How seaweed will be part of our homes in the future
Seaweed, who would have thought the abundant natural material has the potential to transform the design industry? From textiles to lampshades, yarn for a rug to natural dye, algae can be employed as architectural cladding or even an as energy source to power buildings. Designers across the globe are implementing the material in their work through combining science, creativity and innovation to pave the way for a truly sustainable material of the future.
Sometimes we just need to look to the past to reimagine the future.
The history of seaweed is rich and varied - mankind has been utilising the underwater wonder for hundreds of years, from 16th-century calico painters to 17th-century Japanese textile manufacturers. In the late 1940s, researchers experimented with turning seaweed fibres into rayon but today, with all the resources and technology the 21st-century offers, fabrics can be crafted from complete 100% seaweed yarn. The resource also has the potential to be a substitute product in industries beyond design - from agriculture to medicine to renewable energy. The Together Project look into the myriad ways inventive designers and environmental pioneers are transforming the way we can utilise the astonishing sub-aquatic plant.
Danish designers Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt crafted a new material out of seaweed and paper to form lampshades and a chair for their project 'Terroir'. By combining seaweed with recycled paper waste, the result is a tactile surface with the softness of cork and the lightness of paper, but is tough, durable and of course, sustainable.
The seaweed, harvested from a beach in their native Denmark, is 8000 km long, is one of the worlds longest coastlines. After being dried, the seaweed is ground into powder and cooked into glue. The natural hue depends on the species of the seaweed, from dark brown to light green.
German-born designer and professor at Aalto University, Finland, Julia Lohmann founded The Department of Seaweed in 2013. Pictured is a seaweed pavilion she designed for the 50th World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, encouraging world leaders to think about the scope the of the incredible material.
The structure is constructed from seaweed panels stretched over a rattan structure - the kelp is treated to remain flexible so that it can be stretched like leather. Her initiative, The Department of Seaweed, is a trans-disciplinary platform for the exploration of seaweed as a sustainable resource.
Seaweed has the potential to transform our agricultural industries - a huge contributor to climate emissions. Sea Forest Australia, a company founded by CEO Sam Elsom, is a world first seaweed farm dedicated to multifaceted climate solutions by reducing CO2 emissions in the livestock and dairy industries.
They are dedicated to fighting climate change by working to be the first in the world to cultivate Asparagopsis at scale. Asparagopsis as an additive to animal feed has been identified as a solution to reduce methane production in livestock whilst simultaneously accelerating growth. This seaweed supplement paves the way for the introduction of the first climate positive meat and dairy products.
Dutch designer Nieke Hoogvliet used algae yarn to create her Sea Me rug, which she knotted by hand into an old fishing net - intending to contrast between plastic waste pollution and the natural beautiful of the sea.
The prototype is an exciting prospect - yarn made of sea algae could perhaps offer a solution for the sustainability issues in the textile industry. Sea algae grow much faster and need less nutrients than cotton.
With funding from the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Hoogvliet went on to research how this sustainable yarn can be used in the textile industry, but also in what other ways seaweed can be used. Nienke worked on creating a circular process to optimally use the seaweed. The waste of the one process is used for the other process, ending up with zero waste.
Nienke discovered even more potential than she had expected: natural dye with seaweed offers a wide variety of colours. She can dye textiles into greens, browns, greys and even pinks and purples. Every type of seaweed gives a different colour. The light fastness of the dye is proven to be more than qualified. To show the potential of these materials, Nienke designed a chair and a table. The seating of the chair is made of seaweed yarn and dyed naturally with seaweed. This was woven by hand into a soft seating. The leftovers of this process are used to create a regular paint for the tabletop. The waste from was used to make the bio-plastic bowls. That’s how she wants to visualise how seaweed can be part of our homes in the future.
See the incredible process behind RE SEA ME in this film.