A pair of landscape designers come up with a winning idea for the land-starved Louisiana coast.
By Timothy A. Schuler
Like many residents of southern Louisiana, the Indigenous residents of Grand Bayou Village, located among the southernmost reaches of Plaquemines Parish in the Mississippi River Delta and accessible only by boat, live with the varied effects of coastal land loss.
A critical issue affecting the community’s ability to subsist in its ancestral place—a landscape that once was densely forested but that is now almost entirely covered in saltgrass—is an increasing shortage of dry land for growing food and medicinal plants.
To augment what little land is left, this past fall the New Orleans-based Water Collaborative organized the Seeds of Innovation: Resilient Design Competition. A follow-up to its inaugural planter box design challenge in 2021, this year’s competition asked entrants to design a planter box that was buoyant, easily repairable, and resilient in the face of hurricanes, tidal flux, and potential saltwater intrusion.
Participants were specifically asked to respond to a wish list from Atakapa Ishak/Chawasha tribal elders, including that planters be lightweight, transportable in the event of an evacuation, and accessible to elderly or disabled tribal members.
The winning design, by Baltimore-based Larix Underground, addresses these needs with an angular, powder-coated aluminum planter design with a shape that allows for 18-inch soil depths and easy harvesting.
The form and function of the planter, named Alligator Island, are inspired by the adaptability and ecosystem-engineering habits of the American alligator, with an attachable collar and trellis that further expand growing options and mooring holes that allow the planter to be secured to docks, homes, or other planters. The extended, angled feet on either end of the planter are meant to evoke the snout of its namesake while also making the planter hydrodynamic enough to be towed behind a boat.
Larix Underground’s winning design will undergo additional feasibility tests before being fabricated by Green Theory Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. The firm’s founders, Zoe Roane-Hopkins and Ben Chronister, who are also landscape designers at EnviroCollab and Mahan Rykiel Associates, respectively, say the competition offered an opportunity to make a small but meaningful difference in the face of a much larger environmental justice issue.
“There are a lot of design competitions out there that are super theoretical, like, design the future of cities,” Roane-Hopkins says. “This one was like, here’s a community, they are losing land, they need to grow food; how can you make that happen?”