Design Proposal

The proposed design solution envisions the site as a series of three overlapping layers:

1) natural forest,

2) manmade farm, and

3) manipulated topography (fig. 50).

Although each of the three layers are modified by man’s intervention, the forest and the topography are essentially landscape elements, while the farm takes on an element of the landscape only in its relation to the other two systems. The diagram is stratified in terms of elevation (highest layer on top, lowest layer on bottom), but also in terms of use. The manmade farm layer is sandwiched between the forest and the constructed topography, because the farm is essentially a monocultural island in a sea of biodiversity. When the systems are collapsed, the monoculture is essentially perforated by and intermixed with the ecological biodiversity of the forest/topography. In short, this means that the deer, foxes, squirrels, birds, and bugs that inhabit the mile long site will continue to live here, even after the introduction of the blue crabs.

Figure 50 - Exploded Site Axonometric. Author illustration.

The existing forest represents what is believed to be some 30+ years of loblolly growth. In keeping with the thesis, the project attempts to leave as much of the existing canopy undisturbed, in the hope that the species which inhabit this forest currently might remain, at least in part. As stated earlier, the forest is networked in a node/corridor arrangement which allows for at least 3 different paths from every nodal convergence of greenway corridor. It is assumed that over time, this greenway network will not only play host to several resident species, but will also allow for movement of several itinerant corridor (edge) species such as deer, foxes, etc. The manmade farm is an imposition of a regular system upon an otherwise natural land mosaic. This layer consists of the stone roadways, the glass enclosed raceways and the crabs they contain, and finally man. This system is specifically intended to discourage unwanted predation. Aside from thermal regulation, this is the reason why the raceways are roofed with glass. While the wetlands will encourage birdlife, the greenhouses are intended to minimize avian predation.

The constructed topography is the result of the manipulation of the existing ground plane. The site slopes very slightly to the southwest (a delta of only -2’0”), and can be thought of as if flat. For this reason, it became very important to construct the localized wetland features in such a manner that the cut from these ponds could be used nearby as fill, thus preserving net-zero balance of site soils and eliminating the need for haul or import. This layer would play host to a variety of native and migratory species. As the wetland component can be seen from above, birds of many types would use the site both regularly and seasonally. The meadow components would not be mowed, and would therefore resemble grassland habitats. Over time, the accumulation of debris from the raceways could potentially be reharvested as a revenue-generating source of organic mulch. With the proper care, it is also believed that the meadows could grow the vegetation which could be transplanted into the raceways at the crab harvest and be used as the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV).

The final site plan (fig. 51) shows the various systems working together at 1” = 100’0”. At this scale, the site retains a liminal quality of being both diagram and reality in one. The clockwise routing of the trucks becomes apparent, as does the required 28’ turning radius (modeled on the Toyota Dyna or the Isuzu F-Series). These turns terminate the allés so that the forest can bleed together across the rigid boundaries established by the roadways, but they also allow trucks to double back on themselves if a driver has made a turn in error. At the 1” = 100’ scale, we begin to be aware of localized site variances where raceway clusters are split to allow for views. This strategy was pursued in order to alleviate the monotony of the experience within a particularly dense portion of a raceway cluster. Instead of walking along greenhouse after greenhouse, the occasional splitting of the raceway clusters allows for long views terminated against water, meadow, and forest. It is believed that this deviation from the rigidity of the organizing system would both mitigate the perceived density of the raceway clusters and dramatically enhance the users’ experience of the landscape.

Figure 51 – Final Landscape Design. Author Illustration.

When first stocked, each raceway is home to just under 10,000 blue crab juveniles. Over the course of the next 3 months the crabs will grow to full size, but their numbers will decrease significantly due to cannibalism. With an assumed attrition rate of 75%, each raceway should yield some 2,400 blue crab adults on harvest day. Given a year-round staff of 30 pickers, each of whom can pick a minimum of 20 crabs per hour, two raceways are harvested, picked, and processed each work day. With a 4 season turn-over, 124 raceways, or 31 4-unit clusters are necessary to provide the pickers with the 1.2 million blue crabs (or 400,000 lbs of crabmeat) they will process over the course of the year (fig. 52).

