This Living, Breathing Chandelier ‘Exhales’ Oxygen to Purify Air

September 28, 2017 by

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

The 70 “petals” of engineer/designer Julian Melchiorri’s  bionic chandelier Exhale contain algae that simulate the natural process of photosynthesis, releasing oxygen to purify the air.

I viewed the chandelier on a private guided tour at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to see a series of installations specially commissioned for the 2017 London Design Festival. The massive chandelier, which won the Emerging Talent Medal, was one of the exhibition’s most unusual pieces because it employs a technology based on biomimicry, a design approach that emulates patterns and functions found in nature.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

A nod to contemporary Italian glass lighting and influenced in part by art nouveau and Islamic motifs, Exhale hangs before a large window through which bright sunlight streamed in from the Sackler Courtyard the day I saw it.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

At first glance, the beautiful chandelier appears to be constructed of green glass. A closer inspection reveals that the “petals” are actually transparent “bionic” ones made of a biological material composed of chloroplasts, the part of the plant involved in photosynthesis, mixed with silk fibers to stabilize organic molecules.

The petals contain algae suspended in a clear liquid that, when activated by sunlight and artificial LED light, turns green. From three sizes of petals, micro-organisms absorb five grams of airborne carbon dioxide a day then “exhale” oxygen, enabling the light fixture to double as a natural indoor-outdoor air-purifier.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

Most of life in the ecosphere relies on photosynthesis, a process that harvests energy from sunlight to create oxygen by stimulating a chemical reaction between water and CO2.

“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.” –Steve Jobs

Following his release in 2014 of Silk Leaf, the world’s first artificial leaf, Melchiorri has experimented with blending photosynthesis into the design of products and in architecture. His company, Arborea, created the world’s first bionic “BioSolar Leaf” tiling system designed for application to building facades. The aesthetically pleasing tiles remove CO2 and air-pollutants in order to neutralize the structure’s carbon footprint.

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens

In this new larger scale design, Melchiorri applies the same type of biomimicry to Exhale in a form that is at once beautiful, functional, and aligned with his greater vision to “release the full power of this fundamental life-giving process to solve global warming and resource scarcity on a massive scale.”

I hope designs like this will stimulate our collective efforts to produce biophilic products that contribute to a cleaner planet and possibly slow climate change. Any thoughts, readers, on possible future applications?

Many thanks to LDF staff and festival volunteer, architect and scenographer Raphae Memon, who escorted me on a private tour. Memon contributed very interesting insights into our discussions about the conceptual threads running through each of the various special installations. Stay tuned for more on this emerging designer and others from The London Design Festival.

 

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