Reykjavik, Iceland – Rainforests of the North


It is common knowledge that Iceland lacks woodlands. However, if we consider forests in a broader sense, it becomes clear that Iceland is surrounded by “forests” of kelp.

At the beginning of this three-month project, participants did not view algae as majestic, but rather as slimy, smelly, and uninteresting. As they immersed themselves in the world of algae, they came to realize their innate beauty, potential and profound fragility. Collectively, they came to realise the immense cultural and ecological importance of Icelandic kelp forests. This raised questions of how they can be protected from negative human impacts such as exploitation, pollution and habitat degradation.

The ‘Rainforests of the North’ project aims to encourage respect for algae, modelled on the high regard Icelanders have for their mosslands, leading to concerted preservation efforts. The project participants hope that as algae-related knowledge increases and discourse spreads, the coexistence of humans and the marine organisms can be re-balanced and strengthened. In the words of Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson, "You protect only what you love, you love only what you know. You know only what you are taught.”

This project was completed in partnership with Iceland University of the Arts and funded by Nordplus.

Rainforests of the North, the film:

The Film Rainforests of the North was completed in collaboration with Katrín Þorvaldsdóttir, an Icelandic artist that has worked with seaweed for over thirty years. Katrín and her work were a great inspiration to the project. The film recounts how we have come to perceive the marine material and its ecosystem, how our perspective changed as we gained more knowledge and understanding, from initially viewing seaweed as something slimy and uninteresting to appreciating its beauty and uniqueness.

Resonance of algae:

The shore is a unique landscape that varies depending on the ebb and flow of the tides. Likewise, each type of algae has its own landscape. It was this landscape that was used to give the different algae species a voice. They were scanned three-dimensionally, and the resulting data set transferred to a sound synthesizer, resulting in unique sounds for each type. The frequency of the sounds decreases depending on how deep along the shore the algae lives. Each algae becomes an instrument played by the sea, a whole symphony.

Rainforests of the North: Revisiting the Shore, the book:

The book ‘Rainforests of the North: Revisiting the Shore’ covers the research element of the project. It guides readers from our first impressions of algae towards the knowledge and respect for it we gained as the project progressed.

Behind the Scenes

Rainforests of the North is a research-based design project by product design students of Iceland University of the Arts of the class of 2022. The project is the result of, ‘Rendezvouz’, a course led by designer and educator Tinna Gunnarsdóttir and is a part of a two-year initiative named ‘Algae for Design-Led Transition towards a Blue Bio-Economy’ funded by Nordplus Horizontal.


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