The algae as a resource for the future
With the Department of Seaweed, design researcher Julia Lohmann has founded a network at the interface of design, science, society and the environment.
Dry as aspen leaves and yet as stable as processed leather: it has been over a decade since Julia Lohmann discovered her fascination for the algae laid out there at a fish market in Sapporo, Japan. Since then, the product designer has been researching new applications for this resource from the world's oceans. She makes analogies with other materials, i.e. she processes green, red or brown algae so that they have similar properties to wood or glass, for example. Examples of her work are the table and bench in the professor's office at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg*: wooden pieces of furniture wrapped in algae veneer.
A raw material with many facets
The use of algae is being researched worldwide in a variety of contexts: whether as an energy supplier, dye, fertilizer or animal feed, with similar properties to viscose in textiles or as gliding algae carpets instead of artificial snow. "The alga shows the world in a rare intensity," says Lohmann as she dips a rough, odorless stem of a dried green alga into a vase of mineral water. A few minutes later the plant is swollen, it glows light green, smells fishy, is elastic and stable.
Designing sustainable cycles
On the walls of Lohmann's office, which also serves as her studio and research laboratory, hang countless works of art made of algae: Masks, hats, lampshades, abstract forms. In 2013 she exhibited her design objects for the first time at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London - to draw attention to the potential of this raw material. As a design researcher, Lohmann thinks in systems: She wants to discover new materials with which processes and cycles can be sustainably designed. For this she relies on the expertise of other disciplines and research areas: 'Chemistry examines the molecular structure of algae, marine biology looks at the systemic dimension'.
New areas of application arise, for example, in collaboration with players from the energy industry, the automotive industry or the textile industry. For example, the cultivation of algae for biogas plants or the use of artificial and natural yarns and textiles could be promoted.
Boost by Cross Innovation Hub
Lohmann found an interdisciplinary network in which she can drive the project forward via the Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft. As a partner of the Cross Innovation Hub, a project that promotes cooperation between creative and other industries, she offered workshops and lectures on the potential of the algae as a sustainable resource in summer 2017. In addition, her existing artistic network was expanded to include biologists, urban planners, communication experts and sustainability experts. 'The Kreativ Gesellschaft has given the initial explosive for the Department of Seaweed to finally take shape', explains Lohmann.
Since the beginning of February the 'Department of Seaweed' is now officially listed in the register of associations. The foundation consolidates a growing global network of visionaries from various disciplines who share their knowledge and ideas on the use of algae as a sustainable resource and apply them in local contexts.
Establishment of a Living Archive
In the long term, the Department of Seaweed aims to establish a Living Archive that will focus on practice-based, transdisciplinary research into algae and their sustainable use. On the basis of a flexible spatial concept, raw materials, artistic works, workshop kits, graphics to illustrate emerging networks and working practices, sketches and a store of knowledge of historical and contemporary cultural practice with algae will illustrate the work and make the potentials sensually perceptible. "The Living Archive will see itself as a place where macroalgae serve as mirrors or lenses for central questions of ecology, economy and society.
*Julia Lohmann was Professor of Design at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg (HFBK) at the time of her editorial work. In August 2018 she moved to the Finnish capital for a professorship at Aalto University in Helsinki.
Über den Cross Innovation Hub
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