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monthlies OnOffice July9

29 Jan 2018

Q&A: Nordgröna on designing with living reindeer moss

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Reindeer moss, also known as Cladonia rangiferina, is a powerful tool and indicator. It points to health, soaks up the atmosphere’s pollution, purifies the air and absorbs sound – just a few characteristics of the natural product currently making its way into our buildings.

Applying reindeer moss to walls may not seem like such a far-fetched idea, either, as decorating an interior, a workplace or any building with the substance can in fact create an easy-to-maintain, inspiring and nourishing environment. Handpicked from the forest or mountainous areas in Scandinavia, Nordgröna are a Swedish design trio currently implementing these discoveries into intricately designed yet beautifully simple products.

We spoke to Joris Oudendijk – co-founder alongside his twin brother Sander and Oscar Pressfeldt – to find out more about the astounding material and where the reindeer moss design venture began.

Run us through how you first discovered reindeer moss and its ability to absorb water. Did you have any previous knowledge of its abilities? Or was it all by chance?

We started Nordgröna as part of the Master's programme in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Lund University in 2013. My brother and I at the time produced various artwork for interiors and we were interested in creating something different with plants. My brother then remembered the material when he was hiking in the north of Sweden and his tent filled up with rainwater – it was by chance that he discovered it was good for soaking up the water. He then kept the reindeer moss in the corners of the tent where the rainwater collected during the hiking trip. Back at University, he and a Swedish friend of ours looked into the material further and it gradually went from there.

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Where do you source the reindeer moss – are there any limitations?

The reindeer moss we use comes from a region in Norway. The material grows across parts of the northern hemisphere so it can be found among many different areas. However, it only has the right quality we need at certain altitudes. The material is gathered in a very large district where it grows in large quantities and hand-picked in a way that allows for regrowth. About 2% of a given area is picked before it is revisited again after 6-7 years. This is done in collaboration with the local government as well as landowners.

The use of the material is actually not that new and the reindeer moss picking industry is quite traditional. Reindeer moss has been used for various different purposes, mostly in the Nordics – the use of it as a material for interiors and being exported beyond the Nordics is however fairly recent.

Where do you see the reindeer moss being used? Do you think it will benefit an office environment?

We see the reindeer moss being used in any interior where improved acoustics are important. For office environments, in particular, the popularity of open offices is leading to an increase of interest in this field.  

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Run us through the design process - how do you build it? Is there a particular design or shape that works best?

The current product design has been the result of a lot of engineering thought. There is a surprising amount of technical development involved for a product that seems straightforward at the first sight. The initial design was co-developed with members of the Engineering Faculty of Lund University in order to improve the acoustic absorption properties. This has led to certain choices in terms of thickness, moss density as well as material choices. In order to improve the acoustic absorption performance, the key is to allow for sound waves to convert their energy into a vibration in parts of the reindeer moss panel. Basically, this is how sound is absorbed; the sound waves are converted into microscopic vibrations, which is turned into heat. The natural ‘fluffy’ structure of the reindeer moss is ideal to enable this, but the tricky part is to achieve this for various different frequencies and directions of sound waves. This is where different moss densities, materials and shapes come in. 

Each panel is made by hand at our facility in Sweden. We have been making the panels in-house ever since we started in order for us to ensure high-quality production and in order to implement new products and improvements as quickly as possible.

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