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SoftSpot

SoftSpot is a sculptural installation which couples air purification with interactive public space in Garfield, PGH. Its suspended bioreactors are filled with sun-loving algae (Spirulina platensis) that consume carbon dioxide from the nearby environment and emit pure oxygen.

The installation is motivated by a belief in unfolding urban spaces into more complex, welcoming, and ecologically rich niches. Our streets are busy with cars, buses, and people who form a metabolic ebb and flow through the urban landscape. SoftSpot pulls off of the sidewalk, creating a sheltered moment and tying in to the urban carbon cycle in welcoming repose. We want to project a future urban landscape where the hard boundaries of urban form are made soft, and can serve as spaces for community roots to grow. The installation will contribute to the neighborhood’s artistic and community-focused character, and invigorate the street for neighbors and passersby.

SoftSpot is a series of modular algal bladders connected to a low-energy pump that pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the bottom of the suspended modules, which is consumed by the microalgae. As the algae grow, they emit pure oxygen which creeps slowly toward the top of the structure. The algae densify as they grow to create a shaded, green canopy for passersby. Algae can clean ten times as much carbon dioxide from the surrounding air than large trees, and our installation (approx 100 liters) will produce the oxygen equivalent of two hectares of woodland (~1000 trees). As Pittsburgh is one of the top ten most polluted cities in the US with regard to particle pollution, carbon reduction is critical.

By leveraging Marantha’s expertise in architectural design and Alex’s experience in algae cultivation techniques, we are able to create a piece which is focused on the issues of degraded communal urban space and low air quality, using algae as a creative medium for community engagement with environmental issues facing the city.

Funded by Pittsburgh, PA (September 2018)