London-based architecture studio Bureau de Change collaborated with student artist Lulu Harrison to create a series of architectural cladding tiles from bio-glass made using mussel shells. Harrison is a student of the post graduate program in Material Futures at UAL: Central Saint Martins in London.

Harrison’s bio-glass is made from the ground-up shells of quagga mussels mixed with sand and waste wood ash. An invasive mussel species, quagga mussel shells often clog up the transfer tunnels of Thames Water, and are removed and sent to landfill. Instead, by using the mussel shells as raw material in the production of the bio-glass, Harrison has been able to provide an eco-sensitive solution to the problem.

Bureau de Change, which is led by Katerina Dionysopoulou and Billy Mavropoulos, worked with Harrison to explore the possibility of creating an environment-friendly cladding product from the bio-glass. Thames Glass, as the biomaterial is called, is completely hand-made, which would make each cladding tile unique in appearance with its own micro-texture and colour. Additionally, glass, being infinitely recyclable, is a sustainable material. In this case, glass is produced from discarded mussel shells as well as local wastes, making Thames Glass score high on the sustainability factor.

The collaboration between the architects and the artist has led to the creation of a series of cast glass facade tiles, with the patterns taking inspiration from London’s architectural history – specifically, 19th-century terracotta chimney pots and the city’s water pipes. These cladding tiles were exhibited at Beautility: How Fusing Beauty and Function Can Change the World, which was organised as part of London Craft Week held earlier this month.

Harrison explained that the exhibition was curated by Here Design to demonstrate how innovation in the biosphere can light the path to a more sustainable future. “The glass is made using crushed quagga mussels shell waste from Thames Water, local sands and waste wood ash to replace the highly processed and uneconomic materials that often go into everyday glassmaking,” she said.

Image: Lulu Harrison