Living Twist

Living Canal Wall To Combat Pollution And Promote Biodiversity

Environmental Design | Sustainability

Gowanus Canal

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York, is one of the most contaminated places in America, with stink and filth that emanate in all kinds of weather. When it rains heavily in Brooklyn, sewage overflows into the waterway, and residents in nearby neighborhoods are urged not to shower or do laundry to minimize the amount of water carrying garbage through the system. 

New York History

Much has been said about New York City’s long history with the famous fruit of the sea: That there once existed over 200,000 acres of oyster reefs in the waters surrounding the city. That before hotdogs and dollar slices, oysters on the half shell were the city’s most iconic street food. In 2016, 438 billion tons of oysters were produced. The majority of the shells were unduly discarded, presenting a public health problem.

Oyster Shell Waste

The reuse of the shells inhibits the contamination of the environment and represents an ecologically sustainable solution by adding commercial value to the residues of the maricultural sector. Some studies have shown recycling and reuse solutions for oyster shells residues, as a rich source of calcium, in several sectors, for example, in the building materials industry as aggregate of limestone for cement.

Location & Problems

Lining its bottom is millions of cubic feet of toxic black mayonnaise, a combination of coal tar and sewage that sticks to the bottom of the canal at a depth of up to 10 feet thick. Yes, toxic pollution is a major problem in the Gowanus; it is why the EPA has made its formal presence. Yet into the Gowanus’ waters, even today, pour 250-350 million gallons of untreated raw sewage annually, particularly when it rains.

Field Research & Volunteer

We did Volunteer in Gowanus Canal Conservancy to better understand the local environment and residential areas.

We got in touch with Scape Landscape Architecture to discuss our Ideas and joined their activities for rebuilding Gowanus Canal Areas.

Material Experiment

We made our materials in Chemistry Lab. This sustainable concrete is made of grounded oyster shell powder, which has continuous water purification capacity. We made lots of test models to test our ideas. We bring our prototypes and got feedbacks from experts, tutors, professionals and residents and government organizations, etc.




We want to create sustainable material to design new product to combat water pollution and promote biodiversity. We want to offer an alternative to traditional, linear seawalls/ Canal wall, which are often linked to the loss of surrounding ecosystems.

Concept development

Model making

We made different scaled models with various materials, such as 3D print models, Resin models, Wood prototypes, etc.


Living Canal Wall To Combat Pollution And Promote Biodiversity

Living Twist is an environmentally friendly canal wall along the Gowanus Canal that aims to improve biodiversity and water quality in the area. Living Twist is a unit module that can be connected together in multiple ways with metal joints. Each unit is made from oyster shell concrete that has continuous water purification capacity. The grounded oyster shell powder in the material will send out signal to attract oysters come and colonize our artificial canal wall. The streamlined design with Porous structure allows water to flow through and the rough surface of Living Twist provide an ideal habitat for oysters and other marine life. Between the tops of the modules, there are biofilm covers the plant roots, which help grow aquatic plants along the canal. Aquatic plants thrive in contaminated soils, absorbing and therefore reducing the level of toxic accumulation.