KØBENHAVNS ERHVERVSAKADEMI

Individual Thesis Research and Year-Long Installation

YEAR: April 2018-2019

ADDRESS: 29N Guldbergsgade, 2200 København N

SUPERVISORS: Mette Marko Hansen, Anke Pasold (Material Design Lab KEA)


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PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The Bachelor's Project at Københavns Erhvervsakademi consists of two parts: an individual building project based on a concept design from the place of internship in sixth semester, and a thirty page thesis on a subject of choice relating to the building industry.

I chose to focus my thesis on the seaweed houses of Læsø, as it is a subject without many resources in English, and has huge potential for the global building industry. On Læsø, the vikings began to build thatched eelgrass roofs after running out of timber on the island. Eelgrass grows across the world, but has declined in amount due to climate change and a wasting disease in the 1930s, and the thatching method on Læsø was nearly lost as a result.

Eelgrass as a building material is carbon neutral, rot resistant, fire resistant, supports local plant life, and is watertight after a year outside. It also has a u-value that is comparable to rockwool. As a result, I chose not only to focus on the historical context of the seagrass, but current and future applications of it.

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It is not a requirement for the thesis to conduct original research. However, I decided to expand on my previous finalist competition entry and develop a prefabricated panel that could be used for roof or facade externally.

These panels, along with the small scale tests, will be installed on a structure on the roof terrace of Guldbergsgade 29N for a year to study how the eelgrass reacts over time to the elements, as well as the thatch construction that I have created.

The installation will continue even after the thesis submission in October 2019. The panels were designed with the original tectonics of the Læsø houses in mind: embracing the organic quality of the material instead of forcing it to conform. However the wood boundaries and underlying structure of the panels transforms the tectonics, adding repetition and order to the organic properties of the seaweed.

 Detail of two panels next to each other

Detail of two panels next to each other

I began with small-scale tests, building off both the old methods of thatching, and existing research from Studio Seagrass and Tobias Gumstrup Lund Øhrstrøm's master thesis. Tobias combined eelgrass with different natural binders, which in some cases made it immediately waterproof, and also created a structural integrity.

These small scale tests consisted of first working only with water and eelgrass, rehydrating the eelgrass, and then adding minimal amounts of natural binders, on 10x10cm structured wood panels.  Since the goal was to retain the organic quality of the eelgrass, very minimal amounts of binder were used in the mixtures and recorded meticulously to account for human error and variety. I only used natural binders, so that the non-toxicity of the eelgrass would be preserved.

 Initial experiments making a "vask" of eelgrass with different binders. The original method of thatching the eelgrass involves creating a rope ("vask") with a slimmer end that is wrapped around the rafters of the roof of the house. More eelgrass is piled on top of the vasks and children stomp on the seaweed to help release the natural glue.

Initial experiments making a "vask" of eelgrass with different binders. The original method of thatching the eelgrass involves creating a rope ("vask") with a slimmer end that is wrapped around the rafters of the roof of the house. More eelgrass is piled on top of the vasks and children stomp on the seaweed to help release the natural glue.

I started with two natural binders and water. I expanded to eight different binders that were plant or animal based with different bloom strengths. Three of each binder and panel typology were made in these sketch models to be installed on varying sides of the installation structure. 

 Panel Typology: Woven panel  This panel was designed to be a bit neater and conform to a more rigid underlaying structure. The repetition of the panels is clearer with this typology as the boundaries between structure and eelgrass are more visible.

Panel Typology: Woven panel

This panel was designed to be a bit neater and conform to a more rigid underlaying structure. The repetition of the panels is clearer with this typology as the boundaries between structure and eelgrass are more visible.

 Panel Typology: Loose panel  This panel was based off the original roofs on Læsø and are designed so that the eelgrass can cascade over each other, masking the modularity to an extent.

Panel Typology: Loose panel

This panel was based off the original roofs on Læsø and are designed so that the eelgrass can cascade over each other, masking the modularity to an extent.

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 The sketch model assembly line. Each row is a different binder.

The sketch model assembly line. Each row is a different binder.

After the small scale tests, I decided to make the larger panels out of just water and eelgrass. This is because in general the binders changed the texture and the nature of the eelgrass, removing it from its original context.

The water allowed flexibility in the eelgrass while thatching, while the binders stiffened and in some cases made the eelgrass more brittle. However the binders could improve the water-tight abilities of the construction and studying it outside over time will allow me to research this.

 The four different medium-sized panels. Each panel has a different underlying structure with different spacing, and a different method of thatching.

The four different medium-sized panels. Each panel has a different underlying structure with different spacing, and a different method of thatching.

It is important to note that this project is something that has never happened before at KEA, and never with the BUILD line and would not exist without the support of many people along the way.

I am incredibly grateful for the personal support of my supervisors at Material Design Lab and their connections to so many resources including to Det Teknologisk Institut (who ethically supplied the eelgrass for the project), as well as Anders Haldin of MakerLab who gave advice about the panel structure and let me work in the workshop around my work hours at Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects. Their enthusiasm and belief in me encouraged me to push the boundaries beyond what I could have ever dreamed was possible from studying at KEA.

Further thanks goes to Claudio Testa, head of program for approving the connection to the KEA BUILD line, along with Dan Korsgaard of Campus Service for supporting the project and approving the structure. I am also full of gratitude for my husband Lucas Larsen who served as my assistant, helping me thatch the 54 sketch models over the course of two days and who helped me brainstorm different methods for thatching the larger panels. Finally, a huge thanks goes to Katrine Kringsholm-Eriksen and Sidsel Hemmer Rolighed of Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects for allowing me to adjust my work schedule during my internship to work on this project and meet with my supervisors during regular work hours.