Taylor Metcalf & Madeline Cunningham
California College of the Arts


Margaret Ikeda, Evan Jones, & Adam Marcus
California College of the Arts



This innovative project pushes thinking in resilient design by taking a new approach to sea level rise: not by fighting it, but working with it. The attitude is animal-centric and non-confrontational and shows how architecture can adapt to an environment rather than control it. The students also consider the longevity of the project by showing a 100-year progression. The exploration of improving the relationship between nature and built environment is a complicated topic that is resolved impressively.



SubOrdinate explores architectural opportunities at the edge: where the city meets the San Francisco Bay and begins by recognizing the relationship of the edge between nature and human interventions and leverages it to produce resilient structures on the waterfront. These strategies often underestimate the power of nature and, consequently, architecture succumbs to natural effects. Inversely, the presence of architecture has altered naturally occurring systems. This recognition of the harsh relationship of human intervention upon natural ecologies drove extensive research into ecologically-optimized architectural substrates that are conducive to habituating marine life. The structures orient with no apparent concern for “up” or “down” as benthic communities inhabit the submerged underbellies as a new ocean floor. Tectonically, the architecture/nature duality is explored apart from traditional construction methods and utilizes fiber-reinforced polymer substrates -- a highly calibrated monolithic material commonly used in boat construction. The resulting project anchors itself far from the “waterfront typology” of concrete retaining walls and provokes a new conceptualization of aquatic resiliency. As the globe is faced with the real issue of climate change and sea level rise, SubOrdinate departs from traditionally patient resilient strategies, and instead, presents scalable opportunities that lie within the frictioned relationship between architecture and nature.



SubOrdinate explores architectural opportunities at the edge: where the city meets the San Francisco Bay. As cities across the globe attempt to adapt to the uncertain implications of climate change, there is little doubt that rising ocean levels will have a tremendous impact on coastal cities worldwide, including those that line the San Francisco Bay. Traditionally, human interventions have attempted to contain the wrath of natural forces with no success; leaving our coastal shores vulnerable and quickly deteriorating. SubOrdinate proactively responds to the unforeseen effects of climate change, while addressing the failures of the traditional cycle, by reevaluating architecture’s role within the human vs. nature duality. The resulting relationship stages these two powers alongside one another, filling in with strengths where one may fall short. Architecture is no longer a manmade barrier intervening in the natural process and nature is no longer a destructive force, but jointly they are a platform for which nature and architecture may flourish in a symbiotic relationship. This project reimagines coastal resiliency by addressing ecological, systematic, and architectural resiliency. Through these three platforms, SubOrdinate, bridges the contentious gap between nature and architecture thus creating a new architecture that becomes a new nature.


The site departs from the banks of Middle Harbor Shoreline park and recalls the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad buried below the water. This hidden piece of history reiterates the juxtaposition between nature and human intervention by separating a manmade salt marsh (6ft) and a dredged channel (50ft). The cluster of research and educational buildings straddling the jetty highlight the many conditions present along an ever-changing coastline. By setting the site out in the water, SubOrdinate becomes the destination for visitors as they move around the park. From the shore, visitors can see the different conditions, but as they move down the boardwalk they can learn why and how these conditions come to be.

The first two buildings welcome and introduce visitors to the existing ecological situation through auditoriums, galleries and aquariums. From here, visitors come face-to-face with the research that supports the facilities as they explore wet and dry laboratories. Where the buildings end, the journey is only beginning. The recreation building submerges visitors to continue their exploration below the waterline. The design introduces the public to the amazing ecosystems that exist above and below the San Francisco Bay.

Metric: Walk Score 7, Transit Score 0, Bike Score 73


Middle Harbor Shoreline Park was originally designed to foster education of both the Port of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay marine ecology, and called for the construction of an “ecological education center”. SubOrdinate fulfills these intentions by physically intersecting and joining the built world and the marine world into one hybrid. By embracing architecture’s authority over nature, SubOrdinate is inserted into the landscape as a catalyst for provoking nature’s authority over architecture; the result of this paradox becomes a time-telling spectacle of the Picturesque as the built folly recedes into the whole of the scene. The complex surfaces of the facade encourage 'fouling' as benthic marine communities inhabit the submerged underbelly; claiming the architecture as a new ocean floor. Optimization of the locations and quantities of marine growth arose through simulation of the undulating facade via "rugosity"-- a square footage metric calculating the potential for biodiversity in benthic conditions. Meanwhile, the horizontal orientation acts as wave attenuation and shading to calm the environmental forces coming from the south. SubOrdinate creates an an architecture that is capable of functioning as an active element of nature and the site for many ecosystems.


While the entire site is a reaction to natural drivers, each building is oriented according to a series of needs: environmental, programmatic, and systemic. Much like a boat, each building is exposed to an extended amount of time partially submerged in water. This submersion allows the buildings many opportunities only possible in buoyant conditions. The cool bay water creates comfortable working spaces for both the research and education facilities. At the waterline, each building acts as a wave attenuator — reducing rocking in the northern buoyant buildings. On the topside, each building is rotated depending on the program until a series of operable windows are positioned to the north and a semi-transparent skylight to the south. According to the California Energy Code, the site conditions would only allow a comfortable space 7.8% of the year; however, using combined passive strategies such as passive solar direct gain of low mass, sun shading of windows, and natural ventilation, the comfort level can be raised to a whopping 90%.

