Shneel Malik, PhD Candidate

With guidance of
Prof. Marcos Cruz, UCL Bartlett
Dr. Brenda Parker, UCL Biochemical Engineering

Additional Technical Support
Sofoklis Giannakopoulos, Tropos Design Lab, Greece
Dr. Chris Leung, UCL Bartlett
Javier Ruiz, UCL Bartlett

Julie Hagiopan, BiotA Lab
Sanika Mohite, BiotA Lab

Dr. Laura Stoffels, UCL Biochemical Engineering
Richard Beckett, UCL Bartlett

Special Thanks
Vicente Soler, UCL B-Made
Vincent Huyghe, UCL B-Made
BMade Workshop, Bartlett School of Architecture

Adrian Hill, Malvern Instruments UK

Joseph Newton, UCL Biochemical Engineering

Photography & Film
Ganesh Lockhart

The research explores the possibilities of designing and fabricating photosynthetic membranes from water-based algae-laden biological materials for application in architecture and the built environment. 


The fields of biotechnology and synthetic biology are increasingly exploring the ability of photosynthetic organisms to use sunlight in converting carbon dioxide into useful energy, while also being able to perform functions such as biofiltration and air purification in the form of its by-products. However, its large-scale applications on buildings and infrastructures have not yet been explored. This thesis investigates the possibility of developing architectural autotrophic systems, capable of self sustaining themselves through constant exchange of energy and nutrients with its surroundings. Impregnated between the distinct natural and artificial environments, the research explores these systems through novel Robotic Algae – Laden Printed Hydrogel Scaffolds (RALPHS). 


RALPHS are materialised by immobilising algae cells within a hydrophilic polymeric biomaterial, allowing them to perform photosynthesis. Similar to the hierarchical construction of naturally occurring mechanisms that give the structure its versatile properties. A range of hydrogel types have been formulated to demonstrate physical, chemical and mechanical properties that also support biological activity in the form of large-scale constructions. RALPHS are developed using innovative computational simulation techniques and additively fabricated using a robotic extrusion platform, layer-by-layer constructing the materials – microscale to its form-based macroscale.

WorkflowThe hydrogel’s water component is vital in supporting biological activity, while its viscous properties are crucial for large-scale bio printing through a pneumatic extrusion process, potentially generating a flux that is complete with textures, surface and thickness. RALPHS aim to  establish a living ‘critical zone’, where water and organisms interact to regulate with its surroundings over a range of molecular scales. This fluidic non structural, yet fundamental quality of the scaffolds questions the traditional architectural aim for immortality, permanence and unpredictability. 


Led by the exploration of new interdisciplinary avenues, this research embraces a multi-layered approach of design-biology-material-fabrication in order to create new and more sustainable design solutions. It follows a design-led research method, in which the proposed RALPHS creates biologically integrated living entities that harness the ability of microalgae for large-scale applications such as bioremediation relevant to the built environment.