Researchers from the California College of the Arts have created a prototype for a new kind of ‘resilient coastal infrastructure’ that will serve as a marine habitat as well as a floating breakwater structure to reduce coastal erosion.

Called the Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab, the prototype imagines a 'floating architecture of the future that can exist productively with its surrounding environment’. Deployed in San Francisco Bay in August 2019, Float Lab is currently moored in the Port of Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park where it will remain for the next three years as a floating research platform.

The multidisciplinary team that worked on the Float Lab included the design team from California College of the Arts’ Architectural Ecologies Lab (AEL) as well as marine ecologists from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Benthic Lab with fabrication support provided by Kreysler & Associates.

Measuring about 4.2 metres by 2.4 metres, Float Lab is constructed from a fibre-reinforced polymer composite. Described by the design team as ‘a floating breakwater structure... with variable topographies that perform both above and below the water’, Float Lab is based on several years of applied research into new forms of ecologically sound architecture.

Breakwaters typically consist of rocks or concrete structures placed parallel to a shoreline to protect a harbour or beach from the force of waves and help arrest coastal erosion.

The structure’s contoured topography above water will channel rainwater and produce watershed pools for intertidal or terrestrial habitats using a small pump. The underwater topography with peaks and valleys of varying sizes will provide a habitat for different types of invertebrate animals, encouraging their settlement into these ‘fish apartments’ and contributing to ecological diversity.

“In large masses, this biological growth can help attenuate wave action and reduce coastal erosion, one of the primary impacts of climate change and sea level rise. The vessel includes attachment fittings on the underside to suspend future prototypes and further develop the wave attenuation potential of the optimised substrate,” says the design team.

The enhanced wave attenuation is expected to reduce the intensity of waves acting on Float Lab, similar to a breakwater structure, thereby also contributing to the reduction of coastal erosion.

Photography: Architectural Ecologies Lab/ Mike Campos