the architecture of environmental disaster

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    seaweed farmhouses of læsø island, denmark, c. 1600

    the many islands that make up denmark have at times become isolated experiments in how we humans inhabit the planet. none more so than the island of læsø which became a desert around 1600 after the local production of salt had run amok over a period of 2-300 years.

    greed and heavy taxation by the church had increased production decade by decade until there was hardly any forest left on the island, every tree burnt to boil away sea water and harvest the salt. a last-ditch attempt by the crown to turn things round by making it a capital offense to fell trees proved too little, too late.

    over a few years the remaining plants, mostly heather, were gone and then the turf itself was cut up and thrown on the fires.

    with nothing left to burn, the industry collapsed - and with nothing left to contain the sand which makes up this raised seabed of an island, so did the entire local environment, sand soon covering all the remaining arable land.

    even farms and churches were buried under the shifting sands and everything was lost in this man-made disaster. the people who stayed on the island had to reinvent life there.

    today, 400 years after the event, you can still see its impact. a handful of farms built at the time are extant and they resemble no other buildings in denmark, even if the builders attempted to stay true to established typologies.

    with no trees available, these houses were built entirely from salvaged shipwrecks, the complex curvature of ribs and hulls displayed at random in their facades. and with no thatch left, the roofs were covered with seaweed collected on the beach after autumn storms.

    eventually, shaping seaweed roofs became something of an artform and maybe that is where hope lies in this is, however, a lost art since the craft was not passed on in the 20th century. I have seen recent repairs and they are pitiable. on top of that, the particular seaweed used is dying out.

    today, the island has been replanted with trees to bind the sand but you still come across strangely stranded sand dunes in the middle of it.

    what followed.

    EDIT, sept. 2011: the craft of building seaweed roofs has over the last few years been resuscitated with money from the realdania foundation. we saw the first results this summer and it is very convincing.

    this photo was uploaded with a CC license and may be used free of charge and in any way you see fit.
    if possible, please name photographer "SEIER+SEIER".
    if not, don't.

    bryanboyer, stoneroberts, jmtp, oTov, and 53 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    View 5 more comments

    1. seier+seier 68 months ago | reply

      thanks kristo, the blind greed behind the catastrophe should be no stranger today.

    2. wowo72 68 months ago | reply

      initially I thought it was a big stone sitting on walls, but it seems it is some kind of vegetation. Anyway, haven't seen anything like this before. Good find. Thanks for sharing

    3. Hacke 67 months ago | reply

      And now I feel like going to Læsø.... thanks for interesting story!

    4. j▲л [deleted] 67 months ago | reply


    5. arndalarm 67 months ago | reply

      First I thought it was lava burying the building but this is even better.

    6. seier+seier 67 months ago | reply

      hacke: I would prefer going to göteborg myself...

    7. seier+seier 67 months ago | reply

      jeancharles :)

    8. seier+seier 67 months ago | reply

      arnd, we don't really have natural disasters and so are forced to produce our own

    9. Jelyob 65 months ago | reply

      Fascinating story. I'm amazed that no matter how often this type of scenario occurs, humans, as a species seem ignorant of how we are our own worst enemy. Thanks for posting it.

    10. seier+seier 65 months ago | reply

      you are welcome, thanks for commenting. and yes, the sense of history repeating itself is saddening.

    11. travelagendanl 37 months ago | reply


      Just wanted to let you know that we used your photo in an article on our Dutch travel community Of course a link back to your photo is included.
      You can find your photo and the article here:

      Thanks for sharing your great photo!


    12. seier+seier 37 months ago | reply

      you are welcome :)

    13. seier+seier 32 months ago | reply

      good news from læsø:

      the craft of building and repairing seaweed roofs has over the last few years been revived with money from the realdania foundation. we saw the first results this summer and it is very convincing.

    14. purser2 28 months ago | reply

      This is a splendid photo as is the description of life on this island. Well done - thank you

    15. seier+seier 28 months ago | reply

      thanks, purser2. that is very kind of you.

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