SOM Debuts Installation of Zero-Carbon Bio-Blocks™ at 2023 Chicago Architecture Biennial

A Spiral Installation of Algae-Based Concrete Models a Collaborative Approach to Reduce Carbon Emissions in the Building Industry.

OCTOBER 21, 2023 – CHICAGO – For the Chicago Architecture Biennial opening, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) showcases an algae-based, concrete alternative at The Mews in Fulton Market. Developed in partnership with Prometheus Materials, Bio-Block™ Spiral offers a model for carbon-neutral construction.

“Extending our history of material research and prototyping at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Bio-Block Spiral introduces our collaboration with Prometheus Materials to develop an algae-based, zero-carbon alternative to the concrete blocks found everywhere in our buildings and cities,” said SOM Design Partner Scott Duncan.

Fabricated by Prometheus Materials out of naturally carbon-sequestering microalgae put through a patent-pending photosynthetic biocementation process, Bio-Block offers a sustainable alternative to concrete and, if deployed at scale, could reduce our global CO2 emissions by up to 8%. Bio-Block is in the midst of ongoing performance testing – while available for select projects – as a direct substitute for the carbon-intensive Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs) ubiquitous in modern construction.

By replacing just the concrete blocks with Bio-Blocks, the Spiral reduces carbon emissions by one metric ton. Constructed by skilled union masons from the International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Administrative District Council 1 of Illinois in collaboration with Clayco and J&E Duff using conventional masonry techniques, Bio-Block Spiral marks an important next step in the material’s deployment.

“This project demonstrates how product development, design, and construction can come together to address the climate crisis in a meaningful way,“ said Prometheus Materials President Loren Burnett.

Hosted by Shapack Partners, Focus, and Walton Street Capital at The Mews in Fulton Market District, Bio-Block Spiral invites Biennial visitors to not only see and touch the Bio-Block, but to also observe how the construction responds to wind, moisture, and temperature fluctuations during Chicago’s fall months. Responding to the curatorial theme, This is a Rehearsal, the installation anticipates a pivotal moment in our progress toward a carbon-neutral building industry.

“We are thrilled to host the Bio-Block™ Spiral in The Mews at 167 Green, the 2023 Chicago Architecture Biennial’s only exhibition in Fulton Market District,” said Shapack Partners Founder and CEO Jeff Shapack.

Echoing the shell-like material composition of the bio-cement, SOM conceived of a spiraling form that invites Fulton Market visitors to step off the busy street and explore the installation. A central space offers views to Halsted Street using rotated blocks at regular intervals to create apertures, underscoring the simplicity of the block-and-mortar construction. Pleated ends demonstrate the versatility of the block form and improve the structural stiffness of the installation, allowing the Spiral to be self-supported. A film projected on the wall highlights both the proprietary manufacturing and the conventional construction processes of the Bio-Block Spiral.

Bio-Block Spiral was designed by SOM and Prometheus Materials with support from 167 Green, Clayco, the International Masonry Institute, J&E Duff, Sherwin Williams, Cushing Co., and Spec Mix. It is on view daily from 8am to 8pm through the fall at The Mews, between Green Street and Halsted Street in Chicago’s Fulton Market District.

About the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB)
The Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) is a non-profit organization dedicated to convening the world to explore innovative ideas and bring people together to collectively imagine and shape the future of design. CAB’s programs are committed to producing opportunities to explore and address timely global issues through the lens of architecture and design, emphasizing community input, sustainability, and equity. Free and open to the public, CAB stands as North America’s largest international survey of contemporary architecture and design. The signature program of the Chicago Architecture Biennial takes place every two years at the Chicago Cultural Center and sites across the city. The fifth edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, CAB 5: This is a Rehearsal, curated by the interdisciplinary arts collective the Floating Museum, takes an expansive view of design as an iterative rehearsal process to explore architecture, cities, and the different social, ecological, economic and political forces that shape them. In addition to the September 21 launch of installations across the city, CAB will hold an opening celebration on November 1st, activating all of the Biennial’s City Sites concurrent with the opening of extensive CAB exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Graham Foundation.

About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is an interdisciplinary design firm with an unmatched legacy of innovative projects that have made a lasting impact in cities and communities around the world. Working across a global network of design studios, our architects, engineers, designers, and urban planners combine their expertise to create buildings and urban spaces that are transformative and enduring. Through our built work, research initiatives, and our role as advocates in our industry and beyond, we are advancing strategies to decarbonize the built environment. SOM is a net zero carbon business. Previous installations for the Chicago Architecture Biennial have explored the next frontier of material innovation in construction, including the Stereoform Slab in 2019 and the SPLAM Timber Pavilion in 2021.

About 167 Green
167 Green is a 17-story, 640,000-square-foot office building in Fulton Market District – the best-performing office submarket in the United States. Developed in 2021 by Shapack Partners and Focus, the top floor includes hospitality amenities and is acclaimed as one of the country’s most innovative office building amenity floors. Located on the east side of Fulton Market District, 167 Green is a destination for tenants, locals, visitors, and tourists. The Mews at 167 Green connects Green and Halsted Streets, providing passersby easy access to the morning, noon, and night neighborhood. Ground floor retail tenants include Lettuce Entertain You’s the Oakville Grill & Cellar; Yokocho, an “alleyway omakase” restaurant by Sushi Dokku; Arper, a new design hub for the global furniture brand; and Foxtrot, an upscale grocer and bodega.