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Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSc)

Julian Ellis-Brown

Julian Ellis-Brown [jules] is a strategic thinker and systems designer specialising in novel sustainable materials.
From a background in engineering, julian has explored numerous projects involving environmental design. By applying technical rigour alongside thinking at scale, he questions our current interactions with nature and how they might be improved for the benefit of the earth. Julian has also co-founded the innovative-textiles company ‘SaltyCo’ alongside three peers from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. He has a bachelors in Mechanical Engineering alongside both an MSc and an MA in Innovation Design Engineering. 

Independent Awards and Exhibitions

British Airways ‘Flight of the Future’ centenary Exhibition, Saatchi Gallery, 2019

SOL FORCE Festival in support of Freedom from Torture, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, 2019

Periplus ‘FORM’ Exhibition, Kalamata, 2019 


SaltyCo Awards

Runner-Up ‘Design for Social Impact’ 2020, Core77

4thPlace Community Award 2020, Green Concept Award

Creative and Consumer Heats winner, finalist and Mentor Prize winner 2020, Venture Catalyst Challenge

Semi-finalist 2020, London Mayor Awards (Ongoing) 


SaltyCo Exhibitions

Architect at Work (Material Driven), Bilbao, 2020

Green Product Award Exhibition, IHMMunich, 2020 (Cancelled)

‘Moving to Mars’ Exhibition, The Design Museum, 2020

SaltyCo WIP Showcase, The Royal College of Art, 2020

SaltyCo WIP Showcase, Imperial College London, 2020





Degree Details

School of Design

Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSc)

From the beginning of lockdown, Julian left London and returned to his family home in Hampshire. Here he continued to pursue the experimentation, testing and formation of his latest project, the Ventnor Brickworks. 

My work focuses on large problems - global warming, dramatic environmental changes and how we might combat the growing temperature rise of our earth alongside its dwindling resources. These problems often require large, complex solutions. Thinking in scales is paramount to understanding how we might re-evaluate the way we interact with nature and the environment to better serve both us and our world. Wicked problems are often systemic, therefore we must consider in our work how to create change on not just individual levels, but communal, societal, national and global ones as well. Designing for every level of this scale to build symbiotic relationships with our environment is what underpins my methodology, and what I will continue to pursue in the coming years of my practice. 

This page is a story of one of Julian's projects, the Ventnor Brickworks. It represents a recognition of a need to change the way we create a materials, combined with how to introduce circularity by turning waste-streams into value-streams

For any further questions regarding his work or associated business, please do not hesitate to get in contact using the links above.

(Picture: the Ventnor Brickworks Process)

visualisation — a visualisation of how the brickworks would sit on the seafront in Ventnor, a small fishing village on the Isle of Wight.

VBW at dawn — a render of the Ventnor Brickworks at dawn

Nature has the power to offer symbiotic connections with material production, but our current relationship with natural resources is one of exploitation rather than collaboration. The Ventnor Brickworks tells a story of how we might revert our conditioned ideas of what that relationship looks like by taking a costly waste stream of kelp and turning it into valuable construction materials for global and local contexts.

The Ventnor Brickworks is a new form of distributed, low energy, low cost production of eco-friendly building materials. With the innovative addition of kelp as a key ingredient, energy savings are made across the entire brick making process.

The resulting product is a carbon-negative building material with comparative strength of clay bricks, displaying impressive insulating properties, and a more sustainable life cycle.

The Brickworks fits inside a standard 12m shipping container. This modular form reduces cost of set-up, creates distributed, mobile and deliverable manufacturing hubs, and takes the production right to the source of the raw elements.

This enables places like Ventnor to redefine their relationship with a costly waste stream, to produce valuable assets.

The Ventnor Brickworks: building a sustainable future, brick by brick.
BiodesignBiomaterialCircular-Economyclimate changeClimate crisisenvironmentenvironmentaldesignInnovationMaterialityMaterialsSustainabledesignthe Ventnor brickworks

home temperature loss in the UK — In February 2020, a study by Tado revealed that UK houses are the least insulated in the whole of Europe. This lack of insulation leads to heavy greenhouse gas emissions, expensive bills, and more noise pollution in our homes. If the nation’s homes were properly insulated, we could save the equivalent energy generated by 3000 wind turbines every year. Unfortunately the majority of financially accessible options are petrochemical-based, have high embodied energy and often leak toxic materials into the environment throughout production and disposal. How might nature offer us more environmentally friendly, low cost solutions?

