Dezeen Magazine

Figures standing in remote area beside body of water

Estonian Academy of Arts presents group project spotlighting the merits of algae

Dezeen School Shows: students, faculty members and collaborators of Estonian Academy of Arts present a project focused on the uses of algae, which is featured as Dezeen's latest school show.

Algae for Design-led Transition Towards Blue Bio-economy was informed by the close examination of marine plants, and includes summer school exercises, fieldwork, laboratory-based experiments and exhibitions.

Each stage of the project was overseen by representatives of Estonian Academy of Arts, including Aalto University, Design School Kolding, Estonian Marine Institute, Iceland University of the Arts, Kristineberg Center for Marine Research and Innovation and Vilnius Academy of Arts.

Estonian Academy of Arts

Institution: Estonian Academy of Arts
Course: Craft Studies
Project: Algae for Design-led Transition Towards Blue Bio-economy (two-year initiative)
Tutors: Anna-Marie van der Lei, Annika Kaldoja, Julia Lohmann, Karen Marie Hasling, Kärt Ojavee and Tinna Gunnarsdottir
Collaborators: Aalto University, Design School Kolding, Estonian Marine Institute, Iceland University of the Arts, Kristineberg Center for Marine Research and Innovation and Vilnius Academy of Arts

School statement:

"The Estonian Academy of Arts is the main educator and developer of the arts, design, architecture, art history, heritage and arts education in Estonia.

"The collaborative projects encourage students to contextualise and reflect on the research direction through their own practice and place value on knowledge sharing and experiences, merging traditional and contemporary high- and low-tech approaches, innovation and envisioning new narratives.

"More specifically, Craft Studies works within an educational framework for drafting individual material- and medium-based practices.

"The hands-on process fosters elemental curiosity, critical thinking, cultural phenomena and making.

"Students undertake material explorations, field trips, theoretical challenges, participate in research projects, and advance their own specialisation."

Algae-based materials laid out on concrete floor
Above: Experiments and process documentation at the Estonian Marine Institute base in Kõiguste, Saaremaa. Top image: Field trip to Reykhólar with students from Aalto University, Estonian Academy of Arts and Iceland University of the Arts

Algae for Design-led Transition Towards Blue Bio-economy

"Over the years, the design and architecture faculties of the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) have focused on local environments – from post-industrial landscapes to wild forests and the Baltic Sea.

"While focusing on process and experience-led methods in design education, EKA has been involved in the following ongoing project, including summer schools, fieldwork, laboratory experiments, exhibitions and published texts.

Person creating square shape made out of wooden sticks lashed together
Experimenting with natural materials found at the Estonian Marine Institute base in Kõiguste, Saaremaa

"Algae for Design-led Transition Towards Blue Bio-economy brings together four universities and several industrial partners.

"The main objective of the joint projects is to realise the potential of what is emergent – to co-design alternative pathways for bio-economy development in the Nordic-Baltic region – while preserving the health and well-being of ecosystems.

Photocopy scan of book pages with image of pink algae on right hand side
A fragment from the book Rainforests of the North compiled by students of the Iceland University of the Arts during the project

"At the beginning of this project, we didn't view algae as majestic, but rather as slimy, smelly and uninteresting.

"After three months of traversing the world of algae, we've come to realise their innate beauty, opportunities and profound fragility.

Photo of seaweed drying on racks
Seaweed was draped over drying racks in Iceland to preserve it

"Our goal with the project is to encourage respect for algae.

"By exploring the realm of algae: getting to know their differences, and embracing them, our hope is that with more knowledge and discourse, our coexistence can be strengthened.

Photo of full research book laying on floor
Process documentation by Cärol Ott

"The longer process of searching for an alternative paradigm in design preserving the health and well-being of algae-based ecosystems culminated in the exhibition 'Seaweed Ceremony' in Tallinn, 2022.

"This exhibition hosted a series of investigations honouring algae – also as a material in design – through modest means reminiscent of rituals.

Strips of algae hanging against brick wall
A view of the Seaweed Ceremony exhibition in Põhjala Factory, Tallinn

"Students from Iceland, Finland and Estonia each developed locally-specific regenerative design projects involving gestures, words, action's or objects, often performed according to a set sequence – their own 'symbio(s)cenes'.

"Algae is a renewable bioresource for a more sustainable future – algal biomass is becoming increasingly important as a source of bio-based materials.

Small tincture bottles standing on plywood shelf hung from ceiling
Seaweed Ceremony exhibition view

"Microalgae have shown a potential to directly capture emitted CO2 from the atmosphere and enable a circular carbon economy which is critical to resolving the climate crises.

"There seems to be great anticipation towards this typical habitat of the fragile aquatic ecosystem.

Photo of dimly lit tabletop with items on it
A performance Seaweed Ceremony was created and carried out by Élise Piquemal from Aalto University prior to the exhibition opening in Tallinn

"Algae for Design-Led Transition towards Blue Bio-Economy sees the bio-integrated design and innovation process as iterative and, more specifically, centred on the university–industry collaboration to deliver joint actions supporting bio-economy.

"The uses of modelling, foresight, scenarios, futures-visioning and other Speculative Critical Design methods enable the development of more innovative, sustainable and inclusive blue bio-economies in the Nordic-Baltic region.

Photo of industrial loft space with large windows
Exhibition view. From left: Cryptic Genus by Katarina Kruus, Algae Bruh by Nina Naveršnik, Let Me Take You to the Sea by Zoë Robertson and Baltic Reflections by Vihar Kotecha

"In Autumn 2023, most of the outcomes, process- and method documentation, and written essays will be published in a book.

"The thematic research continues at EKA Craft Studies MA curriculum, new algal nanomaterial development in DiMa Lab and through joint programmes and international collaborations."

Dyed fabrics laying on floor
Pigments extracted from local algae by Katarina Kruus

To view more about Estonian Academy of Arts, visit its website.

Partnership content

This school show is a partnership between Dezeen and Estonian Academy of Arts. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.

More images

Photo of light with lampshade made from algae
Photo of samples in plastic bags laying on floor
Detail of fabric made from algae
Rolls of fabric made from algae on plain backdrop
Detail of fabric made from algae
Detail of fabric made from algae