Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab

ORGANIZATION NAME: Architectural Ecologies Lab at California College of the Arts

LOCATION: Oakland, California, USA

SUMMARY: Buoyant Ecologies is a collaborative research platform that synthesizes architectural design, marine ecology, and digital fabrication to explore new approaches to constructing resilient waterfront structures. The project’s ambition is to develop compelling strategies for designing and fabricating scalable resilient coastal structures that enhance the biodiversity of the surrounding ecology.

PROBLEM SPACE: “As societies across the globe attempt to adapt to the uncertain implications of climate change, there is little doubt that rising ocean levels will have a tremendous impact on the configuration of coastal cities. The Buoyant Ecologies project begins with the premise that communities must accept the eventuality of rising water levels and actively develop new alternatives to conventional waterfront development. It builds upon several years of empirical proof-of concept research that speculates how todayäó»s waterfront can capitalize on twenty-first century economies and ecologies. Operating at the nexus of technological innovation, urban infrastructure, and marine ecology, the project proposes new, scalable models for floating architecture as a strategy to enhance the resilience of coastal settlements.

The San Francisco Bay, the primary site for this research, is Americaäó»s largest Pacific estuary with the greatest number of non-native marine invertebrates. These animals typically attach to and accumulate on hard surfaces in what are called fouling communities, which are commonly seen as a nuisance. This project seeks to invert that premise, proposing that optimized cultivation of fouling communities can promote broader ecological biodiversity, attenuate wave action, and reduce shoreline erosion, thereby helping to mitigate the effects of sea level rise on coastal communities.”

SOLUTION: “The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab is a prototype for a resilient, floating architecture that anticipates the existential risks of sea level rise threatening coastal cities. The project builds upon a funded, multi-year research initiative that brings together architects, ecologists, and fabricators to develop new material strategies for constructing resilient waterfront structures. The research advances a paradigm shift to consider fouling communities as a resource by developing and monitoring contoured, fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite substrates that, through geometric variation, provide hills and valleys that can serve as habitats for various types of species. Underwater, the substrate geometry is optimized to control upside-down settlements of invertebrates that both contribute to the biological diversity of the marine ecology and potentially serve as wave-attenuating sponges. Above water, surface geometry can create watershed tidal pools for the development of intertidal or terrestrial habitats.

FRP, commonly known as fiberglass, is extremely durable and corrosion resistant, with a long history of use in maritime applications. The Float Lab’s top and bottom are symmetrical, fabricated from the same robotically-carved mold, which precisely contours the ecologically-optimized topography. Embedded in the Float Lab’s design is a modular, scalable logic that allows for larger aggregations and adaptation to different sites.”