Designer: Weishun Xu
Critic: Michael Beaman
Year: 2011
Location: Roosevelt Island, Washington DC, USA
Project Type: Environmental Conservation Center

exterior 2

Project Brief

     The concept of environmental conservation challenges the necessity of a normal architectural intervention due to the conflict between the self-regulation of the nature and the superimposed design strategies. This ever-changing ecology in Washington DC further magnifies the effect of artificial disturbance on the natural systems and its political implication.

In response to the bottom-up nature of the conservation program, this project proposes architecture as a process of self-regulation and adaptation that results in strategies in spatial organization. Utilizing Roosevelt Memorial Bridge as a superstructure of grid regulation for minimal footprint, the building is interpreted from a program automata process dependent on both the internal relationship among its programs and the possible changes in the landscape. The light-weight carbon fiber construction allows variations of the built form throughout time, so that at any given moment the building is able to re-configure itself to trace the evolution of the ecosystem. Meanwhile, the evolving forms manifest the changing nature of the ecosystems as an attitude of bottom-up environmental conservation against the politically superimposed static plan of the National Mall.

Situating Natural Conservation

     The program requires a bi-fold thinking in both nature and conservation. The site given, despite its landscape in the city, is an artificial island from landfill which challenges the concept of nature in the first place. Rather, it is a disturbance in the urban ecosystem, and it is this inherent dynamism in nature that needs to be conserved. On the other hand, architecture being a seemingly static structure indeed host dynamic programs in the urban context. Such dynamism should be the convergence of concepts between nature and conservation.

Site Analysis

Stabilizing Ecological Cycles

     The existing Roosevelt Island has an annual flooding cycle that cuts off a portion of the land area first, and then submerge this portion. This means that around 40% of the island ecosystem needs to be renewed every year. However, most of the species on the island in a more stable habitat last for longer than one year. Hence a portion of the island is constantly under-populated. To stabilize the dynamics on the island, the landscape change proposes minimal topographic change that adds a third patch, which gets submerged annually yet is not cut off from the rest of the land. This will generate a local migration pattern that benefit the animal population on that patch in the incoming year.

Eco Construction

Cellular Automata: Architecture as Organism

     To respond to the life cycles on the island, the architecture needs to develop a flexible program layout yet strict inter-program relationship. The only static element island – Roosevelt Memorial Bridge – becomes the hosting infrastructure of a series of a series of removable cells. The relationship is generated through cellular automata, an artificial intelligence simulation that predicts the mutual impact of organism living conditions immediately next to each other. The model is appropriated in architectural programs, with algorithm not only covering life and death, but also interaction between different types of programs. The simulation keeps running until a self-organized pattern stabilizes after more than 30 generations.

System Setup

Automation Map

Program Section


Interpretive Design

     Rationality has its boundary in the constant oversimplification of situations. The simulation needs to be interpreted instead of directly applied to an existing site at two different scales: individual and collective behavior. The individual behavior responds to the general pattern of boundary conditions which generates relationship between programs as well as individual architectural unis, whereas the collective layout responds to topological condition of program allocation. The resulting program is always one possible layout that fits into certain site condition in the annual life cycle of the site.




     Each cell is a light weight construction utilizing anchoring technology for attachment as well as carbon fiber membrane fixing for enclosure.

Unit Constructioninterior 1exterior 1