Figure 52 – Site Diagram. Author Illustration.

The raceway clusters are an assembly of one basic unit type that consists of 4 raceways paired with a wetland and a work meadow (fig. 53). This pairing is important because each raceway requires a direct adjacency to the meadow so that debris from the raceway can be deposited on the meadow at the end of each harvest and newly grown vegetation can be transplanted in the cleaned raceway. In order to provide for successful drainage, each raceway must be close enough to a wetland to allow for negative outfall. These units are assembled in a staggered manner similar to the technique by which the basic unit is assembled, meaning that the raceways do not align vertically from row-to-row but are offset by half a greenhouse module.

Figure 53 – Unit Module. Author Illustration.

As mentioned previously, the site itself is decidedly flat, and this is best depicted in site section AA, which features some 12 unit bays of the system (fig 54). The flatness of the site is contrasted by the outcroppings of loblolly, whose towering presence serves to frame and mask this flatness. This section reveals the distribution of water across the site, where it is raised within the raceways and where it is depressed in the wetland features. The use of these water features in particular changes according to the time of day. During the daytime (fig. 55, section CC), the site is a working farm trafficked by trucks and harvesters, student groups and conservation biologists. But when dusk falls and the site grows dark, the nocturnal inhabitants of the site begin to move about, circulating along the greenways and drinking from the wetland features.

The raceway garage doors are opened and closed based upon the time of the day and year. During the summer months, the raceways’ doors are rolled up to allow for air to pass freely through the structure (fig 55), but at night and during the winter, the raceway doors are shut. During summer nights, the raceways are closed in order to discourage night predators. During the winter, the raceways are closed so that enclosed air might be heated by the sun during the day and retain some warmth over the night. The visitor can always orient himself on the site based on two important features: 1. the north facing vents which exhaust hot air during the summer months. 2. The difference in garage door materials. The roll up doors to the south are glazed to allow more light into the structure, while the roll up doors to the north are wood.
Thus, a visitor walking down an east-west road should be able to ascertain north based strictly upon material cladding of the raceway structures.

The pre-manufactured gutters act as sunshade allowing for winter sun, and blocking summer sun (fig. 56 section FF). The bottom of these overhangs is 10’0” above the existing grade, a height which provides a human scale to the raceway, but also acts as a stop for crabs as they are physically tossed out of the raceway structure. The 20’0” tall roof vents crown a raceway unit that measures 42 feet wide, and 240 feet long. These dimensions are not arbitrary. The 42 foot width was arrived at by determining the average distance a man can comfortably toss a crab (approximately 20 feet, or ½ the raceway). The 240 foot length was arrived at by looking at how many crabs would be necessary to employ 30 fulltime pickers. The 4 foot tall concrete raceway walls are insulated against the cold using earth berms that will grow meadow grasses on the south side of the raceway more shade-resistant groundcover on the north.

Although this berm prevents the visitor from promenading directly alongside the raceway, each raceway is equipped with several sets of stairs that are used by the harvesters to climb into the raceways and the visitor who wishes to peer into the raceway to view the crabs in their reconstructed habitat. The 18’ roadway was designed with truck travel in mind, but it wide enough for a truck to travel alongside a pedestrian without too much trouble. This was an important consideration because the site must work mechanically as a working farm while at the same time accommodating various scientific and educational use groups.

Figure 54 - Plan Detail "X”, Site Section AA, BB, CC. Author Illustration.


Figure 55 – Site Section DD, EE. Author Illustration.


Figure 56 – Site Section FF. Author Illustration.

