be limited to the occasional and ornamental; eventually anything from washing-up liquid bottle to a dinner plate could be manufactured with not just zero, but negative emissions as the new goalpost.
The Algae Lab is a bio-laboratory proposing a new model for circular production through biofabrication and decentralized fabrication (for instance, 3D printing) through its study of local renewable resources, such as the cultivation of living micro-organisms sourced from the Camargue area. Since algae absorbs carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, as a production material it is CO2 binding and with widespread use can aid the prevention of climate change. By investigating how raw bio-materials, production methods plus makers and users can all be connected, the designers are thinking big – beyond central organisations as providers – instead the change should serve local needs with locally made product.
But let’s go back a step. The Algae Lab is one of five projects looking at natural resources of the Camargue region – ‘Algae Lab’, ‘Salt Crystals’, ‘Rooting Stones’, ‘Paper Electronics’, ‘Fitting Stones’ – all of which fall under the ‘Producing (in) the City’ theme. It’s one of six themes (others being Waste Matters, Healthy Mobility, Next Hospitality, Food Circle and Circular Education) devised by Atelier Luma since its foundation in 2016 as a think tank, production workshop and learning network based at LUMA Arles, the site under construction since 2014. Atelier Luma was created by the Luma Foundation, established in 2004 to ‘support the activities of independent artists and pioneers, as well as institutions working in the fields of art and photography, publishing, documentary and multimedia.’
Best known as a haven for Vincent van Gogh and the annual photography festival Les Recontres d’Arles, the injection of investment to the area comes from Maja Hoffmann, an heir to the Hoffmann-La Roche fortune, following the path led by her father and conservationist Luc Hoffmann who opened Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles. Despite facing some criticism from the festival’s former director, François Hebel, for edging it out, LUMA Arles is rapidly making its mark on the town (most notably with its gleaming Frank Gehry tower) as a place for production. The former rail yard has been rebirthed, fit for a Gucci cruise show with a chosen few, sure, but more vitally to help build a brighter future for the many.
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