BIQ House

This design file is a work in progress. It was last updated 22 June, 2021. We welcome contributions, corrections, and updates. Read Collecting Design (Digitally) at M21D to learn more about our approach to collecting design.

  • Creators: Arup, Strategic Science Consult of Germany, Splitterwerk Architects, and Colt International 

  • Materials: conventional building materials (including cement and steel) and a “SolarLeaf façade” composed of algal biomass and solar panels

  • Environment: ongoing research into material sourcing

  • Carbon footprint: ongoing research into carbon costs and removals

  • Energy: Arup states that the building reduces overall energy needs by 50%

  • Labor: ongoing research 

  • ​Equality: ongoing research

  • Access: Limited. High upfront building costs (estimates total expenses of $2,500 per square meter). Ongoing research into the cost of rent and maintenance; renters pay no heating costs. 

  • Life-cycle assessment: ongoing research into the beginning and end of the life cycle process


Design Intentions 

For Hamburg's 2013 International Building Exhibition, the design consultancy and engineering firm Arup worked with Strategic Science Consult of Germany, Splitterwerk Architects, and Colt International to develop a traditional apartment building covered in an unconventional green skin. That green skin comprises algae and the mechanical systems necessary to convert and integrate their biorhythms into the energy system of the building. Together, the Bio Intelligent Quotient House (BIQ House) offers fifteen apartment units across five stories that demonstrate new ways of living with renewable energy. “Biohybrid” buildings, including the BIQ House, while relatively unique, offer a  response to the growing problem of high-energy consumption and air pollution.

Funding support for the project came from the German Government’s “ZukunftBau” research initiative.

Façade Technology

That green façade contains 129 flat panel glass apparatuses for growing organisms under controlled conditions (these apparatuses are often called bioreactors) measuring 2,5m x 0,7m on four of the five stories on the southwest and southeast sides. These panels are filled with water and pumped with liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide that allow algae to grow without rotting. Cultivating the algae produces biomass (a material used as fuel to produce electricity or heat) that supplies the structure with electricity via a fully automated energy management center where, according to Architonic, solar thermal heat and algae are harvested in a closed-loop to be stored and used to generate hot water.

You can find a more technical explanation and scientific studies about this growing and harvesting on the Strategic Science Consult of Germany website.

Holistic Approach to Energy

The apartment building uses a “holistic” approach to energy production; it integrates various renewable sources to generate energy, including solar, geothermal, a condensing boiler, and the production of biomass via the algae. The panels in the green façade collect the light that isn’t used by the algae, which is then converted into heat using heat exchangers. This heat can generate hot water or be stored in the building’s underground geothermal system. 

This second-skin system also integrates dynamic shading, thermal insulation, and noise reduction. The height of the algae within each panel can be changed to help with daylighting or provide shading from the direct sun. All of this means the building residents require far fewer fossil fuels. 

Bio Intelligent Quotient House and M21D

The BIQ House inspires hope in the future of new building practices and approaches to energy production and use. M21D eagerly searches out how well the building operates nearly ten years after construction and how it has inspired other studies on algae as an alternative source of renewable energy for buildings.