The Department of Seaweed

The Department of Seaweed

The Department of Seaweed is a transdisciplinary group who look at the future of seaweed as a sustainable resource, founded by designer and researcher Julia Lohamm. The network includes experts from science, design, art, crafts, philosophy, policy and justice. When these people come together they create outcomes such as research, networks, workshops, public events and exhibitions. Alongside this Julia has developed a way to use seaweed in novel ways, such as her giant kelp structures. The DoS team are researching and developing possible material replacements from algae, and have just been awarded the public vote winner for sustainable design of the year by Dezeen.


Julia Lohamm is a German-born designer and researcher whose work focuses on ethics and material values. Currently a professor of Contemporary Design at Aalto University, Finland, she previously studied at the Royal College of Art where she completed her PhD Scholarship between the RCA Victoria & Albert Museum. While at the V&A in 2013, Julia began the Department of Seaweed. Here she created a community that explored seaweed as a potential design material. At the end of her residency she created the installation ‘Oki Naganode’ for the London Design Festival. This structure was made from Japanese seaweed and was treated to remain transparent and flexible, giving it an almost glass-like quality. The seaweed is then stretched over a rattan frame in sections. These types of objects have now become recognisable as Julia’s work. Their unusual organic shapes allow Julia to have conversations with visitors at her exhibitions, talking about how seaweed can be used in the future and what can be made from it.

“In 2007 I was doing a design residency in Sapporo, Japan when I encountered this amazing seaweed, konbu, in the fish market, folded in long lengths. It looks really gorgeous, like veneer or wood. It is about 20cm wide, grows up to 6m long in just one year, and can be harvested sustainably. In that moment, I imagined there must be this whole seaweed craft that I don’t know anything about. I started imagining a world of everything being made of seaweed! But people told me they just eat it, they don’t make anything from it. So, I thought I need to be the one who starts making it happen.”  – Julia Lohmann 2019, for ICON


Seaweed is incredibly fast growing and can grow to large sizes. This plant-like organism is not only good for you to eat. It also holds amazing qualities for your skin, as well as being the perfect biomaterial. This is mainly due to the fact that it can be manipulated in many different ways, while also not causing damage to the environment when disposed of correctly. But Julia, like many others, wants to reiterate that using seaweed as a new material isn’t a quick fix. When in the ocean they can be beneficial to the ecosystem, and farming could hugely disrupt this, and cause pollution. But if we do this sympathetically, and grow seaweed sustainability, it can actually benefit the environment by pulling harmful excess nutrients from the water and act as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.


Lohmann’s message to world leaders is three-fold.

1.‘First, be conscious of every decision you make: Learn to ask for permission from your great-grandchildren. Is what I’m doing really necessary? Should I invest in this de-futuring company? What long-term impact does it have? Is it necessary to fly or buy something? Always, always think a couple of generations ahead.’

2. ‘Secondly, do things differently: We have many think tanks but now we need to establish “do tanks”. We know what we need to do, so we can’t afford to spend our time writing new recommendations. We have to act now’. Lohmann suggests embedding design into the process of decision-making because design is the discipline of doing,‘Within our institutions, we shouldn’t deprive our visitors of the engaging experience of making something together by showing them just the finished outcomes.’

3. ‘Thirdly, start taking remedial actions: We have to be more agile and build links between science and society. My work promotes seaweed that can be farmed sustainably; it’s the bamboo of the oceans. Seaweed is more than just a material: It is a means of regenerating degraded marine ecosystems. We can also use it as fertiliser and turn it into bioplastic, biofuel, dyes, veneer and textiles. While it grows, it cleans the ocean of harmful excess nutrients such as agricultural run-offs and fish farm faeces. Lots of people are researching it, but it still needs more work across many different disciplines. At Aalto, I have seed funding with the School of Chemical Engineering to establish new research on this topic’.

Julia Lohmann
Petr Krejcí