Seaweed Bank

Marcelle Meier

Seaweed Bank / KF Arkitekter

KF Arkitekter A/S Varkmestergade 25 9 sal, 8000 Aarhus C

Laaelig;soslash;, Denmark
EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2012 - Education, training and awareness-raising

The conservation dilemma on the island of Laelig;soslash; in Denmark

On the tiny island in the Kattegat Sea - Laelig;soslash; - you will find a unique building culture called the "seaweed farms". These seaweed farms are not just some simple farm houses from former times with untidy piles of seaweed paving the
roofs. These houses are more than that - they tell a fascinating story of the daily life and of the development of the isolated society on the island from the early middle-age and up to today. The story makes sense in the short and immediate version, and each person, who sees these houses for the first time, cannot be without a puzzling feeling and a profound fascination of their unique expression.

When digging a little deeper - however - into the historic rear mirror, you are drawn into a mesmerising story, which also involves creative ingenuity, forceful women and their ability to survive in a society with enormous changes and extremely few resources.

The question of how to conserve these houses has for years been totally unresolved and the related problems have been without real possibilities of solution. First and foremost, the general development in building has been in such a state that the traditional houses to a great extent during the course of just one generation are completely gone. Another and essential factor is that since the 1930'ies, a fungal disease in the seaweed has resulted in none at all or in inapplicable building materials. Because of that, the conditions for implementing conservation efforts have been virtually non-existing, and the few remaining seaweed farms are to a great extent in a technically bad state. It is no exaggeration to describe the cultural heritage on Laelig;soslash; was being in great danger of disappearing!

The last 6 years have been boundary set in relation to the conservation challenges at Laelig;soslash;, because for the first time for more than 70 years, it has been possible to obtain applicable seaweed from the southern parts of Denmark. The possibility was discovered by committed craftsmen from Laelig;soslash;, who have tested the material and challenged it to the long forgotten craftsmanship. This resulted in a successful pilot project, which posed a possible foundation and an optimistic access to the seaweed dilemma - and last but not least, been the foundation for future work on a qualified and credible level.

The local thatcher Henning Johansen, together with Poul Christensen, carried out further experiments with farmers from Moslash;n and Bogoslash; and learned how to collect, handle and dry the fresh eelgrass in order to obtain the required quality. Successful experiments on how to compress and transport the first loads of dried eelgrass were carried out later that year. Experiments were also conducted on the use of mechanical aids in order to bring down costs.

In 2008/09 the ideas developed further in cooperation with several philanthropic foundations, the National Museum and the Danish Heritage Agency, and the formalities for establishing the Seaweed Bank were completed in December 2009. Thanks to private donations and a loans from the Realdania Foundation, the first tons of eelgrass were collected and transported to Laelig;soslash;.

The Seaweed Bank was finally established in 2009 with the purpose to ensure systematization of importation and the related processes. Any effort to preserve the unique seaweed farms is dependent on the material being available and on the quality of it being high enough for it to be used as thatching material.
Now, four years later, the Seaweed Bank has a stock of approx. 120 tons of high-quality eelgrass ready to find its final destination and to make the necessary changes towards implementing a strategy for the built heritage. More than 100 tons has already fund it's way to specific conservation projects and new initiatives are emerging.

In 2012 the initiative was awarded by the Europa Nostra with a prize given in category 4 - Education, training and awareness raising. The Committee described the project by following statement: "By awarding the conservation of the seaweed-thatched farmhouses on Laesoe Island the Jury draws attention to a very sensitive and threatened heritage phenomenon that would have been lost without the idea of Seaweed Bank. Focusing not only on a technical, but also social aspect of this needlework-architecture, the initiative shows a remarkable example of voluntary work done by enthusiasts, that allowed for an almost impossible preservation task to be accomplished with local and national resources."

Our mission has been positively boosted through The Europa Nostra prize and one of the more remarkable impacts is that both locally and nationally the awareness has increased and the engagement and attachment towards safeguarding the cultural heritage is higher now than ever.

Laelig;soslash; represents a unique story, into which it makes perfect sense to go deeper and to fall in love - and last, but not least - to make an effort to conserve. The Seaweed Bank has been essential for the development of a sustainable preservation strategy that will ensure this unique architectural heritage for future generations.


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