2021 / Tsinghua University
>>>Instructor: Professor Qiu Song
>>>Thesis: Biology Structural Research and Design Applications of the Phylum Porifera
>>>Tools: Rhinoceros (Grasshopper), Keyshot, Adobe Creative Suit, 3D Printing, Laser Cutting
How we build eco-friendly boundary between coastal city and the ocean？
This project addresses the ecological issues of boundaries between urban and nature. Also this project is under the background of LIFE BELOW WATER, SDG ( Sustainable Development Goals) by United Nations.
The intertidal zone is the integrative boundary of land and ocean. To protect coastal cities from seawater erosion and ocean disaster, people have constructed large-scale wave protection structures including seawalls, breakwaters, and gorins over intertidal zones:
From an ecological perspective, these existing constructions have reduced the heterogeneity of the coastal intertidal zone, implying the destruction of the habitat of offshore marine life. Especially for certain benthic species, artificial structures provide significantly fewer amounts of the intertidal pool. Furthermore, these animals form the essential basis of the marine food chain.
I investigated the ecological status of the coastal intertidal zone of Dalian (38°52'N, 121°34'E), a typical harbor city in China. By scanning the intertidal organisms during low tide，I attempted to observe insights of the habitat environment, living conditions, etc.
The seawater stored in the intertidal zone is an essential condition for the survival of these organisms; the crevices and holes formed by sand and rocks are the primary habitat.
Based on this observation, I got a preliminary design principle: improve the water storage capacity of the wave protection structure.
Boundaries are often where design opportunities emerge. Several companies around the world have designed products to address the conflict between artificial constructions and intertidal habitat destruction. By analyzing typical products, it is possible to derive a generic form for eco-friendly structures, and also to refine the design strategy by comparing functional advantages. Among this research, four typical cases designed by two representative design companies are selected as research cases.
ECOncrete (image 1/2) offers environmentally friendly concrete solutions that enhance the ecological value of the coast and marine infrastructure, while improving its strength and durability.
Eco Mats (image 1) is a concrete mat that is laid to provide stability to shorelines and seabed, while controlling erosion and protecting offshore pipelines and cables. The design of artificial intertidal pools is its primary solution. The most important feature of this product is its deformability, which allows the product to better adapt to complex forms of pavement substrates while greatly reducing the cost of assembly.
COASTALOCK (image 2) is a breakwater module with an interlocking mechanism whose main feature is to provide an artificial intertidal pool for the marine biotope without cutting the wave protection function of traditional breakwaters. Also this module is made of specially cast Admix concrete, a material that has lower chloride permeability and uses less Portland cement, reducing CO2 emissions from the production process while being more eco-friendly.
Reef Design Lab (image 3/4) is a research & design studio from Australia that focuses on using innovative design and manufacturing methods to create more efficient habitat solutions. Their products are primarily molded using 3D printing technology to minimize cost while increasing geometric complexity.
Living Seawall (image 3) is a modular structure that is assembled on the exterior of a conventional seawall. The potential habitat on the vertical seawall is increased by three-dimensional textures. The affinity of different species to this product is tested through panels with different textures. The distinctive feature of this product is its attractive parametric texture appearance, which greatly enhances the aesthetics of the artificial landscape.
MARS (image 4) is a modular reef structure that provides a substrate for planting coral larvae by architecting three-dimensional modules, while also attracting natural coral larvae to attach and grow. Its main morphological feature is a complex surface texture that is ideal for biological attachment. Its surface is produced by a 3D printing ceramic process and then filled with concrete and rebar inside the hollow formwork.
In summary, the existing products are primarily based on the ecological mechanism of building artificial intertidal pools and enhancing the complexity of the surface texture. Modularity is a common feature of these products, which allows these modules to be assembled more easily and better adapted to the complex coastal terrain. At the same time, there are limitations to these existing building blocks. These products still replace traditional wave breakers and do not innovate in terms of wave protection mechanisms. And the additional artificial intertidal pools mostly stay on a single plane and do not use the vertical space of the intertidal zone more effectively.
