Eco-pods by Howeler + Yoon Architecture
and Squared Design Lab


Boston architects Howeler + Yoon and Los Angeles digital designers Squared Design Lab have designed a conceptual structure for Boston, where an unfinished building would be covered in modular pods growing algae for biofuel.

The pods would be continuously rearranged by robotic arms (powered by the micro-algae produced) to ensure the optimum growing conditions for alage in each pod.

The designers intend to use the structure, called Eco-pods, to inform the public about the potential of micro-algae, a bio-fuel that can be grown vertically. The pods could also house research projects.

The designers hope that the temporary nature of the structure would lead to many being placed around Boston, installed on suspended construction sites and areas particularly hit by the recession.

Here's some more information from Howeler + Yoon Architecture and Squared Design:



Taking advantage of the stalled Filene’s construction site at Downtown Crossing, Eco-Pod is a proposal to immediately stimulate the economy, and the ecology, of downtown Boston. Eco-Pod (Gen1) is a temporary vertical algae bio-reactor and new public Commons, built with custom prefabricated modules. The pods will serve as bio-fuel sources and as micro-incubators for flexible research and development programs. As an open and reconfigurable structure, the voids between pods form a network of vertical public parks/botanical gardens housing unique plant species- a new Uncommon for the Commons.

Micro-algae is one of the most promising bio-fuel crops of today, yielding over thirty times more energy per acre than any other fuel crop. Unlike other crops, algae can grow vertically and on non-arable land, is biodegradable, and may be the only viable method by which we can produce enough automotive fuel to replace the world’s current diesel usage. Algae farming uses sugar and cellulose to create bio-fuels and simultaneously helps reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions, since it replaces CO2 with Oxygen during photosynthesis. While the bio-reactor process is currently in an experimental phase, recent advances in single step algae oil extraction and low energy high efficiency LEDs make the algae bio-reactor an extremely promising prospect on the renewable energy technology horizon.

In addition to being an active bio-reactor and local source of renewable energy, the Eco-Pod is also a research incubator in which scientists can test algae species and methods of fuel extraction, including new techniques of using low energy LED lighting for regulating the algae growth cycles. The central location of the Eco-Pod and the public and visible nature of the research, allows the public to experience the algae growth and energy production processes. As a productive botanical garden, it also functions as a pilot project, a public information center and catalyst for ecological awareness.

An on-site robotic armature (powered by the algae bio-fuel) is designed to reconfigure the modules to maximize algae growth conditions and to accommodate evolving spatial and programmatic conditions in real-time. The reconfigurable modular units allow the structure to transform to meet changing programmatic and economic needs, while the continuous construction on the site will broadcast a subtle semaphore of constructional activity and economic recovery. This is anticipatory architecture, capable of generating a new micro-urbanism that is local, agile, and carbon net positive.

This proposal envisions the immediate deployment of a “crane ready” modular temporary structure to house experimental and research based programs. Once funding is in place for the original architectural proposal, the modules can be easily disassembled and redistributed to various neighborhoods around Boston, infilling other empty sites, testing new proposals, and developing initiatives with other communities. Designed with flexibility and reconfigurability in mind, the modularity of the units anticipates future deployments on other sites. An instant architecture, designed with an intention towards its afterlife(s), this is a pre-cycled architecture. In our ongoing, synergistic scenario, the growth of the algae propels, and is propelled by, technologically-enabled developments that literally and metaphorically “grow the economy.”

Höweler + Yoon Architecture is a multidisciplinary practice specializing in the integration of architecture, new technologies and public space. Their work has been widely published, exhibited, and awarded. Their recent books include: Expanded Practice, a monograph published by Princeton Architectural Press; and Public Works: Unsolicited Small Projects for the Big Dig published by Map Books. Eric Höweler is a Design Critic in Architecture at Harvard Design School. Meejin Yoon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Squared is a digital design laboratory producing work across the fields of architecture, industrial design, online interactivity, and film. Among a variety of projects, they have been serving as design and visualization consultants for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City since 2003. Co-founders Josh Barandon and Franco Vairani graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with degrees in Architecture, Design, and Computation.

Posted on Friday October 2nd 2009 at 11:09 am by Sarah Housley. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Armano

    can you find Neo ?? nice designe

  • testek

    why everything has to be branded 'bio' these days? but looks cool

    • Junoh

      Bio just means living. Algae is living so it’s a bio-fuel. The reason why it’s everywhere is because Extreme Genetic Engineering (Synthetic Biology) has blown up recently, with tons of revolutionary new bacteria being produced.

