The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab is a prototype for a new kind of resilient coastal infrastructure. It merges expertise from design, advanced digital fabrication manufacturers, and marine ecologists to imagine a floating architecture of the future that can exist productively with its surrounding environment. The prototype is featured in the Designing Material Innovation exhibition at California College of the Arts, September 28 - December 22, 2017.


September 2017 Update: The Buoyant Ecologies team is proud to be a part of Public Sediment, one of ten teams selected for the Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge!


Project leaders: Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones

Research Partners: California College of the Arts, Kreysler & AssociatesBenthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Sponsors: Kreysler & Associates, Ashland Reactive PolymersPort of OaklandAutodesk Workshop at Pier 9

Allied partners: Jack London Improvement District, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission

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 is a collaboration between architects and educators at California College of the Arts / Digital Craft Lab, marine ecologists from the Benthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and fiber-reinforced polymer fabricators at Kreysler & Associates. The project has received sponsorship and support from the Port of Oakland and the Autodesk Workshop at Pier 9.

The Buoyant Ecologies project asks: How can we develop compelling strategies for designing and fabricating waterfront structures that serve to enhance the biodiversity of the surrounding ecology?

The focus of the research is to develop contoured underwater substrates that, through variation in their geometry, provide hills and valleys that can serve as habitats for various types of marine species. The project seeks to develop ways to optimize the variable geometry such that a robust, diverse array of species can occupy the substrate. The research challenges conventional notions of “fouling”—the unwanted accumulation of marine life on the underside of floating structures—and instead proposes that controlled upside-down growth can contribute to the biological diversity of the marine ecology.

The material research focuses primarily on fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP), commonly known as fiberglass. FRP is extremely durable and entirely resistant to corrosion, which explains its long history of use in maritime applications. The composite material is manufactured by applying layers of resin and glass fiber to molds and formwork. The use of digital fabrication tools to robotically fabricate these molds allows for a high degree of customization and surface variation, providing an ideal method for creating ecologically diverse habitats.

The research has led to a series of full-scale prototypes produced by project partner Kreysler & Associates, a global leader in FRP manufacturing. The prototypes are currently installed underwater in Monterey Bay and the Oakland/Alameda Estuary for continued monitoring by the Benthic Lab team to analyze and understand the relationship between surface geometry and accumulation of marine life.

The project has developed in parallel with a series of Integrated Building Design studios led by Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, and Evan Jones at CCA's Architecture Division. The project team recently completed the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab, a larger, floating breakwater prototype to be deployed in Oakland in early 2018. 


Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2016: Fernanda Bernardes, Gina Bugiada, Bryany Burke, Madeline Cunningham, Taylor Metcalf, Mrnalini Mills-Raghavan, Georine Pierre, Stephany Rattner, Carlos Sabogal, Arash Sedaghatkamal, Nicole Van Malder

Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2015: Rafael Berges, Trishala Umesh Chandra, Kuan-Lun Ryan Chen, Jared Clifton, Keith Edwards, Kenneth Hu, Vaama Joshi, Susan Lopez, Shirin Monshipouri, Betty Nip, Min Joo Noh, Omar Soliman, Susan Wing, Ka Ki Yam

Buoyant Ecologies Studio, Fall 2014: Tyler Jones-Powell, Melissa Perkinson, Behnaz Banishahabadi, Maryam Nassajian, Jill Chin-Han Chao, Harrison Hong-Yi Chou, Sanna Lee, Hayfa Al-Gwaiz, Mikaela Leo, Jude Simon, Welbert Bonilla, Yasmine Orozco, Blake Stevenson, Dustin Tisdale

Video footage of upside-down benthos ecology on existing hulls. Footage by Daniel Gossard (Moss Landing Marine Laboratories / Benthic Lab); editing by Charlie Nordstrom (Autodesk Workshop at Pier 9).