Landscape Studio Scape won the Obel Award for 2023 for its “visionary” coastal defence system in New York City This will become more efficient as oysters populate it.

Designed by, the project is named Living Breakwaters. Scape Staten Island is a great place to improve the environment and reduce flood risks.

The fifth winner is… Obel AwardThis year’s theme is adaptation. This year, the theme is adaptation.

Living Breakwaters won the Obel Award in 2023

Living Breakwaters are a series of stone and concrete structures that are currently being built in Staten Island. They aim to reduce coastal erosion and calm the sea.

These structures are “ecologically improved”, which means they have ridges and grooves to encourage marine life to inhabit them. They form a 223 square metre artificial reef.

It is primarily oysters that it wants to attract. They will increase the density of the system as they multiply, and improve its effectiveness as an effective defence barrier.

Coastal defence system that doubles as marine habitat
Scape is a coastal defense system

The Obel Award citation stated that “the physical design of Living Breakwaters consists of an ingenious mixture of natural and carefully modeled artificial elements which mimic naturally occurring coral formations to support marine life.

“Architecture should be aware of its social and ecological responsibilities.” Living Breakwaters is a great example of this. This low-tech, relatively inexpensive response is a great example of how we can design with nature, not against it, to adapt to the changes ahead.

Closeup of Living Breakwaters by Scape
This includes stone and concrete structures

Kate Orff of Scape said that winning this prize was “really important” for a project such as this, as it would encourage people to develop and contribute coastal adaptation projects.

She added that it serves as a good reminder to design for the planet, as it struggles with the twin crises climate breakdown and loss of biodiversity.

Orff said that “our protective natural systems worldwide are in various states of decline. In order to repair them we must think and design in a systemic way to tie the pieces together.”

“And that’s an incredibly brave, creative act.” The award should highlight that nature is now a matter for design and that we must work quickly and together.

Illustration of Living Breakwaters by Scape in New York City
Staten Island has been undergoing construction for a number of years.

Living Breakwaters was initially developed by Scape for Rebuild by Design – a competition held by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The project also includes educational programmes that have been running for nearly a decade to promote community stewardship, recreation and environmental awareness along Staten Island. The project will be completed by 2024.

American landscape architect Martha SchwartzLiving Breakwaters was lauded as “visionary” by the chairperson of this year’s Obel Award Jury, who is also a member of the jury.

“[It] Schwartz explained that “not only will the new coast of New York City protect and revitalise humans, but it will also restore lost marine biodiversity.”

This is a project with a lot of vision that can inspire people and have a positive impact on shorelines around the world.

Coastal defence system by Scape
The purpose of these structures is to attract marine life.

Scape will be awarded its Obel Award in a ceremony held at the Sydney Opera House, on 21st October 2023. The prize is €100,000 as well as a trophy made by artist Tomás Saraceno.

Previous winners include scientists Carlos Moreno for his urban strategy the 15-Minute City You can also find out more about the following: British company Seratech for its carbon-neutral concrete prototype.

Scape is the photographer.

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