Non Sterile by Steve Pike
Non-sterile and Algaetecture collectively embrace a series of studies, experiments and constructions that set out to explore micro-organic material and microbiological processes as prospective components and tools for design. The incorporation and application of microbial activity, its associated environmental modification capabilities and resultant material product, along with the extensive aesthetic considerations, offers immense potential to architecture. The knowledge and expertise of the microbiologist Professor Conrad Mullineaux was enlisted which, in collaboration with my intention as the designer, resulted in an interdisciplinary approach where the laboratory effectively became the design studio.
Initial investigations were concerned with the manipulation of small colonies of cyanobacteria, specifically photosensitive algae; the extent and form of their territorial progression demonstratively controlled by withholding or applying light. These elementary studies progressed to the development of a series of Interaction Vessels, controlled environments in which differing micro-organisms were introduced and manipulated. By the application of facilitators and inhibitors, bespoke devices affording some influence over the microbial growth, the outcome could be partially designed with other parameters established by the self determination of the colonies themselves.
The facilitators applied point light sources for the phototropic cyanobacteria and more generally a glycerine solution for fuel and hydration. By contrast, the inhibitors delivered a fungal growth restrictor or a chlorine solution. Extending the interdisciplinary approach, Dr.Richard Strange brought his expertise of Mycology, Nick Callicott his knowledge of cad-cam manufacture and numerous craftsmen and technicians lent their skill in the production of blown glass, vacuum-formed acrylic and various precision components, each guided by the overall design intent.
The information gathered and principles established by these studies were combined in the development of a final installation, which in addition, addressed the issue of human scale. Transformer Vessels were constructed at half scale, each to a length of 1200 mm, a considerable departure from the laboratory scale of the 90 mm diameter standard Petri dish. Designed as an architectural component, the vessels proposed that the inherent ability of certain algae to absorb carbon dioxide and to produce oxygen could be harnessed within an architectural surface, potentially modifying their immediate environment. They were created by heat deforming high-impact transparent acrylic, a resilient material readily sterilised; a taut nylon membrane was suspended and set within an agar based growth medium incorporating the cyanobacteria Synechocystis for uniform growth. A partially living hybrid emerged; the vessels assembled alongside the requisite support infrastructure of facilitators, inhibitors, structure and discharge systems.
Maintaining sterile conditions became a predominant concern of the installation. Inevitably, contamination occurred as ambient micro-organisms infiltrated the vessels, subverting the transformative intent. In response, a compositional modification transpired and the installation Nonsterile emerged. The vessels were reconfigured to encourage the growth of captured microbes, they became Monitor Vessels. Filled with potato dextrose agar, a medium that facilitates fungal growth in particular, contamination flourished, manifesting the imperceptible abundant cohabitants of the environment in which we exist.