Co-de-iT (design team: Alessio Erioli, Alessandro Zomparelli,  Tommaso Casucci, Andrea Graziano – collaborator: Michele Semeghini) + NYXO (Mirko Daneluzzo), Mirco Bianchini for D-Shape

Several locations


. Intro

The Reefs project fosters the creation of underwater sea barriers using D-Shape® technology (thanks to the ongoing collaboration with Enrico Dini) through digitally simulated growth processes developed by Co-de-iT + disguincio.&co. It thrives on the potential that emerge from a coherent utilization of the environment’s inherent ecological structure for its own transformation and evolution, using an approach based on digitally simulated ecosystems and sparkled by the possibilities and potential of large-scale 3D printing technology. Considering tourism as an inevitable vector of environmental change, the project aims to direct its potential and economic resources towards a positive transformation, providing a material substrate for the human-marine ecosystem integration with the realization of spaces for an underwater sculpture exhibition. Such structures will also provide a pattern of cavities which, expanding the gradient of microenvironmental conditions, break the existing homogeneity in favor of systemic heterogeneity, providing the spatial and material preconditions for the re-population of marine biodiversity.

. Tourism as proactive driver of change

Coastal erosion is a process that, if uncontrasted, over time leads to sea bed desertification and waterfront thinning, thus involving both marine environments and tourism activity. Italian shores are a typical example: the intensified quantity of tourists in the last decades while giving propulsion to the economy at the same time increased the sea-bed use and smoothing caused by tourists, thus easing the action of progressive erosion. Much as the intensification of agriculture led to monocultures and the progressive disappearance of diversity, the intensification of coastal use in Italy is putting at stake marine biodiversity in favour of human activities through a progressive homogenization of sea-bed condition. Tourism cannot then be separated from environmental issues: tourists are not spectators of past history or a static vision of a supposed ideal natural condition. It is a proactive vector of change acting within an ecosystem, causing regionally differentiated developments and transformations in different territories. Such transformations, often led by a prevalently economic self-sustaining push, are in most cases of two kinds: rapid developments of human infrastructures with heavy environmental impact, or strategies that consistently limit the economic potential in favour of the preservation of a static vision of the existing ecosystems. Steering clear from preservative strategies (which would limit tourism’s inner potential by negatively impacting its economic benefits), tourism must be considered as a part of the ecosystem and a chance for its evolution and improvement. Not as a superficial or invasive overlay of functions and uses on a site nether as a nostalgic postulation of an idealized historical moment but rather a positive projection engendering new opportunities for the future.

The task then is not to resist the global push of tourism but to seek out the most creative ways to develop richer, differentiated regions within it. The possibilities of this work emerge from a coherent utilization of the inherent ecological structure for its own transformation and evolution. Considering tourism as internal to the ecosystem includes also evolved functional programs, morphogenetic strategies and production technologies as efficiently connected nodes of a coherent yet differentiated network. Instead of focusing on the solution of a specific problem (coastal erosion) through existing models and approaches, the intent of this project is to address the issue of a positive environmental transformation through the generation and construction of marine reefs at several scales.

The project was developed in three different stages:

. Marina Formations

. Reef Studies

. Emergent Reefs

. Marina Formations

Marina formations are multi-purpose territories connecting sea and waterfront driven by simulated growth processes along development trajectories, resulting in a formation rich in heterogeneous yet systemic variety of spaces and conditions above and below the waterline, allowing for the accommodation of tourism-related functions as well as suitable environments for the marine biodiversity.

. Reef Studies

Reef studies take the Marina Formations to a more detailed scale, investigating further on the material growth process and exploring its spatial occupation strategy and cavity formation by incremental density.

. Emergent Reefs

Emergent Reefs are atoll-shaped formations to host an underwater sculpture gallery while at the same time providing the material and spatial preconditions for the development of marine biodiversity on the transformed sea-bed. These were developed as a thesis project at the University of Bologna by Alessandro Zomparelli (advisor Alessio Erioli, special thanks to Diego Angeli of Mimesis for consulting in the development of CFD analysis).

Starting from a digital simulation of a synthetic local ecosystem, a process based on multi-agent systems and continuous cellular automata (put into practice from the theoretical premises in Alan Turing’s paper “The Chemical basis of Morphogenesis” through reaction-diffusion simulation) is implemented in a voxel field at several scales giving the project a twofold quality: the implementation of reaction-diffusion generative strategy within a non-isotropic 3-dimensional field and integration with the large-scale 3D printing fabrication system patented by D-Shape®.

voxel space

The first tests involved a processing tool developed for the design of atoll-shaped structures controlling the influence of a set of attractor points (using position and intensity as parameters) on density fields; attractors could be placed manually to test the related field generation.