About Design Morphology
Nature often inspires our design innovations. Marine organisms have undergone millions of years of natural selection, and have developed unique strategies for survival. These include some intelligent biological structures to adapt to the complicated and changing underwater environment. By applying these bio-structures on the wave-protection structure, I attempted to experimentally design a product with a new perspective that has addressed the common needs of both humans and marine life.
By researching on a large number of marine species, I finally selected the phylum of the Porifera (Sponge) as the subject of my study. Under Porifera, Hexactinellida (Glass Sponge) possesses a typical skeleton structure consisting of a silicon-based spicules network with strong resistance to deformation. In this Class, the most representative species is Euplectella aspergillum, also known as Venus' basket of flowers. I analyzed its biological structure hierarchy and summarized the design principles.
-Family Tree of Porifera
-The Skeloton of Euplectella Aspergillum
-Microstructure of Euplectella Aspergillum
-The Hierarchy of Biological Structure
- Horizontal and vertical frame structures consisting of individual spicules
- External inclined frame structures reinforcement
- Voronoi top structure
- Floating connections
- Anchored structures
 Weaver J C, Aizenberg J, Fantner G E, et al. Hierarchical assembly of the siliceous skeletal lattice of the hexactinellid sponge Euplectella aspergillum[J]. Journal of structural biology, 2007, 158(1): 93-106.
 Weaver J C, Milliron G W, Allen P, et al. Unifying design strategies in demosponge and hexactinellid skeletal systems[J]. The Journal of Adhesion, 2010, 86(1): 72-95.
 Van Soest R W M, van Duyl F C, Maier C, et al. Mass occurrence of Rossella nodastrella Topsent on bathyal coral reefs of Rockall Bank, W of Ireland (Lyssacinosida, Hexactinellida)[J]. Porifera Research: Biodiversity, Innovation and Sustainability. Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, 2007: 645-652.
 Fernandes M C, Aizenberg J, Weaver J C, et al. Mechanically robust lattices inspired by deep-sea glass sponges[J]. Nature Materials, 2021, 20(2): 237-241.
 Robson Brown K, Bacheva D, Trask RS. 2019 The structural efficiency of the sea sponge Euplectella aspergillum skeleton: bio-inspiration for 3D printed architectures. J. R. Soc. Interface 16: 20180965.
I first built its skeleton structure in the 3D modeling software by using parametric design. By flattening cylindrical structure, extracting the unit structure, and offsetting the linear structure, a three-dimensional unit structure is generated. On each unit, I added artificial intertidal pools or tidal power matrix modules. The material of this structure consists of a ceramic shell, filling with concrete and corrosion-resistant metal ribs. Each unit is connected by a flexible material resistant to seawater erosion.
-The Structure of An Individual Unit
-The Structure of An Individual Unit (Tidal Power)
-The Comparison of Size (134*94*68cm)
-The Assembly of Porifera-Bricks Structures
-The Assembly of Porifera-Bricks Structures
-The Render of Porifera-Bricks Structures
-Functional Comparison with Tetrapods
-Comparison of High Tide and Low Tide from Top View (Include Tidal Power Matrix Modules)
-3D Printing Prototypes
-Physical Demonstration Model (Photosensitive Resin, Acrylic, 304 Stainless Steel)
-Physical Model on Exhibition
For future development, in mechanical perspective, I can apply Finite Element Analysis to validate and optimize its structure. Also from a economic perspective, the production and assembly costs may not be competitive.
But I see my project as an experiment in design methodology. At the same time, if we examine it from a Speculative Design perspective, the outcome more inspirational rather than practical. I want to encourage the audience that in which way we can innovate when we are shaping the FUTURE.
PREVIOUS PROJECT: COASTAL CUBE
2020 / Massachusetts College of Art and Design
>>>Group Project - Hong Hua, Courtney Dipietro, Noah Kuniholm, Chandler Day
>>>Instructor - Professor James Read
Note: This project was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But after a year I decided to continue this research. Unfortunately because of the change of location, I could not continue working with my previous teammates. Our shared discussions, explorations, and concept refinements became the foundation of my individual project.
>>>Back to Home