Kelp

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Kelp

Seaweed matters

This design project includes characteristics of Speculative Design, Critical Design, and Design Fiction. The created designs and visualisations for this project are physical objects and digital visualisations that show how the future of the Netherlands will look like. The visualisations tell an imagined story based on the knowledge and perceptions of these experts. Experts from different fields were asked to speculate together on how this world will look like, especially around the topic of seaweed. The visualisations of the Netherlands in a hundred years’ time are speculations that start from a trustworthy perspective, a serious societal challenge. It emphasises the current debate about the depletion of natural resources, climate change, and sustainability. However, the main goal of this project is not to make designs that could solve these societal problems. The elaboration of the visualisations consists of contradictory meanings that should evoke a dialogue with individuals and increase their awareness of nature and sustainability. Somehow it criticised human beings as an enemy of nature. The envisioned future raises questions to people from society such as designers, researchers, entrepreneurs, engineers, innovators, green activists, etc.

In this project, seaweed is explored to be a possible future material that could replace current materials that are not sustainable such as plastic and leather. Although seaweed is an organic material that is of vegetable origin and it will surely decay quicker than plastic or animal leather when comparing the sustainability of its lifecycle and its effect on nature, it is much more sustainable than plastic and leather.

In the first phase, a variety of material explorations are done to make bioplastics from seaweeds. After explorations, a material of seaweed was created that is comparable to leather. The seaweed leather material is made by soaking the seaweed in materials that are used for making bioplastics such as vinegar, glycerine, etc. After combining different materials in the soaking processes, a good piece of seaweed leather is created that is soft, strong, and smooth.

In the second phase, three designs are made with this seaweed material. These are possible products that could emerge in a nature-based future. The products include the following wearables: A pair of shoes, a fanny pack, and a cardholder. A frequently mentioned comment is why these products are chosen to represent future products. The idea is that this seaweed leather could replace animal leather in the future. In some way, it could be used now such as for making products that require less sturdy materials. Another aspect of making these daily products is that these products are recognised by today’s individuals, which makes it easier to reflect and compare the future with the current situation.

In the last phase, workshops, and interviews with seaweed experts were done to collect insights into this topic. Additionally, a video was created for provocation and to raise even more debates about using seaweed material in the future. The video “A random day in 2120” may describe an imagined future moment that is unlikely to happen. At the beginning of the video, a person is shown who wears the seaweed products: the seaweed shoes, seaweed bag, and the seaweed cardholder. She leaves the bag and the cardholder on the table and on the mannequin, then takes off one of her shoes and put it on the table. It seems like she wants to do something with the seaweed shoe. In the next scene, she is washing the shoe with water. The moment when she put a salad bowl on the table makes it clear that she wants to cook the shoe. Throughout the video, the person shows different steps of cooking the shoe and making a nice dish of it. In the final scene, the person sits down and enjoyed finishing the dish with the seaweed shoe. The whole video is without any conversation but it shows a clear storyline. However, the content of eating a shoe raises questions and is something mysterious. The act of the person looks pretty normal like she is not doing this for the first time. The created ambience is charming, you couldn’t relate the woman in the video as someone who is rude or clumsy, although she is eating a shoe. The choice of using the shoe as an example to eat makes the video much more provoking: visualising that every future product is edible, even your shoes. The question is whether people could relate this to their perception of the future. Do we really eat our shoes in the future? What will be the reason for eating up our own shoes?

Additional information

The seaweed leather material is made by soaking the seaweed in materials that are used for making bioplastics such as vinegar, glycerine, etc. After combining different materials in the soaking processes. Although the final version of the seaweed leather is made by only using diluted glycerine, the steps of using different components are more significant for creating a good piece of seaweed leather that is soft, strong, and smooth.

Ingredient list

Kelp seaweed, glycerine, distilled water

Credits

Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University and Research, Rijkswaterstaat

Photo credits

Jing-cai Liu