- WHEN -

Aug - Dec '15


Pittsburgh, PA


This project stands at the confluence of housing as a social practice and housing as an environmental practice. Although, each has a unique agenda and unique tools (to manifest either a diversity of social conditions or to mitigate the effects of living), it becomes this project’s prerogative to both forefront an ecological agenda, and foster a community. This project stands in opposition to the notion that these issues and their approaches are separate.

SCALES | Algae + Housing

From the on set of the project, Kelli and I worked at a series of scales, moving with a fluidity from scale to scale, as each had an effect on the other. We named the five scales: private [the space within the home or unit], shared [the interstitial space between units, porch space/windows], communal [the internal yard space shared by the surrounding units, the courtyard], collective [the space between communal groupings, the piazza, the square], strip [the site, three collectives, each with distinctive purpose, but also their connection to the neighborhood]. Each scale was thought of from the perspective of algae growth as well as from the perspective of social conditions and how they manifest in the housing.

PRIVATE + SHARED | Voronoi Unit

Three different sized units set the formwork for a diverse community. Each face of the unit cell is either algae panel, clear, or translucent glazing determined by solar access and privacy concerns along that face.  The openings in the algae panels are determined by programmatic necessities for views or privacy. 

COMMUNAL | The Piazza

The units are arranged around a central courtyard, a piazza for informal social, intellectual, and creative exchange and gathering. The different spaces are mediated by algae panels with varying transparencies and openings. 


This project is interested in housing a community, not simply housing people. Operating at a series of scales, acknowledging an equal responsibility to the residents in the community, as well as the surrounding public, near and far. The housing units share porch space around a common plaza, mimicking the typical Pittsburgh porch as a blurring of the threshold between public and private. The communal groups of housing units are clustered to create larger courtyards that open up to the landscape, forming meandering paths and networks between the common spaces. The clusters make up three collectives, forming a gradient from the residential to the open, public pavilion.


The systems at the communal level manage rain water and algae production. The algae growth was cycled on daylight and nighttime LED’s, maximizing growth time for the algae, but shutting off when the resident would go to sleep. The collected water was cycled back for use within the house as well as with the algae.

ALGAE | Energy + Community

The algae is leveraged as both a community building tool and an energy supplier. Positioned at every scale, the algae begins as a spacial divider, a panelling system that opens and closes between units. As the system grows, the algae production organizes the units into collectives, each collective responsible for something different in the processing of the algae. One collective more residential and simply supporting growth, the next housing the processing systems as well as the people who maintain those systems, the last housing algal exports and community resources. At the largest scale, the algae fosters the connection of this new community to that of The Strip and beyond. Operating as both a case study and open house for the use of algae that people can visit, but also allowing experimental use in cooking and diesel fuel production to create exports that connect the community to the city.


The Strip District is a post-industrial neighborhood, a flat plateau in the hills of Pittsburgh, sitting on the shore of the Allegheny River. Highly regarded as a tourist location, the neighborhood exists only as a stop between, home to a transient population, coming and going with the day. This project aims to reestablish a community and connect it back to the surrounding neighborhoods and greater Pittsburgh area.


Using DIVA for Rhino and Grasshopper to optimize solar exposure for the algae panels, the units were aggregated across the site. The site was shaped and formed to create three collectives, manage water through riparian zones and wetlands, and mediate waterfront access.  Water flow and landscape absorption was analyzed with a grasshopper script, and then readjusted. This continual feedback loop of making, testing and evaluating, then making again, carried throughout the project.


The site was programmed in three collectives. The center grouping - [algae processing] infrastructure to process the algae, [algaeTEST] facilities to test different growing methods and uses, [algaeLABS] to perform experiments and gather data on the algae grown in the units, community services and open pavilions along pedestrian paths as community outreach, and a [case study cluster] operating as both an exhibit to explain the project to the community as well as a place to test new ideas and changes to the housing units. The second grouping is the housing group, housing nearly 500 residents. The third grouping - [algaeKitchen] a restaurant cooking with algae, [algaeGAS] serving processed biofuel to the community.


The project’s initial phase was to connect the isolated site to the surrounding community and neighborhoods. The three collectives were phased as such: [1] establish algae production and processing, [2] establish residence, [3] foster greater community outreach, and algae exhibitions.


This project was in collaboration with KelliLaurel Mijares. It was a long semester with even more work, some more of that work is expressed in the slides below. The final manifestation of the project does not tell the full story. I have written about the semester and this project, hopefully giving some insight into the process, you can read that here.