The Architectural Animal: Part 7, The Terroir

Hyper Site Specificity and Strategic Accumulation

This week’s segment of the Architectural Animal illustrates a potential solution to the issues raised over the past 6 weeks. That is — when an animal or population of animals is invited to the drafting board — and in this case oysters. Oysters are not very mobile creatures, well not mobile adults, and are highly dependent on fluid flow and tidal patterns along with a particular quality of substrate. They blow about in tidal flow and land on tough, grippy surfaces (actually they really prefer to land on themselves and this is one reason why we find such dense colonies of oysters). This project marries Human density and living patterns with those of a benthic creature with we think quite interesting results.

The Terroir, Offats Bayou, Galveston Texas, USA.

The first object of the Terrior was to define and understand the extreme local context of the project; and secondly to enter into that context as seamlessly as possible. Soil quality, wind patterns, average rain-fall and the local ecological players we mapped and studied. All became among the list of factors that can be employed to generate a responsible (by responsible read response-able, as in “able to respond”) project.

The Terroir is at once a soil harvesting oyster reef, replenishing Galveston’s depleted shores, and an experimental co-species habitat, providing housing solutions to a diverse ecosystem of oysters, birds, fish, and humans.

The Terrior is sited on Galveston Island off the coast of Texas in the gulf of Mexico. Due to the extreme vulnerability to natural disaster (hurricanes Rita and Ike, to name two recent storms) traditional methods of construction and development are unsuited for Gavelston. The brief of the project lies squarely on the reality that Galveston is the most under-valued coastal property in the country and also home to some of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history. Moreover Galveston has been slowly washing away for thousands of years. A more-permanent development solution is needed, but clearly permanence in terms of thicker walls or stouter concrete is not the solution.


Fluid flow studies of potential reef positioning in the bay.


Extensive pathways of oyster reefs create a new landscape at or on the bay.


At points in the Terroir, the berms break the surface of Offats Bayou becoming habitable for humans.

A logic of flexible development on Galveston offers a potential solution. Flexibility requires firstly an understanding of the challenges involved followed by an understanding of how to use those same systems to an advantage. Rather than to build a defensive scenario for our development we’ve chosen to develop an aggressively offensive project, already constructed in a flood zone and already in a state of what might appear to be entropic disarray.

The Terroir proposes to utilize a local population of oysters to not only act as a buffer against storm surges but also to help the island grow. It is planned to capture daily tidal sediment along with debris washed ashore by the force of a storm, or flood surge. By collecting sediment the Terroir not only accumulates more developable land onto Galveston Island, but helps to form wetlands, thereby jump-starting new communities of already local species, and creating an elastic and flexible storm surge barrier. Over time and along with a densifying oyster population, sediment will collect within specific zones, thickening Galveston’s coastline, and providing more homes for local life, human or non-human.


Different layers of nested oster-reef berms control and direct soil accumulation and habitat creation. Soil density is correlated to population density.

Most importantly the scope and scale of the Terroir is suitable for explorations in biological design, as opposed to bio-morphic, or mimetic. It demonstrates the difference between bio-looking design and bio-behaving design. Founded on a logic of the most simple aggregation the Terroir demonstrates that some architecdural techniques are not species specific. Simply aggregating elements into usable structures (in this case via wave action) is a suitable solution for habitation. The Terrior is simply the structural skeleton. A skeleton is laid against a flow pattern and material is allowed to accumulate. This is a pattern followed not only by oysters, but many other animals and while the Terroir may not look much like your typical oyster reef it has processional similarities to reefs, ant hills, bird nests and other communal habitats.

Copyright Ned Dodington and Michael Benharrosh, 2009.


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