SHELL-ter: Art as Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience and Education


Installation of SHELL-ter forms on Saturday, June 18th

Over the past three years a team of landscape architects and sculptors from Rhode Island School of Design has been collaborating with scientists from the University of Rhode Island, Roger William University, and Rhode Island College to integrate art and science for a coastal restoration project at an urban waterfront site in Providence.

Coastal ecosystems in Rhode Island and around the world are experiencing the impacts of increased storms and sea level rise, both of which are predicted to increase in future years. One strategy to improve the resilience of coastal ecosystems is the creation of constructed reefs colonized with bivalve filter feeders such as mussels and oysters.

A snapshot of three years of research and prototyping

Building on previous research on constructed reefs, the Rhode Island team of scientists and artists developed three prototypical forms with a steel structure and concrete tiles that encourage bivalve settlement.

The forms are designed to improve the resilience of coastal habitats in response to global climate change, host settlement of marine organisms, stabilize the coastline, and establish conditions conducive to the reestablishment of salt marsh vegetation. In addition, the bivalve filter feeders that settle on the reefs have the ability to filter large amounts of water, improving water quality.

The forms can be deployed individually or in aggregations, creating a new model for coastal edges that contribute to the restoration of critical ecological services. Unlike other constructed reefs that are large and require a crane or barge to install, these forms are modular and can be constructed and installed by community groups.

Placing test tiles

On Saturday, June 18th, a group of designers, scientists, and members of the community worked together to install the modular forms in the intertidal zone at Providence's India Point Park. During a three year flagship installation period, nine forms will be tested — three each of the three different prototypes — and will be monitored for shellfish settlement and ecosystem restoration.

Collaborative structure installation

Faculty members and students who contributed to the project are: Scheri Fultineer (RISD LDAR Chair), Marta Gomez-Chiarri (URI Professor), Emily Vogler (LDAR Assistant Professor), Dante Gamache (LDAR 2016), Austin Bamford (LDAR 2018), Jose Menendez (GD 2017), Gavin Zeitz (LDAR 2018), Angela Hang (ARCH 2015), Jessica Wilson (LDAR 2018), Hugh Patterson (LDAR 2017), and Ha-Na Lee (LDAR 2015).

The collaborative nature of the project and its installation will continue to extend to a broader community. Through presentations at local schools, community involvement in the construction of the forms, ongoing citizen-science to monitor shellfish settlement on the forms, and the high visibility of the forms at an urban waterfront site, this project uses the sculptural forms as a platform for public outreach and education about coastal ecosystems.

Thanks to the ongoing support of Rhode Island NSF EPSCoR and Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC).


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