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AZ Awards Winner & People's Choice 2023: Mangrove Reef Walls | AZ Awards
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Over the past century, an astonishing 88 per cent of the U.S.’s oyster biomass has been lost due to pollution, harvesting and habitat destruction. This lack of filter feeders has significantly decreased the water quality in coastal areas, disrupting what were previously some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Florida has been particularly vulnerable due to its narrow, kilometres-long seawall-lined canals, which preclude conventional living shorelines, and the resulting habitat fragmentation caused by long distances between natural mangroves. Enter Mangrove Reef Walls, an alternative solution that seeks to shift coastal construction toward more sustainable practices, restoring these marine environments and reconnecting urban waterways. 

Parametrically modelled to resemble the form and function of naturally occurring red mangrove tree roots and oyster reefs, the digitally fabricated panels are made from marine-friendly, low carbon concrete and can be cast integrally into a concrete seawall or precast and attached to an existing wall of any material. Their modular design, with panels that vary in size and complexity, makes them infinitely scalable and adaptable. 

“It’s a game-changing product.”
Lawrence Scarpa, AZ Awards 2023 Juror

Fuzzy rope and other aggregates cast into the panels create diverse substrates for species to settle on. Non-corrosive reinforcement, such as natural fibres from coconut and palmetto trees, ensures a long lifespan and easy maintenance, while additives such as oyster flour temper the concrete’s pH to mimic seawater. 

The panels’ branching root patterns project outward by half a metre, dramatically increasing the surface area so that algae, oysters and barnacles can thrive. Relief between the roots is optimal for grazing species, and smaller tunnels and pockets enable juvenile crabs, snails and fish to hide from predators. Shorebirds perch and hunt for prey along the top of the panels, and larger predator fish make use of the space below, restoring biodiversity to the shoreline.

The result is a living system with myriad benefits: It establishes sources of food and habitat, dissipates wave energy, mitigates erosion, increases water clarity, and even strengthens the seawalls to create healthy and resilient ecosystems. A paragon of biomimicry, Mangrove Reef Walls are a shining example of what can be accomplished by embracing nature as a construction material. 

Team: Keith Van de Riet (University of Kansas School of Architecture and Design)

Winner: Environmental Leadership
People’s Choice: Environmental Leadership
Mangrove Reef Walls

Digitally fabricated panels seek to restore marine environments by shifting coastal construction toward more sustainable practices.

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