Metric: Comfortable 90% Annually per Climate Consultant, California Energy Code Model

Measure 5: LIGHT & AIR

In order to maximize passive means of lighting, each building is oriented to receive an amount of daylight proportional to the program within. For instance, Wet Lab (8) requires light during typical working hours and shading to keep the research relatively cool. To meet this programmatic need, in addition to four operable windows on the northern side, the semi-transparent south-facing skylight is optimized to collect water, stimulate growth of marine plants, and build up coverage over time. Likewise, the Administrative Offices (12) requires light throughout typical working hours, but is oriented so that it is not subject to the southern heat. In turn, the south-facing skylight is optimized to streamline rainwater away from potential growth pockets, keeping the skylight clear of ecological growth.

Collectively, the buildings are oriented to attenuate the strong sea winds coming from the southwest. Each building is equipped with operable windows and two rollup doors that not only function as thresholds for passive airflow, but reiterate the Picturesque wandering through a continuous site.

Metric: Day-lit: 75%, Views to Outdoors: 85%, Within Operable Window: 48%

Measure 6: WATER CYCLE

With the speculation that water levels will rise above manageable heights, both fresh and saltwater become key contributors to the longevity of any piece of architecture. Rather than position the design against natural change, SubOrdinate reframes this moment as an opportunity to explore a future resource. The marine biologists, sourcing on site water, seeks to discover more about the ecologies and evolving conditions of climate change, and how humans and nature may cohabit the future. Currently, rainwater and greywater is collected to irrigate the building topsides with nutrient rich freshwater. Before the runoff reaches saltwater ecologies, it is once again collected, filtered, and circulated through the irrigation system.

Below the waterline, currents carry nutrients through pockets and flows water according to the position of buildings. The result is a highly calibrated rugosity that produces topography of diverse marine growth across the site.

Metric: Onsite Storm Water Management: 89%


Oakland’s climate affords the project several passive energy strategies such as ventilation and solar orientation. Utilizing these strategies, the site is able to reduce heating and cooling loads while providing an abundance of solar radiation for photovoltaic energy harvesting. Programmatically, the laboratories and aquariums demand the most energy consumption for heavy research equipment. As a floating structure, industrial pumps are necessary for ballasting to manage buoyancy and tidal patterns. While the heavy programmatic and industrial energy loads are concerning for SubOrdinate’s carbon footprint, there is significant for energy consumption offset after removing forced air heating and cooling systems as well as the need for electric lighting during daylight hours.

Located far from land, the site also affords a unique situation for energy generation. While tidal and wind energy may appear as potential energy sources, they fail in practicality compared to the wealth of solar radiation in the Oakland region. In response, SubOrdinate employs solar harvesting through a linear array of photovoltaic panels embedded into the primary circulation path. By positioning this feature along the wayfinding path it is an educational opportunity and a functional system.

Metric: Total EUI:42, Energy Generation: 266,800 kWhr/yr, Net EUI:0


Alternatives to ground-based construction were proposed to tectonically support the long-term flexibility and adaptability of the design. We partnered with fiberglass fabricators to explore structural fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) — a highly calibrated monolithic material most often used in boat construction. Full-scale FRP prototypes physically substantiated the digital simulation of biodiversity across optimized rugosity. The resulting liminal structure is self supporting, lightweight, highly customizable and non-corrosive in marine conditions. Much like the origins of boat making, the buildings are constructed in 12ft bays, assembled on a dry dock, and then floated to their fixed positions at Middle Harbor. Because of the extreme differences between the 50ft channel, 6ft wetland, and 120ft layer of fill till bedrock, a new sort of anchoring had to be designed. The solution is far removed from the “waterfront typology” of concrete retaining walls and instead continues to draw from structures built for the water. Three foundations are supported by unique connections designed for these conditions: a buoyant foundation about spuds, a tension foundation held down with dywidags, and a fixed foundation on piles. From the fabrication material to the method of construction, SubOrdinate recognizes every scale as an opportunity to build resiliently.


At this point in history, water levels are rising and traditional coastal resiliency strategies are failing. Manmade solutions, such as riprap and sea walls, are not successful; however, naturally occurring protections, like wetlands and marine biodiversity, are working to reclaim the coastline. It is because of this uncertainty in the future of architectural solutions that a new approach to coastal resiliency was designed. In a city susceptible to the immediate effects of climate change, it is necessary to implement an architecture that proactively responds to the loss of ground. By committing extensive research into ecologically-optimized architectural substrates, SubOrdinate demonstrates a relationship in which humans may symbiotically intervene upon primal natures. In this new architecture, the skin of the buildings age proactively alongside the nature it is benefitting. The joint architectural and ecological growth supports the need for natural ground while embodying the program it houses. The education facilities inform and engage the public of this urgency while the research laboratories continue work towards a harmonious future between nature and architecture. In the unforeseeable future, nature will conquer all things manmade, but while humanity awaits this apocalypse, SubOrdinate, and likeminded facilities, will be educating and working towards an adaptable future.


SubOrdinate is the result of many professional and academic collaborations. Working closely with the Port of Oakland and marine biologists, an architect-client relationship was established and well-maintained as the design evolved to satisfy their needs. Throughout the semester, the design underwent a series of in-house consultations with a naval architect, life safety consultant, and three visits from energy and structural consultants. The strategies discussed pushed the design well past schematic design and through design development. Progress lead to visiting the fiberglass fabrication shop where the fabrication techniques informed ways we may challenge the unconventional building material. The professional consultations were supported by academic seminars with architecture studios from around the nation. The exchange of dilemmas between studios sparked larger questions of resiliency, climate change, and our duty as creative thinkers now and in the future. When the time came, SubOrdinate was presented to a group of community members during an event hosted by the Port of Oakland. Each member of the community had positive comments and were able to hold a critical discussion of how this design project rethinks the traditional approach to coastal resiliency.