Course Blog

Algae & The Shape Of Things To Come

Barriers between design practitioners and scientific researchers have blurred in recent decades – particularly within the commercial application of scientific developments – but it’s still important to acknowledge that it’s quite obvious that i’m not a practising scientist, and most scientists don’t make embracing design their prime objective.

Context is everything – current projects struggle to grip because they rely on prescient without proper historical arguments, or on technologies that aren’t fully understood by designers or the (viewing) general public – what use is a table lamp powered by moss if we can plug in a lamp at home? Producing Bio-fuel is a process; simply replacing petroleum extraction with algae growth in industrial tanks, and to consumers, the end product is identical, with the designed process completely invisible.

It’s important that synthetic biology and design is therefore relatable and applicable – Sea Me from Dutch maker Nienke Hoogvliet is a rug woven from algae cellulose, a tactile exploration of algae in design. Farma from William Patrick poises a future in which we can grow our own drugs, a future made realistic through believable form and current product vernacular.


The Terroir Project from Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt is another great exhibition of how the materiality of algae within design can help the public understand real-world, actionable applications for synthetic biology.



As far back as the Ancient Greeks, algae dyes and pigments have been utilised for rudimentary makeup and clothing dye – the production of carotenoids and chlorophylls within algae allowing for strong colour penetration without the use of harmful synthesised chemicals. leonbrown_transactions_report10

Indeed, the Algaemy project from designers Essi Johanna Glomb and Rasa Weber (amongst other projects) is an exploration into modern design of a dye system using algae. It is still rather archaic in appearance however, and fails to relate to contemporary product vernacular and modes of use – why not design an algae dying system using common home products, such as an ink-jet printer?   leonbrown_transactions_report13

A printer in form like others, but functionally opposed – CYMKA is a concept artefact that attempts to bridge gaps between current synthetic biology practises within major industry and the consumer realities that face us within the home everyday.

As a way of safely and considerately introducing synthetic biology to the mass market and the challenging thoughts around living with living things, the printer is designed to appear normal – but is created with the intention of cultivating a symbiotic relationship with an algae ecosystem that resides on top of the device, sustained by constant input and care from the user much in the same way as a fish tank, or terrarium.

By revealing symbiotic opportunities that a Synthetic Biology future can offer us within a consumer product space, CYMKA hopes to garner attention of the public and generate further consumer interest for interacting with living things.leonbrown_transactions_report14

Dependant on the quality of care given to the algae ecosystem within CYMKA, will be the quality and craftsmanship of the inks and printed media that can be gained from it. Differing environments can be constructed in ways to harvest many thousands of different types of algae – and differing textures of ink, with varying success.

European algae are commonly red and brown in tone – and have a tougher epidermis that can produce hardy and deep inks; historically reduced and strained around the Irish sea and within Nordic communities, as a natural fabric dye. Bright green algae populate warmer waters, including Asian and pacific arenas – slightly dryer in texture, emitting a more consistent ink with a thinner texture for detailed dye work.


In choosing a printer, I have designed CYMKA to also celebrate to the long history that exists around the usage of algae as a cultural object – throughout history, algae has not only been utilised within cuisine and agriculture; but also within fashion, design, the crafts and arts. Egyptian makeup has contained algae dyes, as has clothing from cultures along the Mediterranean coast and up toward Nordic isles. CYMKA is designed to facilitate an emotional connection between man and microbe-kind, and as a tool of artistic collaboration cross-species. Care for the algae, and it will care for your printed work.