Living Sea Walls

“Omtankte” translates from Swedish as ‘caring’ or ‘considerate’ which is exactly what Volvo, the Swedish car manufacturer’s attitudes are towards improving their negative ecological impact.  Their actions extend past goals to make their manufacturing processes carbon neutral by 2025 and an example of this is their work on the living sea wall in Sydney Harbour in collaboration with Reef Design Labs.


1/2 of Sydney’s shoreline is artificial with natural habitats replaced by seawalls which disrupt natural ecosystems are are being degraded by plastic pollution.  Sea walls and other artificial structures are relatively flat and featureless compared to gradually sloping, rocky shores. This means that they do not offer the same microhabitats like rock pools leading to lower biodiversity and a lower proportion of native species.

Plastic pollution in our oceans has become so bad that it is estimated that a garbage trucks worth of plastic is being dumped into the world’s oceans every second.  The living sea wall project therefore aims target these issues by attracting and providing a habitat for filter-feeding organisms which will aid biodiversity as well as filtering out pollutants.

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The wall is made up of 50 tiles which are stacked together in a honeycomb. The geometry is designed to mimic the structure of mangrove roots which are native to the Sydney area.  These shapes make it perfect for colonising oysters as some of the shapes replicate the geometry of oyster shells. It should also attract fish, algae and other organisms.

The tiles are made by 3D printing a structure which is then used to create a mould from which concrete casts are created.  100% recycled plastic fibres act as reinforcement on the interior of the tiles.

This project is a great example of green engineering and I find this project very interesting due to the way that the designers have been inspired by the nature that once existed in the same location.  It would be unrealistic to start tearing down sea walls and Reef Design Lab have therefore cleverly adapted nature to fit into the man made landscape.  This is not the only project by Reef Design Lab, other work includes entirely 3D printed free standing reefs.

The extent of the success of the living sea wall can only be judged over time by the wall’s ability to attract and colonise organisms.  The more organisms that the wall attracts, the more particulate matter and heavy metals is filtered out. The area is therefore due to be monitored closely for the next 20 years with hopes of a positive impact on the pollutant levels in the surrounding water.

I think that this project highlights how designers can adapt our man-made world to improve it’s negative impact gradually and effectively rather than believing that we must tear down damaging structures and start again.  It is also a great example of designing with a long-term future in mind as the creators think about the long-term impact of their designs however short term solutions must also be found in order to improve the immediate situation.



volvo develops 3D-printed ‘living seawall’ to save the world’s oceans from plastic pollution

Click to access 5.%20Panel%20Living%20seawalls%20Maria%20Vozzo%202019.pdf


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