The farm complex itself (not including the surrounding forest) takes up a footprint of 2/3 of a mile by 1/3 of a mile. This area equates to approximately .25 square miles or 160 acres of developed footprint. As such, it is important to understand that the sheer size of the developed footprint could be daunting and perhaps even staggering if agglomerated in one mass of building. The introduction of the greenways into the interior of the farm was intended to allow other forms of plant and animal life to inhabit the farm, but it had a secondary impact on the way we experience the site. As the greenways were thickened during the design process, and began to engulf the individual clusters of raceways, not only was the size of the operation camouflaged in plan, but the vast size of the operation was mitigated experientially. The process of moving through the site would be something akin to passing though a sparse forest canopy and emerging into a clearing populated by glass enclosed raceways, lush wetlands, and grassy meadows. The dramatic height of the loblolly forest and its encircling of the raceway clusters frames site views such that there is always a foreground (wetland and meadow) a middle ground (raceway), and a background (forest). This strategy’s placemaking is evident in the site perspectives that have a rooted quality, one which would be impossible without the parceling of the program into small, self-contained clusters.

As architects, we tend to think of our projects in terms of how we use them--particularly how we use them from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Nature doesn’t work this way. As such, the project had to be developed in such a way that it can work in all types of diurnal conditions. By day, the farm is “worked” by 6 or 8 journeymen—draining, harvesting, cleaning, and restocking the greenhoused raceways (fig. 57).

By night the site is occupied by the nocturnal animals—owls, foxes, deer, possum, drinking from the wetland features and moving along the greenway corridors (fig. 58).

The project works during the summer and during the winter, although the user groups change (figs. 59 & 60).

Most importantly, the site is designed to work during drought, and during 1000 year storm conditions (figs. 61 & 62).

By setting the top of the concrete walls at 4’0” above the existing grade, the site can withstand several feet of floodwater without losing the crab harvest. The journeymen could either wait for the waters to subside, or harvest the raceways using shallow-hulled boats.

Figure 57 – Daytime Perspective. Author Illustration.


Figure 58 – Nightime Perspective. Author Illustration.


Figure 59 – Summer Perspective. Author Illustration.


Figure 60 – Winter Perspective. Author Illustration.


Figure 61 – Drought Perspective. Author Illustration.


Figure 62 – Flood Perspective. Author Illustration.

The visitor’s approach road (fig. 63) is a long allée terminated by the building, which is raised above the existing grade by 4 feet of terraced ground. From this elevated position, the building surveys the 18’ wide bluestone roadway along which the visitor promenades. This allée is characterized by changing conditions where the forest advances to engulf the roadway, then recedes to create clearings populated by berms and wetlands (fig. 63). These wetlands/berms meet the roadway in different ways. Sometime the roadway penetrates these features, and other times these elements shy away from the road. These features are not purely scenographic, although they do lend the path a cinematic quality. The water features are actually networked with the wetland features distributed throughout the site such that in the case of a flood or rain event, the wetlands are capable of filling beyond capacity without overflowing onto the east-west roadways. Individual ponds are tied together with utility piping that connects at the west of the site to the water/overflow features.

The visitor’s path to the building is penetrated only five times by the east-west collector roads that terminate in the north-south service road leading to the facility. At these junctures the visitor has a view to the east into the working farm, where he/she will first glimpse the reflective form of the glass enclosed raceways. As the visitor nears the facility at the end of the roadway, the forest expands to the edge of the roadway to force a perspective of the building as it surveys an expansive forecourt. After the abrupt termination of the forest, the visitor crosses between a final set of wetlands and berms, and finds him/herself in a terraced landscape that consists of a succession of natural grasses planted in such a way that they echo the horizontal banding of the road grid. After dropping off passengers at the front of the facility, the visitor’s vehicle turns to park in a stone parking area to the southwest.

