'Idea of hope': SF college students design sustainable architecture that helps ecosystems flourish

"They're architecture students. They know the impact of their profession on the environment," an associate professor explained.

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion KGO logo
Thursday, December 16, 2021
How Bay Area students are designing sustainable architecture
Architecture students at California College of the Arts in San Francisco are designing structures that help support the ecosystems around them.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you want to see the future of climate-sustainable architecture, you could look under a research platform currently floating in San Francisco Bay. Or, maybe examine the oyster friendly panels recently installed at a restored marsh near Crissy Field at the Presidio.

To better understand the background of both, you could visit the California College of the Arts, where the floating lab, and oyster project were engineered, and where architecture students are building on what they've learned.

"Like using locally sourced materials to kind of you know, enrich our like local habitat," says design student David Rico-Gomez, showing off a small device crafted from locally available dogwood and string.

The current student projects were assigned by Associate-professor Margaret Ikeda, incorporating native dogwood used for weaving by indigenous Bay Area peoples.

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Several student-created, reef-prototypes have already been placed under the college's floating research platform near the port of Oakland, to learn more about the sea life they might support. Other uses expanded from there.

"And so my challenge to them was, what could you design with this material that is easily sourced with the seed of your design that was going into the water as something that could begin to take on life above water or below water that they care about, that could be actually implemented," says Ikeda.

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Like the floating lab and the oyster platforms installed at Crissy field, the idea is to create architecture that supports native organisms, engineered habitats that help structures like buildings, levees and seawalls adapt to climate change. And like the environment itself, the concepts are broad and diverse.

"So basically the idea is to make a bunch of little module nests that become an ecosystem," says student designer Elizabeth Wilson, showing off a long, woven perch, meant to form a habitat in areas like the Presidio.

Students say the projects reflect their aspiration to help improve the environment.

"I think we all subconsciously dug into what we care about and I think it comes from the idea of hope," believes student designer Geada Alagha.

Over the years, students from California College of the Arts have competed in major design competitions, producing the kind of ideas that are already finding their way into real life projects from parks, to levees to urban sea walls. And ultimately, turning their education into action.

RELATED: Study on coral bleaching highlights importance of Bay Area research

"They're architecture students. They know the impact of their profession on the environment," explains Ikeda.

The design class and the projects in and around San Francisco Bay are part of the college's Architectural Ecologies Lab, which fosters collaborations between designers, researchers and manufacturers.