Biodiverse Built Environments: High-performance passive systems for ecologic resilience

Aug 09, 2022

This project advanced a prototype for an engineered-living wall panel derived from mangrove trees and applied it to a constructed waterfront. The goals of the engineered-living shoreline are to restore a tidal ecotone containing a hierarchy of habitats embedded in the panels and to improve the environment by establishing preferred conditions for foundation species - those species that disproportionately engineer the environment and create suitable conditions for other species. The present work aims to design a living seawall and collaborate with industry partners to make it economically sustainable.

The method to develop the panels relies on biomimetic designs built on parametric models of natural systems and manifested through novel fabrication techniques. Through two pilot studies, the living seawall panels were installed and monitored for biological recruitment over two years. These “Mangrove Reef Walls” demonstrated a distinct performance advantage over conventional seawalls in terms of habitat creation and waterfront aesthetic value.

One of the outcomes of the project was a critical perspective on the materiality of seawalls. The results indicated that form and materiality both play a significant role in supporting healthy tidal environments. The two pilot studies also explored the feasibility of utilizing silicone mold liners to create the texture and depth of root forms derived from mangrove and oyster patterns. Although feasible for smaller-scale installations, the molds require additional structural support and handling equipment if they are to be used in large-scale applications.

This report introduces the context for the work and an overview of the panel research, production and installation. The section, Coastal Communities, covers the environmental challenges that have arisen due to human activities along coastlines. In Waterways and Walls, the typology of the seawall-lined Florida canal is introduced. Living Seawall Concept outlines the proposed shift in construction toward biodiverse built environments through the lens of the panel design and project installation. Finally, Future Work outlines some future directions for the research.

Keith Van de Riet, PhD, AIA (University of Kansas)
Published & professionally reviewed by: 
The American Institute of Architects (AIA)

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