  • Dennis

    I’d expect to see this on the cover of Popular Mechanics, not DeZeen… A perfect example of greenwahsing run amok, this project is exactly as logical as placing a high-rise office building in a California tomato farm.

  • rodger

    nice student project.

  • isla

    wow, metabolism is baaack

  • pacman

    “The Matrix” according to Kisho Kurokawa…

    naive and nice…

  • miki

    This reminds me Kisyo Kurokawa’s NAKAGIN Capsule Tower Building and lots of Archigram’s drawings.

  • miki

    I meant that the concept was already there and somebody already build in 1950th-1960th. The model looks good but I do not see that is really new and amazing.

  • KONG

    The capsule tower was nice and futuristic in the sixties, now it is just retro chic plus biofuel has a bad CO2 rating and the photosynthesis process does not nearly make up for it .

    And the whole "nomade" architecture is 90 `s academics chic.

    And the name ECO-POD sounds like some bad 2005 students project ( why does everybody have to attach an i or pod to his project isn t apple already using the names more than enough ?)

    And that robot arm cant lift nothing if you build it like it is rendered.

    I might sound too negative about this project , but i am just tired of dreamworld projects that pretend to be able to do so much and in the end are superficial , generic (and in the worst case apple inspired ) design .

    • guest

      oh gosh you are in deed a very negative person. i don't see anything wrong with trying to fantasize, or indeed just trying to visualized an idea. i would prefer to see this "generic" project instead of mass produced generic walmarts. i wonder how your work looks like. do you even have ideas?

  • hassona3d

    now this is insane !!!!!!

  • That would probably be the most expensive biofuel ! Building such a complex and technological structure neither seem to match any basic sustainability requirement…
    Nor for biofuel nor for public park or any other reason I would reasonably go for such a solution. And I won’t even talk about how few people will climb 20 meters to go to a park smelling like old seafood… Oops too late !
    I like very much the idea of requalifying our lovely construction sites hit by recession, but who does seriously think that this is the solution ? At least the architects seem to have had lot of fun doing this one.

  • yrag

    I have to be honest, I really like this site and others like it, but I think I’ve learned that since these sites are by their very nature looking for visually compelling content, the site author(s)/editor(s) tend to present works of broad ranges of feasibility with unrealistically equal weight.

    My case in point was a studio had done a great number of rather highly rendered and detail images accompanied with impressive text for a proposed project. The effect when viewed on a few different architectural sites was that this studio had really thought the premise through as something of a deeply considered solution of environmentally sound and positive megastructures.

    The images were breathtaking, and I was excited by their vision. But the more I looked at the work and did some very rough calculations in my head, I began to realize this thing was insanely more expensive and ecologically damaging than any number of other approaches.

    Since the studio’s website was given by one site, I wrote the lead author with my concerns. His response (and I really do appreciate it by the way) was to say I was taking his fun pie-in-the-sky visual fantasy way to seriously— he had never bothered himself with all the considerations that I had raised, and further, that he had never intended for those megastructures to ACTUALLY be built. It was just a blue sky conjectural exercise.

    My point here is that the excellence of architectural and 3D rendering software has gotten SO GOOD, and frankly designers and architects are so skilled in writing grandiose proposals prose that it has lead architectural sites and viewers to gobble up (I certainly include myself here) practically anything that’s well rendered and rationalized as practical and doable.

    We would do well to apply a grain of salt here since no disclaimers are proffered.

  • Moll

    … it's not a cartoon … it is a real building !..

    … it will be a terrible sight i think …

  • Bassem S.

    no disrespect to the people that dont like this idea but… this project is genius it seems like some cities would need this just to keep the air clean. think of all the cars that pass by one intersection a day!! this isn’t just a good design, but also a functional one!! think about it!


  • trimtab21

    this would make eviction sooooo easy for landlords – just grab the pod and chuck it in the river – bye bye.

  • John in Michigan, USA

    Many plants have evolved naturally to occupy vertical spaces VERY efficiently, without the need for a manic, wanky, anime-inspired block stacker bot to “optimize” their efficiency while creating the illusion of activity to distract the lumpen proles. This bot will consume mass amounts of energy to build and operate, so that the pods can average maybe 5% more time in the sun than if you just left them alone? PUH-lease)

    Since we’re just imagining all this, why not at least imagine an algae-ivy hybrid that knows how to climb structures naturally, and can be harvested when construction resumes?

    This design represents everything that is wrong with the Green Jobs meme. It is a mockery of everything that bio-engineering/bio-design *should* stand for.

  • VTMAN7

    Too complicated. Keep it simple. Teach and enable everyone to have their own hydroponic gardens and forget all the robots.