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Landscape architecture combines built and natural environments to support human communities. But the practice can also design environments to support other creatures, such as oysters.

Based in New York City and New Orleans, SCAPE Studio created a method — dubbed “oyster-tecture” — that partners with oysters to protect New York City’s shoreline from storm surges and erosion. Originally commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in 2009, the project uses a web of woven rope and plenty of eelgrass to create a living reef in the New York Harbor filled with oysters and mussels.

Not only does the reef create a breakwater for waves, but it also provides a natural filtration system that cleans millions of gallons of harbor water, thanks to the biotic cleansing abilities of the grass and mollusks. This restores biodiversity to the tidal marshes and improves water quality for residents — human and shelled alike.

Oyster-tecture is one feature of a larger SCAPE-led project called Living Breakwaters, which employs a variety of sustainable materials to build protective reefs. These are presently being tested near a handful of vulnerable coastlines, including the marshes around New Orleans.

Learn more about SCAPE Studio at

This was excerpted from “Climate Champions” which was published in the April 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth Millard is a writer, editor, and farmer based in northern Minnesota.

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