Seawall sculpture with protective purpose

King tides which battered Canada’s British Columbia coastline in 2012 were the catalyst for an award winning sculpture which also serves as a seawall. Metamorphous is a corten steel structure designed by Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture for clients in Vancouver. The couple approached the firm after losing an entire bank to the sea, leaving their deck completely suspended.

The firm says it didn’t want to build the commonly favoured concrete wall because of foreshore erosion. Instead landscape architects worked with oceanic engineers to develop something unique and eye-catching. They drew inspiration from sandstone formations seen on Saturna Island in British Columbia. The wall itself is a corten steel shell, filled with shotcrete - concrete that’s blasted out of a hose. The abstracted shape of the corten, in conjunction with strategic boulder placement along the foreshore has played an integral role in dissipating wave energy and ultimately, facilitating the deposition of sand to enhance foreshore and create habitat for flora and fauna.

 Destructive king tides in 2012 were the catalyst for this project. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.

Destructive king tides in 2012 were the catalyst for this project. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.

The project was executed in 3 phases with the first being foreshore work. This involved an extensive permitting process and collaboration with environmental consultants, The Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO), Port Metro Vancouver & various departments at the City of Vancouver.

The second and third phase involved construction of the retaining wall. Physical and computer models of the steel were developed, with the computer model being fed into an automated water jet cutter in order to minimize material wastage. This process helped to simplify the complex forms. Fluctuating tides limited construction time so all the panels were fabricated and pre-assembled off site in a metal workshop. The wall pieces were cut in six metre segments and transported to site for final assembly.

 The landscape architects didn't want to build a more traditional concrete wall because of foreshore erosion. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.

The landscape architects didn't want to build a more traditional concrete wall because of foreshore erosion. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.

Since its completion, the corten wall has fostered a huge amount of public engagement on the beach, attracting kayakers, sunbathers, beachcombers and local residents. Dune grasses are beginning to establish and sand is slowly depositing. The landscape architects say the wall shines as an example of both functional and accessible art that is helping sculpt an identity for Vancouver’s shorelines.

Lead designer, Vikas Tanwar, told CityLab the wall’s aesthetic and functional features have turned what was an underutilised, soggy, and storm-battered beach into a new quasi-public amenity. It’s now a misty Pacific Northwest beach filled with driftwood, moss-covered stones for clambering over, and a bracingly fresh piece of sculpture calling people to the water. Landscape renovations connect it to an adjacent park, and families picnic on the beach and sunbathe on the boulders. “We never anticipated it would go to this level,” Tanwar told CityLab. “The social aspect of how it’s transformed is most exciting for us.”

 Dune grass is beginning to establish itself along the wall. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.

Dune grass is beginning to establish itself along the wall. Photo credit Brett Hitchins.