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From Extreme Environments to the Environmentally Extreme

Part 1 Project 2009
Victoria Cech
University of Westminster UK
[ex·tre·mo·phile: n. [Organism adapted to living in extreme conditions & environments]

The animals of London Zoo produce over 10 tonnes of ‘zoo poo’ every week. This, along with the waste from enclosures and bedding, has long been a challenge for the zoo in terms of storage and smell. Disposing of this waste has meant the zoo has been throwing away valuable resources to generate power, heat and compost both for use on site and its surroundings.

At the heart of this project therefore lies an intricate and sustainable system that is constructed to be run and fuelled by nature within the zoo. Organic zoo waste is brought to the building and deposited into the wall which forms the skeleton of the structure. Herein lie anaerobic extremophiles which degrade the waste and produce gases. The Regents Canal runs parallel to the building which means algae can be harvested and used with the gases to produce green fuel whilst the canal is cleansed of excess algae and is able to improve its water quality. The fuel can be used on site or sold on as a source of revenue. Chemical reactions taking place within the wall produce heat which contributes to an eco-friendly means of maintaining hot water on site.

Extremophiles have become the ‘living gold’ of the natural world whilst they provide invaluable lessons to scientists and the industrial sector. This has meant vast increases in funding towards expeditions to discover and research what they have to offer. The building is therefore a place for planning and a sanctuary for those scientists and specimens returning from expeditions. The wall acts as a fortress for the protection of these valuable specimens. It provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse for zoo visitors as they too are taken on a journey from the regular animal enclosures to a place where nature retains rule on various internal spaces whilst providing a function as opposed to a spectacle for our visual enjoyment.

Ultimately, it asks the question as to whether nature and the urban environment can exist in equilibrium without one phasing the other out through control.

Victoria Cech

Beyond the Comfort Zone

As a contrast to the usual project concerns for environmental equilibrium and carbon neutrality, Vicki Cech's design is for a new multi-functional educational structure and landscape at the London Zoo to commemorate Darwin’s bicentenary, affirm the Zoo’s scientific pre-eminence, popularize the sciences and (now that life has been found in the thinnest of atmospheres, the darkest of caves, deep volcanic ocean trenches and boiling mineral springs) introduce the newest of animal kingdom; the extremophiles.

As if to celebrate the Earth's most inhospitable climates and the tenacity of life to survive in them wasn't challenge enough, Zoo staff yawned at the prospect of another architectural white elephant. Despite its architectural credentials, even Lubetkin's Penguin Pool has been found functionally unsuitable (its iconic ice bridge-like ramps are felt too hard and too steep for penguins) and this joins a burdening legacy of signature enclosures now judged lacking but listed for preservation on architectural merit.

Against this, Vicki counters an exciting piece of adaptable architecture to keep pace with the growing knowledge of the extremophiles. Of energy contribution to the zoo and its neighbours, her project explores from the extremely environmental to the environmentally extreme - outside the comfort zone in every sense.

Mike Guy

Mike Guy
John O'Shea
• Page Hits: 8561         • Entry Date: 11 September 2009         • Last Update: 14 September 2009