In order to develop a synthetic ecosystem a more coherent generative strategy for attractors was implemented, using agents reactive to pheromone trails influenced by the CFD simulation of underwater currents. Pheromones spread through the fluid and are transported by it. The configuration of the reefs will be developed therefore in areas with less chance of stagnation of pheromones. The simulation can be stopped manually when the ecosystem reaches a stable condition.

The morphogenetic process itself is then developed through the implementation of a differentiation process that progressively separates void (passage) areas from those occupied by the material. In order to keep integral and coherent with the field generation and fabrication logic, the exploration of cellular automata algorithms seemed an almost natural choice, focusing in particular on reaction-diffusion for its properties of condition-based differentiation and articulation in space.

Gray-Scott patterns table

Pattern formation and direction are thus controllable by tweaking the Gray-Scott parameters which act on the outputs of the simulated ecosystem, thus coherently exploring variation at the present system scale. The behavior of reaction-diffusion changes according to the density-field and vector-field maps. Blue channel intensity corresponds to vector x-component, while red represents y-component. The importance of anisotropy in patterns distribution (obtained tweaking the process parameters) arises from several necessities: avoid reef overturning, coordinate scuba divers trajectories and underwater currents with the reef formation itself in order to minimize human-reef collision chances (as cross-directed currents would push divers against the reefs) and provide a distribution system of “corridors” connecting the halls.

Gray-Scott pattern formation samples (random, spot, anisotropic)

By tweaking the simulation parameters it is possible to explore behavior variations within the system domain, achieving a gradient of possible distributions according to project requirements. Here are some examples of different system behaviors with their related distributions of underwater clustered halls.

Reefs samples generated from different ecosystem results

The issue of dealing with the integration with biological marine biodiversity and provide the material substrate for its future development was not addressed by tweaking the system for a particular requirement of a single species (or a limited group of), rather the intent is to produce a broad range of heterogeneous spatial conditions in order to provide the largest set of opportunities for the local ecological community (this term refers to the complex food web that shares the same environment). The basic principle adopted is the same conditional void-matter separation based on reaction-diffusion algorithms: the aforementioned process is iterated at a more detailed scale in a self-similar process logic analogous to those governing fractals.

Objects produced with discrete additive fabrication technology such as the one used by D-Shape can have a very heterogeneous generation history: a 3D voxel grid is used to rationalize them to the process and resolution of the machine. This step is not only necessary, it is the principle that links digital processes to the materiality, nonetheless applied in an extensive way: two different models of rationality are overlaid with a brute-force method, but one lacks geometry generation and the other misses the link to material production. Moreover, as a consequence of this double-sided gap and since the resolution achievable at the moment is quite coarse, the emerging pattern is mostly treated as an imperfection, considering the look of the digital model as a finalized result to tend to.

Out of these assumptions and in the intent of exploiting the expressive and tectonic potential of such technology, the project has been tackled exploring voxel-based generative strategies. Working with a discrete lattice eases the simulation of complex systems and processes across multiple scales (including non-linear simulations such as Computational Fluid-Dynamics) starting from local interactions using, for instance, algorithms based on cellular automata, which then can be translated directly to the physical production system.

There are several advantages of 3D printing with respect to current technologies for reef restoration and design like Reef Balls, or experimental precedents such as Biorock®: the possibility to embed intensive processes in form generation without depending on modular construction (which allows the implementation of a greater specificity and a wider spectrum of heterogeneous spatial conditions, broadening design freedom) while the material system production (it is synthetic rock, not concrete) and integration with design produces large-scale artifacts that allow the implementation of passive strategies for marine re-population without continuous energy consumption.

On the design process side, the purpose of Emergent-Reefs is to remap the pattern of relationships that so far sets a divide between idea conception and its realization (framing generation, simulation and construction as separated phases), promoting a reconciliation of design and making (which in the case of the technology developed by D-Shape can be considered as guided growth) through the incorporation of material and design constraints in the simulation from the very beginning.


Emergent Reefs paper (A. Erioli, A. Zomparelli) was presented in:

. “Digital Physicality | Physical Digitality” eCAADe 2012 conference in Prague – full paper

. “Synthetic Digital Ecologies” – ACADIA 2012 Conference in San Francisco – full paper


related: Reef test piece