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One Unexpected Sustainable Architecture Tool: Oysters

Our world is gradually shifting toward sustainability in all things. From industry decarbonization to the greener production of alcohol, the trend is everywhere. As we build a more sustainable planet, the way we build is getting greener, too. SCAPE Studio is a fantastic case study in such green building. 

SCAPE, based in New York and New Orleans, is a landscape architecture and urban design studio. Founded in 2007, the studio believes that the way landscapes are built can make a huge positive difference in local communities. Discussing this work, the studio explains: 

“We work to integrate natural cycles and systems into environments across all scales, from the urban pocket-park to the regional ecological plan. We do this through diverse forms of landscape architecture – built landscapes, planning frameworks, research, books, and installations – with the ultimate goal of connecting people to their immediate environment and creating dynamic and adaptive landscapes of the future.” 

>>>READ: Aspiration is Letting You Spend Green to Go Green

SCAPE has worked all over the country and for all sorts of clients. Their projects range from the Amazon HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia to China Basin Park in San Francisco, California. All of these projects incorporate an incredible eye for both design and sustainability, but some of them stand out for a very specific reason: oysters. 

The studio’s initial public foray into oyster use (aptly named Oyster-tecture) was commissioned by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 2009 for the museum’s Rising Currents exhibition. The studio explains: 

“Oyster-tecture proposes a living reef composed of a woven web of ‘fuzzy rope’ that supports marine growth, generates a 3D landscape mosaic that attenuates waves and cleans millions of gallons of harbor water by harnessing the biotic filtration processes of oysters, mussels, and eelgrass. Cleaner, slower water enables neighborhood fabrics to create new channels inland from the Gowanus Canal. A watery regional park emerges that prefigures the city’s return to the waterfront as a sustainable strategy for the next century. Oyster-tecture aims to improve habitat and water quality, restore biodiversity to tidal marshes and encourage new relationships between New Yorkers and their harbor.”

Did the studio and the tiny, shelled creatures they put to work create a successful project? Yes, and it has been driving other projects ever since. Red Hook Point in Brooklyn, New York is another SCAPE venture that integrates aquatic habitat and water-based recreation into commercial development. 

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A much larger venture building on the success of Oyster-tecture is the studio’s Living Breakwaters along the South Shore of Staten Island. A $107 million project to strengthen ecological resiliency and reduce erosion and storm risk, the breakwaters were designed to, among other features, incorporate a live oyster installation. The project’s innovation has earned national recognition and is serving as an inspiration for similar coastal projects.

Green innovation comes in many forms, but it is not every day that they include putting live animals (humanely) to work. The impact of SCAPE Studio’s research and phenomenal implementation will be felt worldwide.

Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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