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Algae: a material for healthier urban environments

    The lab is continuing it’s work as a partner with University of the Arts London (UAL) for the EU funded project OD&M (Open design & Manufacturing). This project connects universities, makerspace and enterprises to work collaboratively encouraging open-design principles, innovative practice and sharing ethos to design towards social good.

    As a makerspace with a concern for re-designing complex urban food, water and waste systems Green Lab values open-source design and innovation to tackle important challenges for the future and knowledge exchange is fundamental to achieving sustainable practice on a global scale.

    For this stage of the project a small team from Green Lab will spend the next 6 weeks tutoring 12 MA Industrial Design students from Central Saint Martins. Having created a design led brief that focuses on the future of Algae, students will be encouraged to work with these incredible organisms to speculate the immense potential they could have in a more sustainable future. This brief will challenge them to work with living systems and encourage them to focus on material as a starting point.

    MAID students ideation workshop

    The Brief

    The open design for sustainable future living project will explore how an open design-led process can be used to develop future products, materials, new processes or services that use algae as the core material; whether at an industrial level such as a future biofuel, at a much more personal level for cosmetics, food source, a new material, decorative perspectives or as a bioremediation (cleaning our air and landmass).

    The context

    The natural resources of our planet are being used at a greater rate than they can be naturally replenished and the shift towards a more sustainable and ecological way of using resources has become a global imperative.

    A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a sobering picture of the potentially terrible impacts of allowing global mean surface temperature to rise by 2C compared with pre-industrial levels: more extreme weather, sea level rise and ocean acidification, with detrimental effects on wildlife, crops, water availability and human health.

    Exploring how we use naturally occurring biological and organic materials that do not have a detrimental effect on our natural habitats, human life or broader ecological survival is now being explored by organisations across the corporate footprint of every major country.

    This project seeks to provide an insight into naturally occurring macro and micro algae that grow in freshwater and saline environments; from the tiny microscopic algae that create the green waters in local ponds to the vast kelp forests that fill our oceans. Algae occurs naturally in our oceans in the form of seaweed and also in freshwater in temperate and tropical environments.

    Algae are simple life forms with simple biological needs (light, Co2, simple nutrients) and have been farmed and used to create new materials, fuel sources, highly nutritious food sources, cosmetics, light sources and decorative materials. Algae has numerous benefits that make it an ideal choice for creating a variety of sustainable products.

    idea generation

    The outcomes

    We are asking the students to produce a set of design tools and methods that explore collaborative design research with stakeholders of the product, service or materials developed. We also require insight into the feasibility of developing the end product/service as a commercial service and also the environmental impacts the product/service will have.

    All narrative and future scenarios must be backed up with research currently being done within this field.
    They will produce a physical end product, design or service model that can narrate the scenario there work is situated within.

    The project offers design challenges of working with living materials and systems, installing a greater consideration and understanding of the material itself.

    We will be running a series of workshops and field trips with the students aiming to inspire them of the vast possible directions they can take this brief.

    The outcome will be an open design project that allows for public engagement and critique. Theoretically this process should enable people from outside of the university space to pick up ideas and research conducted throughout the 6 weeks and develop there own future possibilities.

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