An eco-creative initiative in Bristol, England

Hosted by the NOVA creative lab, working with scientists and technologists.

Emerging from the Bristol Living Rivers Project, the Green Machines project, and the related Aliveness Machines project are continuing to evolve.



The first 'Bristol Green Machine' was an experimental project situated in Bristol Harbour in 2007. It was a demo of a pontoon-mounted modular ecological design, using 'reed-bed treatment' technology and the principles of an 'eco-living-machine', as developed by the eco-design pioneer John Todd, in the USA.

The longer term vision for this project is to develop a variant of this 'machine' for use as floating ‘grey-water’ cleansing/filtration pods for the residential boats in the Floating Harbour, and elsewhere. This small community is an important part of Bristol's water culture. The modular design approach also lends itself to 'off-grid' treatment of sewage for autonomous and marginal habitation situations such as coastal/estuarine settings. Reed-bed technology is already extensively applied in land-based sewage treatment settings. The 'Green Machine' idea is also a showcase for ecological design approaches to improving polluted water environments. Small- and medium-scale ecological installations such as the one exhibited in Bristol Harbour can have a role to play in purifying smaller lakes and ponds elsewhere in the city. Intensive living machines are operating successfully in many settings around the world e.g. this example in China. (pdf case-study)

This 2007 project was implemented as part of Bristol's sustainability programme. It was initiated and guided by Antony Lyons (representing the Bristol Living Rivers Project), working with a graduate-trainee team from local firm Rolls-Royce. Antony Lyons of the NOVA Creative Lab has worked with eco-technologies for 25 years - in research, design, regulatory, planning and communication spheres.

Also emerging from Bristol Living Rivers is a related permanent project in Bristol Harbour - a zone of floating-reedbeds fronting the 'Harbourside' development area (image bottom right). There are plans in place to replicate such zones in other parts of the Harbour, thus re-creating aspects of the natural/original marsh ecosystem of the city's setting. A form of rewilding.


Green Machines: Experimental Ecological Design

The initiative was actively supported by Sustainable City Unit and The Harbour Office of Bristol City Council, as well as Richard St George (of the Schumacher Society).

The design aims were for a floating, biological, autonomous solution to:

•Oxygenating water and reducing levels of pollutants.

•Filtering out suspended and dissolved solids.

•Cleansing through adsorption and absorption of heavy metals.

•Breakdown and uptake of nutrients.

•Reduction of pathogens by passage of water through the active microbial ‘root-zones’ of the vegetation.

•Destruction of E-coli through exposure to (UV) light.

The installation was sited on Bristol Harbour to optimise communication and awareness of the eco-technological approach.

Through the city's development-planning processes, related aquatic-plant installations are being created at locations around the Harbour and elsewhere in the city, under the guidance of the Bristol Living Rivers Project:

Some Examples:

The Marissal Road Scheme (below), and The Harbourside Vegetated Filter (bottom right)