the Isle of Wight and Ventnor — On the south coast of the Isle of Wight, there is a small town called Ventnor. Ever since a costly redesign of its fair-weather haven in 2003, the small town has been managing tonnes upon tonnes of kelp washing up into the bay. To this day this is continuing to damage infrastructure and affect local tourism.

the haven at Ventnor — A local harbour management company is spending literally thousands and thousands of pounds of the local council’s money to continually rake and remove the kelp from the haven, only for it to return the following week.

the deluge of kelp — There have been attempts to find uses for the kelp but; farmers don’t want to buy it, it can't be consumed by humans and more industrial uses come with a need for infrastructure that a small town like Ventnor simply can't support. What else might we be able to do with this costly waste stream? And how might it help us with our battle for better insulated homes?

adobe building

natural binders




final recipe

sodium alginate

aerated form

The Ventnor Original recipe was created after a long experimentation process of many iterations exploring bioplastics, natural binders, adobe-building, cross-linking and bio-polymers. The final Ventnor Brickworks process utilises a number of mechanisms to have such a small carbon impact.

Sodium alginate, found in the cell walls of kelp, can be used as a biopolymer when mixed with water to glue aggregate together. Alginates are usually extracted from heavy industrial processes, but by harnessing this chemical from simply ground kelp, large carbon savings are achieved. The gluing effect also omits the need for sintering by firing, allowing the curing temperatures to be a 10th of traditional clay bricks.

From using an additional natural polysaccharide, the internal structure of the bricks takes an aerated form, which allows more airflow for curing throughout, improved insulation properties and gives it half the density of clay, reducing transport emissions.

the Ventnor Original — an insulating brick that also offers structural support. Low carbon, low energy.

audio tile — a sound insulating tile to create bespoke audio environments indoors. Low carbon, low energy.

fire retardancy

compressive strength

additive manufacturing

thermal conductivity

existing insulation structure and proposed solution



acoustic insulation testing

The Ventnor Brickwork’s signature product is the Ventnor Original, a structural brick that boasts high thermal and acoustic insulating properties, at a fraction of the ecological and financial cost. The Ventnor Original can replace not only toxic thermally insulating materials, it also negates the need for further structural support from panel frames or other brick constructions, removing the ecological impact from two carbon-heavy sources.

The bricks have been tested for flame retardancy, compressive strength, thermal conductivity and acoustic insulation alongside compatibility with modern technologies such as additive manufacturing. At the end of the bricks life, they can be easily recycled to be used again in another context.

The Ventnor Original was unable to be tested in lab facilities due to the extenuating circumstances, therefore the material was instead benchmarked against clay bricks, and existing insulation. It outperforms the clay and the Celotex in acoustic insulation, thermal conductivity and of course, the carbon footprint. Although hard to measure precisely with a car, it is in the same magnitude of strength as clay, but a little weaker.

the kelp house — By connecting with American-Danish innovator, Kathryn Larsen, I showcased how the Ventnor original might work in collaboration with the prefab eelgrass roofing panels that she has designed. A ‘kelp-house’ that celebrates the benefits of working with the diverse seaweeds found around the world to create a built environment that sequesters carbon within it.

elevation model VBW — The Ventnor Brickworks has been envisioned to be held within a shipping container.

a deployable system — This enables the system to be mobile, reproducible, deliverable and local. It could therefore be transferred to places experiencing similar problems, or to areas where kelp is being actively farmed and harvested.

axo model VBW — The Ventnor Brickworks is not just about the products created, but also about how they represent an identity of an overlooked community.

plan model VBW — "This project began as my own family has a lot of heritage on the Isle of Wight and it is somewhere I spent a great deal of my childhood. My experience there has led me to understand that although a beautiful island rich in biodiversity and historical heritage, it represents one of the poorest communities in the UK." - Julian Ellis-Brown

elevation model VBW — Ventnor was recognised in the 2015 UK Deprivation Indices as one of the top 20% most deprived areas in the country. Problems such as the Ventnor kelp deluge is one of a very long list, and although this project begins to tackle this one specifically, it is also meant as a way to shine a light on a community so often overlooked. This Ventnor Brickworks challenges not only our relationship with nature, but acts as a vision for how the island might reinvent itself as a leader of innovation, rather than a pariah of antiquity.

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