sOM’s Bio-Block Spiral at the Chicago Architecture Biennial


In a bold statement of innovation and sustainability, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) unveils its groundbreaking material experiment, the Bio-Block Spiral, at this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial. Positioned within The Mews in Fulton Market, this forward-thinking pavilion showcases an algae-based concrete and brick alternative that has the potential to revolutionize the construction industry’s carbon footprint. Developed in collaboration with Prometheus Materials, the Bio-Block Spiral stands as an example of SOM’s commitment to carbon-neutral construction and offers a glimpse into the future of sustainable architecture.


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.

bio-block spiral somimage © SOM | Dave Burk



the Carbon-Neutral Vision


The Bio-Block Spiral demonstrates SOM‘s pioneering explorations of environmentally responsible construction methods at the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2023. Fabricated by Prometheus Materials, this remarkable structure utilizes naturally carbon-sequestering microalgae, subjected to a patent-pending photosynthetic biocementation process. The result is the Bio-Block, a sustainable alternative to conventional concrete that has the potential to reduce global CO2 emissions by a staggering 8%. While currently undergoing ongoing performance testing, Bio-Block is already available for select projects and represents a direct substitution for the carbon-intensive Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs) commonly used in modern construction.

bio-block spiral somthe sustainable alternative to concrete has the potential to reduce global CO2 emissions by 8%



Reducing Carbon Emissions, One Block at a Time


The team at SOM notes that one metric ton of carbon emissions can be eliminated just by replacing traditional concrete blocks with Bio-Blocks. 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, this project marks a significant milestone in the deployment of this innovative material. By showcasing the tangible reduction in carbon emissions, the Bio-Block Spiral is a powerful demonstration of SOM’s commitment to sustainable building practices.

bio-block spiral som
one metric ton of carbon emissions can be eliminated by replacing traditional concrete blocks with Bio-Blocks



An Interactive Showcase of Sustainability


The installation mirrors the unique material composition of the bio-cement. SOM’s visionary architects conceived of a spiraling form that beckons Fulton Market visitors to step off the street and immerse themselves in the installation. A central space lends views of Halsted Street, achieved by using rotated Bio-Blocks at regular intervals to create apertures, underscoring the elegance of block-and-mortar construction. Pleated ends further showcase the block’s versatility and enhance the installation’s structural rigidity, allowing it to stand independently. A film projected on the wall brings insight into the work’s proprietary manufacturing and conventional construction processes.

bio-block spiral sompleated ends show the block’s versatility and enhance the installation’s structural rigidity



Hosted by Shapack Partners, Focus, and Walton Street Capital at The Mews in Fulton Market District, the Bio-Block Spiral encourages visitors to interact with the Bio-Block and observe how it responds to elements such as wind, moisture, and temperature fluctuations during Chicago’s autumn months. In alignment with the Biennial’s theme, ‘This is a Rehearsal,’ this installation represents a pivotal moment in the journey towards a carbon-neutral building industry.


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project info:


project title: Bio-Block Spiral

project lead: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) | @skidmoreowingsmerrill

event: Chicago Architecture Biennial | @ChicagoArchitectureBiennial

location: The Mews in Fulton Market, 167 Green Street, Chicago, Illinois

fabrication: Prometheus Materials

collaborators: International Masonry Institute (IMI), International Masonry Institute (IMI), Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Administrative District Council 1 of Illinois, Clayco, J&E Duff, Sherwin Williams, Cushing Co., Spec Mix

photography: © SOM, Dave Burk | @daveburk