Video: Turning Marina City Green

Screen grab from animation about building an algae farm on Marina City

The quickest way to turn a marina green is to let the water stagnate.  But it’s not stagnation, it’s progress that has one proposal turning Chicago’s Marina City (300 North State Street) green.

Marina City Online tipped us off to the International Algae Competition — a global contest to come up with ways of using the living slime to make our lives better, through things like landscaping and food production.  While the recipe for “fresh spirulina dip” wasn’t exactly to our taste, we were intrigued by the proposal to grow an algae farm on top of Chicago’s downtown corn cob towers.

Marina CityThe idea, from Parisian team Influx-Studio, is to use the roofs of Marina City to hold wind turbines, and a vertical algae farm.  The highlights:

  • Rooftop  scrubbers would absorb CO2 and release oxygen.
  • Absorbed CO2 would be used to feed algae farm.
  • Surplus CO2 would be sold to pharmaceutical companies or injected into wells deep underground.
  • Rooftop turbines would power CO2 scrubbers and generate electricity.
  • The west tower’s parking spiral would be replaced with wetlands to treat residential waste water.
  • Balconies would be retrofitted with solar cells to generate electricity for apartments.
  • Surplus electric production would be used to charge electric cars.
  • East tower parking garage would be turned into a vegetable farm.

Here’s a six minute video with some rather dramatic music to put it all together:

Many of the ideas seem outlandish, and it’s hard to tell if the people behind the city have ever visited Chicago and seen our short vegetable growing season, or the relatively meager amount of light that reaches inside Marina City’s parking areas.  Still, there are still some ideas that aren’t too bad.

Among them, the notion of putting turbines on the roof of Marina City.  One of the towers used to support a massive transmission tower for WLS-TV, so structurally it would seem possible to put turbines up there.  And considering the winds that blow down the Chicago River from Lake Michigan, they likely wouldn’t be idle.

Hinge Park and the 2012 Winter Olympics Athletes Village in Vancouver, British Columbia

Hinge Park and the 2012 Winter Olympics Athletes Village in Vancouver, British Columbia

Another one, and this is considerably more crazy, is the parking garage wetlands.  Many sustainable buildings these days try to employ some kind of natural feature to turn waste water into clean water, usually in the form of a small marsh or bayou.  I saw a great example of this at a place called Hinge Park, which was built to treat waste water from the athletes’ village built for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The problem with these things, though, is that they require an awful lot of horizontal space, which is very precious in an urban environment.  Marina City’s parking spiral is a perfect solution.  It can simply use gravity to allow the water to lazily flow through a series of cataracts and ponds while grasses, algae, and other natural processes clean the water.  Again, light is a problem in the dark garage, so maybe the turbines on the roof can power some industrial-sized grow lights.

The chances of Marina City ever actually being greened in this method are pretty much zero.  But exercises like this aren’t without merit.  Pretty much every architect out there is constantly thinking of ways to make their projects more sustainable, and this sort of thing gets those creative juices flowing.  It also helps regular people learn to accept that green building solutions aren’t something from the future, they’re here today.

You’d be hard pressed to find a building in The Loop built or renovated in the last 20 years that isn’t employing some kind of green technology behind the scenes.  Whether we see can sustainability or not, it’s not the future, it’s the present.  And in Chicago, it’s our past as well.  After all, why did we reverse the flow of the Chicago River a hundred years ago?  To sustain our clean drinking water supply.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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