Spira Partner Feature: Kathryn Larsen, The Future of Biomaterials
Written by: Deepthi Sendilkumar
As we continue to highlight Spira’s valuable business partners, this series would be incomplete without focusing on Kathryn Larsen. Kathryn Larsen is a Denmark-based Architect and Designer making a mark in the community for her use of seaweed, seagrass and heritage-based sustainability. Founder of Studio Kathryn Larsen, Kathryn shared her journey with architecture and biomaterials.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Kathryn began architecture school in the United States and moved to Denmark to continue graduate school. Here she first grew interested in seaweed after coming across houses built with seagrass and learned more from algae farmers. This led Kathryn to focus her Master’s thesis on the application of seaweed, microalgae and seashells in architecture. Having almost negligible resources, Kathryn worked two jobs to fund her thesis costing her several thousand. Eventually, Kathryn started her design firm “Studio Kathryn Larsen” which specializes in residential architecture and commercial interiors while minimizing the impact on our environment.
Watercolor Painting created with spirulina ink
A prominent obstacle in Kathryn’s journey was the lack of resources and guidance. Extremely keen to implement microalgae as a colorant for bioplastics, Kathryn soon ran into several issues. Due to a lack of research present, Kathryn was required to invest time and materials to conduct R&D.
Kathryn recounted a story from her early stages of R&D. She developed a dulse seaweed bioplastic base to which she added microalgae pigments, however during the drying phase the material started to develop holes. Unsure how to continue, Kathryn posted her struggles on her instagram account @theseaweedgirl, where fellow designer Jana Aimee @seetang explained that microalgae destabilize agar bioplastics, and to add sugar to the mixture.
To help find a community of like-minded individuals, Kathryn joined various online courses where she found a big bio design community spanning the globe. Although the courses were brand new, they helped Kathryn feel connected and promoted an easy flow of information among her peers. This allowed Kathryn to build off existing research and introduce the needed tweaks and modifications in her R&D.
Kathryn strongly believes that information should be used to inspire other people and should be passed down to generations. To help give back, Kathryn started a YouTube channel where she posts videos on the knowledge gained through her experience. She hopes to help others in their journey with biomaterials and create a community for individuals to discuss and ask questions through comments.
Past meets Future
Thatch, clay and seaweed may be materials of the past, but are now making their way back into present-day projects. Although initially seen as primitive and robust, the public’s attitude has made a 180 and is now eager to use greener alternatives to concrete. To help build dialogue, Kathryn takes the initiative to reach out to experienced tradespeople and farmers as well as visits farms and museums. She believes there is so much knowledge to be passed down and most farmers are eager to share information with younger generations. Kathryn hopes to help build dialogue between designers and farmers and share the important history of the materials.
When asked about the future of biomaterials in Denmark, Kathryn told us there has been increasing attention to fast-growing biogenetic masses such as straw, hemp and bamboo. Kathryn hopes to see more rejection of concrete for smaller projects.
At Spira, we’re grateful for Kathryn’s work and are excited to see the future of biomaterial implementation in architecture - around Denmark and the world.
Mosfarve (Danish Paint using Irish Moss Seaweed) colored with Spira Pigments