Glastonbury ’24: how a set made from seaweed pushed design boundaries

This year, the famous festival Hayes Pavilion showcased seaweed bioplastic, proving biomaterials can create functional, sustainable structures for events and inspire eco-conscious design.

You’ve probably seen and read a lot over the last ten years about how biomaterials hold the key to numerous forthcoming design revolutions: everything from product design to fashion to architecture. But most of what you see is very much in the experimental, conceptual stages. So it’s easy to get cynical and think that nothing will ever come of it.

That’s why free-thinking events like the Glastonbury Festival are so important. They provide the space and scope to build real, functional structures from these materials and act as a real-life proof of concept. That is why, when I was invited to represent Creative Boom at this year’s event, I was keen to head to the Silver Hayes area.

Located to the west of the Pyramid and Other Stages, Silver Hayes is dedicated to optimism and change. It combines forward-thinking electronic artists with positive action, debate, technology, and design. Last year, it grabbed headlines with the Hayes Pavilion, which was constructed from salvaged timber and prefabricated mycelium insulation.

Yep, mycelium, as in mushrooms. Though it may sound unlikely, this biomaterial grown from the root structure of fungi is rapidly becoming a go-to building material as a natural insulator and fire retardant for structures.

Seaweed solution

This year, the Hayes Pavilion was back with a new look: adorned with translucent, jelly-like sheets of backyard-compostable bioplastic derived from seaweed. Leksi Kostur, biodesigner and co-founder of research and design team Re:Right Design has been developing this fossil-free material over several years. And just to make it more obvious to festival goers, this bioplastic has been manipulated to resemble foaming waves, seaweed fronds, and laser-cut scales hung like mobiles.

This innovative material was made using red and brown seaweed sourced locally from Europe and the UK, mixed with vegetable pigments like cabbage and beetroot for colour. Unlike conventional plastics or even industrialised bioplastics such as polylactic acid (PLA), this material is entirely home-compostable and degrades in soil within weeks.

Meanwhile, the mycelium used in last year’s pavilion – a collaboration with the specialist Magical Mushroom Company – also returned as backing for the bioplastic. To provide sound insulation in a noisy festival environment, the pavilion was also surrounded by acoustic panels made from hemp shiv, provided by Erthly.

An ocean of inspiration

Suitably enough, the pavilion was used as a backdrop for the world’s first public screening of Seaweed Stories, produced by actor Adrian Grenier’s award-winning nonprofit Lonely Whale and supported by Phillip Sarofim’s Trousdale Ventures.

This charming educational film highlights the wonders of seaweed and some of the extraordinary stories and characters orbiting this miraculous plant – from the Indigenous Shinnecock Kelp Farmers proving their sovereign right to land to a Silicon Valley startup creating plastic alternatives from macroalgae and a scientist in South Korea supporting seaweed’s sexual reproduction to create new climate-resilient strains.

Other screenings from the pavilion included Blue Carbon: Nature’s Hidden Power from MAKE Waves and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, in which Jayda Guy invites us to listen to nature and to the communities fighting to avoid climate catastrophe; Gaza Surf Club, which highlights the power of surfing as a form of emancipation and freedom in the land of the “not-free”; and Out of Step from Finisterre, in which surfers Tom Bing and Sally McGee embark on a journey with their son to explore the idea of adventure as education.

Watching documentaries like these within a physical structure that puts principles into practice was a truly thrilling experience. Bringing people together in this way is a great way to inspire the idea that design innovation for good isn’t just a theoretical concept but something we can all take part in and feel optimistic about.

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