Alex Goad on the role of design in coastal protection and restoration

Alex Goad with his work Modular Artificial Reef Structure (MARS). Image by Eugene Hyland.

Can you share some insights about your research and development process for this ambitious design project?

We were commissioned by the City of Greater Geelong to design a solution that would attenuate wave energy and reduce erosion along this stretch of historically significant coastline in Port Phillip Bay. Our solution –  the reef – serves as an offshore breakwater, a suitable habitat for native marine species, and an easily accessible snorkelling destination for the local community.

Positioned 60m offshore and made up of individual modules named EMU’s (erosion mitigation units),  they form an undulating barrier which allows water to flow freely while reducing wave energy.

We started the design process for this as we normally do – with simple sketches thinking about what would work from a wave attenuation and aesthetic perspective. From these initial ideas we normally go straight into 3D computer modelling but I actually did a lot of hand sculpting with clay to develop the forms. Our studio is filled with scale models of various concepts and I find it to be the best way to understand how a project is going to work.

Once we had a direction everyone was happy with we digitally modelled the shapes and began developing the formwork which we built in-house. We spent 2 months casting the forms and incorporated a locally sourced shell from the Bellarine which was mixed in as aggregate and exposed on the surface.


Is the artificial reef (and the Dell Eco Snorkelling Tour) a Victoria-first? What makes it such a unique sustainability-focused design project?

Yes absolutely, there are very few examples out there of sculptural structures specifically designed for reducing wave energy and enhancing habitat. It’s a pretty exciting project to have here because I think it’s another good example of how we can reinforce our coastlines in a more ecologically inclusive way and how we might approach climate adaptation in the future.

An erosion migration unit being installed. Image courtesy of Reef Design Lab.
Dell Eco Reef. Image courtesy of Reef Design Lab.

What are the key learnings or messages people will take away from their experience snorkelling through the reef?

I think looking at how different surfaces have encouraged different organisms to colonise and seeing what’s hiding in amongst the crevices will be exciting. I personally haven’t snorkelled the reef for a few months so I’m really looking forward to it. Last time I was there I saw some cold water corals growing which I think was plesiastrea versipora, so I am really excited to see how everything is going.


What is your personal connection to Geelong, and how has the region’s coastline specifically informed your research for this project?

I grew up snorkelling and surfing around the Geelong coastline and I think Clifton Springs is especially beautiful and still somewhat unknown. Some of the best snorkelling spots around Port Phillip Bay are human-made structures such as jetties and shipwrecks and this was really the inspiration for all of the work that we do.


What is the role of design in working to both protect and restore Victoria’s coastline (and coastlines more generally) for future generations?

I think design’s main role is to work in collaboration with science and government. No one discipline is able to solve these issues; it needs to be an ongoing collaboration. However, design is such a great communication tool and has the ability to bring these issues into the mainstream and that’s what we wanted to do with the Clifton Springs reef.

Geelong Design Week launches 19-29 October, running over 50+ events, talks, exhibitions, installations, experiences and more. Visit the Geelong Design Week website for the full program details.