Oyster shell


Made in

Circular 215 Recycled 121 Oyster shell 5

Oyster shell

Photos: Megan McLellan

Post Luxury

The oyster is one of the more sustainable and self-sufficient forms of seafood, and as it grows it filters up to 200 litres of water a day. Small amounts of the shell itself can be used to combat eutrophication, as a fungicide, and as a means of soil amelioration. It is possible to have too much of a good thing though, and in 2016 alone, 438 billion tons of oysters were produced with the majority of the shells being unduly discarded. With demand for the oyster likely to increase with consumerism the shell, which is essentially a mono-material at 96% CaCO3, shows great potential as an abundant material resource.

This material is the first of its kind to explore using crystallisation as a binding mechanism, and is made from two constituents only; oyster shell fragments and a mineral solute. As the water cools, crystals form in between the oyster shell fragments, acting as a binder to create a hard and durable ceramic. A larger volume of water surrounding the material mould is heated, and as it cools the rate of that cooling affects the temperature within the form. By controlling the rate of cooling, one can control crystal density, size, clarity and more, affecting the material’s structure. As the object reaches its end of life no further processing is needed - it can be mechanically broken down and reintegrated into a new generation of material, in a new object, indefinitely. With each successive generation, the material becomes more durable and requires fewer inputs. If disposal is necessary, when finely broken up and dispersed widely, the two material constituents are both macro and micronutrients necessary for plant growth and can aid in soil remediation.

Post Luxury seeks to reframe the oyster shell as a high-value material, and at the same time pays homage to the source community of the oyster shell while demonstrating a simple process which can be performed at the material source. This project was undertaken in Fanny Bay, Canada, a small shellfish farming community that is supported and defined by the renowned Fanny Bay Oyster. Like a Carrera marble from Carrera, Italy, nuanced differences between different types of oyster shell-based materials could potentially represent a particular region much like a type of wood or marble, elevating the culture of a community.

The idea of luxury, what it is and what it is represented by, is in direct relationship to the surrounding societal landscape. With the current conversations around climate, social justice issues, and health, the priorities of the spending class have changed. Increasingly, when a luxury purchase is being made it’s not because of the material per se, but more importantly the material message. Purpose-driven purchases have replaced overt expressions of wealth and consumers are increasingly seeking out materials that communicate sustainability and transparency.

This project also champions collaborative approaches, such as integrating scientific principles with artistic practice, to yield a novel material design process that has multiple built-in values and is simple enough to be undertaken on-site. By creating a material in-situ through the re-imagination of existing techniques we have the potential to address waste by-products at the source, create second revenue streams for small communities, and foster a contextual connection to the finished object.

Additional information

To create the material, shells are collected from multiple sources such as homes, seafood shops, restaurants, or shellfish farming communities. The shells then have any remaining organic matter brushed off and are boiled and dried. Once clean and dry, the shells are mechanically broken into smaller fragments and placed into a mould. A supersaturated solution is prepared, which is then poured into the mould. Once the solution has cooled and the mineral has crystallised, it is drained from the mould. The object is left to slowly dry and is removed from the mould. A surrounding water bath can be used to control nucleation, agglomeration, crystal size and more by controlling the cooling rate of the bath during the crystallisation process.

Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.


Oyster shell, mineral.


Elisava Univeristy of Design and Engineering, Canada Council for the Arts