From the exterior, the building reads as a single box topped by two service towers. The exterior envelope consist of alternating planes of floor to ceiling glass and something more opaque, perhaps brick or wood siding. These glass walls step in and out based upon the uses contained within. The programmatic relationships are very much determined by the functional working of the building. The algae tanks that fuel the laboratory foodcycle are located on the southern curtainwall to take advantage of the southern sun. The lab offices and managing director’s suite are also located on the southern curtainwall to take advantage of this natural light, but these programs are set back within the volume of the box in order to take advantage of the roof as shading device.

Figure 63 – Perspectives Along Allée. Author illustration.

These offices are also equipped with light shelves to mitigate the vast amount of light penetrating the southern façade. The picking and processing operations are located on the north side of the building to allow for indirect illumination of the workspace. As the picking floor is 6 feet below grade and the window wall begins 4 feet above grade, the pickers direct views of the landscape are minimized. This elevation allows the pickers views into the field of loblolly trunks, without permitting distracting perspectives of the ground plane. The tower elements are located within the depth of the northmost program bar to allow the visitor to access the restaurant and the roof deck without crossing over the double height gallery/corridor space that runs east west along the building’s center.

Figure 64- Exploded Axonometric. Author Illustration.


Figure 65- Plans and Sections. Author Illustration.


Figure 66 – Aerial Perspective. Author Illustration.

Upon entering the facility (fig. 66), the visitor is greeted with a view into the picking facility and the restaurant above, both of which are glazed to allow views directly through the program and into the loblolly forest beyond (fig. 67). This is important metaphorically, because upon entering the enclosure of building the visitor’s view is channeled back out into the natural environment. The central kiosk at the junction of the two corridors serves multiple purposes—acting as information counter, tour ticketing, and sales counter for the various crab products for purchase.

Figure 67- Entry Perspective. Author Illustration.

This termination of the view and extension into the landscape is a classic modern technique of forced perspective, and it is one that works very effectively here. These views into the landscape are marked by the contrast between the austerity of the architecture and the messiness of the picking operations (fig. 68). The landscape beyond simply frames these mechanized processes. The stacking of program achieves a secondary metaphorical goal here. The visitor is simultaneously witnessing the processes of production and consumption. The labor that picks the crabs literally supports the restaurant program in which that same crab is consumed.

Figure 68 – View into Picking. Author Illustration.
As one moves along the central corridor, one becomes aware of the undulating roof surface which telegraphs from the exterior of the building into the interior spaces. This corridor is populated with information boards that double as interactive educational elements and benches set up to view the various lab, picking, and processes activities that take place intermittently all day long (fig. 69).

Figure 69 – Corridor Perspective. Author Illustration.

After paying for a tour and viewing an introductory video in the auditorium, the visitor is escorted along the hallway to the laboratory component of the building where he/she can view the fulltime lab tech feeding and rearing the crabs (fig. 70).

Figure 70 – Laboratory Perspective. Author Illustration.

At the westernmost end of the corridor, the blue crab juveniles are piped from the plexi cylinders across the way and into the northeastern loading dock where they are pipetted into the trucks that will distribute them into the raceways. After witnessing this operation, the tour group goes outside to view the second stage of the crab’s lifecycle, the raceway stage. The tour group walks along the stone road and makes a loop around one of the raceways and alongside a wetland while the tour guide explains the working operations of the farm and the biological processes taking place within the wetland. Upon returning to the building, the tour is escorted along the northern glass corridor where the successive stages of processing are catalogued. As the tour moves along this wall, the visitor can watch as the crabs are dumped, sorted, (between sooks, jimmys, and jumbos), steamed, refrigerated, picked, weighed, packaged, refrigerated, and shipped. After eating in the second floor restaurant and/or milling about the roofscape, the visitor has the opportunity to ascend the observation tower which provides panoramic views into the farm complex (fig. 71). Subsequently, the visitor is invited to take a self guided tour through the farm complex or to purchase one of several crab products on his/her way out of the facility.

Figure 71- Perspective from Observation Tower. Author Illustration.

[35] In Maryland, hauling operations can run anywhere from $17/c.y. to upwards of $24 (Author’s GC experience 2007-2009).