Learning from Mangroves
A bio-mimicry adaptation for structural foundations in environmentally sensitive areas
Name: Daniel Rosien
This essay documents an architectural research project that seeks to apply a bio-mimicry strategy to the adaption of the mangrove root system as a structural foundation. The intent is to give impetus to the development of a new type of foundation that can overcome common issues faced in costal, riverine and environmentally sensitive areas. The background research supports the premise of this approach. From an engineering perspective, the hypothetical foundation could be developed as an option for lightweight structures and to support erosion control. The prototyping and testing provided positive results in comparison to conventional foundations. The test analysis has led to an improved design that should be further tested in a real-life and at-scale experiment.
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Mangroves have been studied in various aspects relating to their role as a keystone species in coastal biodiversity and also with regards to some of their unique biological and biochemical abilities. The plants are highly resistant in volatile condition and are able to provide stable habitats at the juncture between freshwater and saltwater sources. There has also been some research with a focus on their structural abilities and especially their root systems. Some of this research is reviewed here and is utilised in the development of the prototypes.
One of the key functions of the mangroves is their protection of the marine costal environments. Mangroves forests have proven to be highly efficient in providing erosion control and protecting the land behind from the impact of waves. As a structural system they perform well in terms of dispersing lateral loads (wave impact). At the same time, they are resilient against being uprooted in high water scenarios and forces exerted over prolonged periods. Of course the mangrove roots also support the weight of the stem, branches and crown of the tree, which can be of substantial height, depending on the type of species. This makes them an interesting case study for a biomimetic study focused on adapting these properties for a structural foundation that mimics the performance of these root systems.