SCAPE's Living Breakwaters Wins 2023 Obel Award

John Hill
15. September 2023
Photo © SCAPE

In the years since the Obel Award was established and given to Junya Ishigami for his Art Biotop Water Garden in Tochigi, Japan, the €100,000 award has gone to Anna Heringer's mud-and-bamboo Anandaloy Building in Bangladesh, Carlos Moreno's theory for the 15-Minute City, and Seratech's technology for capturing carbon emissions. These projects are diverse, reflecting the way each iteration of the award is given a theme. So, while Ishigami's garden won because of the inaugural award's focus on “well-being,” for example, while Seratech appropriately won in a year devoted to “emissions,” this year's jury* determined that Kate Orff and SCAPE's Living Breakwaters project best addressed “adaptation.”

Photo © SCAPE

Living Breakwaters dates back to at least 2013, when SCAPE led a large interdisciplinary team in a submission for Rebuild by Design, a a design competition launched by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) following Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast of the US in October 2012. (A PDF of their initial proposal can be downloaded here.) Living Breakwaters is one of seven projects that was funded through the competition, evident here in the construction photos of the half mile linear necklace of near-shore breakwaters along the south shore of Staten Island. The breakwaters made of stone and “ecologically-enhanced concrete ” were designed to “reduce (and eventually reverse) erosion of the shoreline, and provide a range of habitat spaces for oysters, fin fish, and other marine species,” per SCAPE. The decade-long project is expected to be completed in 2024.

Photo © SCAPE
“Breakwaters is an ancient idea for how to protect shorelines – and the people who live close to them – by building underwater seawalls to defend a harbour or a beach from the force of waves. Kate has designed an extraordinary, modern-day interpretation, the Living Breakwaters, which will not only protect humans and revitalize the coastline of New York City, but also restore lost marine biodiversity. This is a visionary project that tackles the full task of adaptation, and which has the capacity to inspire and to positively impact vulnerable shorelines worldwide.”

Martha Schwartz, jury chair

Visualization © SCAPE
*2023 Obel Award Jury:

  • Martha Schwartz (chair), Martha Schwartz Partners
  • Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, Snøhetta
  • XU Tiantian, DNA _Design and Architecture
  • Dr. Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Prof. em. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  • Sumayya Vally, Counterspace
  • Louis Becker, Henning Larsen Architects
  • Aric Chen, Nieuwe Instituut


Photo © SCAPE

Coincidentally, just last month Kate Orff and the Living Breakwaters project were featured on PBS Newshour:

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