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Architecture as Micro-system | Winter 2020

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In-City Short-distance Ferry Terminal

South Boston Dry Dock No.4 Reuse

By Yutao Huang, Yuqian Li, Xing Huan

The “In-city Short-Distance Ferry Terminal” is a site-specific design that’s located on an abandoned dry dock No.4 in south Boston, America. The ferry terminal is designed to be self-sufficient, eco-friendly and educational.

To start this project, each of our group members picked inpirations from the nature and analyzed them. We then made models mimicking interesting features of our inspirations by focusing on the “system” behind it.

The next step was system drawings and “grasshopper” modeling where we analyze our components more systematically and logically. In this step we start to think of how our components can be applied to architecture design in either microscopic or macroscopic ways.

After we decided on our systems, we came in groups, gathered our thoughts and picked our site. We made our site analysis diagram and then progresses as we find problems and solve them with our knowledge in either design or nature.

PHASE 01: Components

Design Research and Conceptualization

For the first phase, we each looked for inspiration from the nature and analyzed the logic behind it.


Cholla Wood

Goliath Beetles

Mourning Cloak Butterfly Chrysalis

My Components

Summary of the components

I chose these three components for completely different reasons. Cholla Wood interested me in the way how its pattern forms and changes overtime.

I chose the Goliath Beetles for its wing structure instead. The way how its wings fold and unfold could be used in design to  save space or make supporting structure.

The chrysalis inspired me in a way that it represents the changing between different life stages, specifically the way how the butterfly emerges form the chrysalis.


Venus flower basket



Swan wing

Components by Teammates

Summary of the components (by my teammates)

For these three components, I chose them from three totally different directions.

One of the radiolarians have substance transporting between the two side of its membrane, which I think attracts me most.

I focused more on the shape of the crystal of fluorite.
And I studied the flipping path of the swan wing .

Models&Drawings of Components


Model 1 - Cholla wood


Model 2 - Beetle wings


Model 3 - Chrysalis


PHASE 02: System 

Design Representation and Digital Prototyping 

In this stage we are generating forms and systems by mimicking our nature inspiration. We first did system drawings and then used grasshopper to generate 3D models of our systems.

By changing the variables, we can easily generate forms that share the same logic but look differently. With these forms and systems we can start to think about how we can put them into our design.

System Drawings

Conceptual System 01

System Drawings

Conceptual System 02

System Drawings

Conceptual System 03

    The cholla wood is often used to raise shrimps as it can be their food and shelter at the same time. It was interesting to me how shrimps move along the holes on it. The way I generated the grasshopper file is by mimicking the drying and dying process of the cholla. Throughout time new holes are emerging as well as existing holes on its body gets bigger. Because fiber on it loses viscosity to each other. 


    As a type of radiolaria, the isophora controls the area of its spines exposed to seawater by controlling the contraction and relaxation of its cell membrane. When the area of the spine exposed is large, because the strontium sulfate constituting the structure is easily dissolve in water, the dissolution of the spines causes the entire cell density to decrease, thereby achieving the purpose of floating. Conversely, when theisophora  wants to sink, it will pick up the ions in the seawater and let the bone needles grow again. 

So when I abstract this process into a body mass, the thinner body mass that symbolizes the extra-membrane spines will become longer and thinner as they float upward. While the inner spines are protected by the membrane and will only shorten with the shrinkage of the membrane, but the thickness will not change.

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    Spicule works as the sponge’s skeleton, gives its directions to grow. The spicule of Euplectella aspergillum is six points spicule. In this stage, I tended to see how the structure would go by mimicking the spicule for each layer in Grasshopper. Before that, a close up look through drawing was really important to generate an idea of the whole system. 

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Digital Prototyping 

Cholla Wood

By generating a random point cloud and setting them as fields which push lines around them outwards, I was mimicing the pattern on the cholla wood.

My system will be simulating the form and structure of a cholla plant, and functionally it will be focusing on leading people through space and dividing space efficiently. By imagining movement of people as the fibres on the cholla plant, obstacles or pillars as the holes, a new, systematic way of dividing up spaces emerges. At the same time, by picturing gateways as the holes and walls as the fibres, a brand new method comes up.


Grasshopper sequence


Sample Models


Digital Prototyping 


1. By adding a repulsive force to the points distributed on the surface of the sphere, the points are forced to be evenly distributed on the sphere, thereby simulating the morphology of the radiolarian with different numbers of spines.

2. The formula of the random length is used to simulate the morphology of the skeleton of the radiolaria. Then explore different textures by changing the thickness of the skeleton.

3. I tried to use the inflatable function of the kangaroo plug-in to simulate the contraction and relaxation of the membrane structure under different tension states. 

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PHASE 03: Integrated Micro-system

Synthesis design proposal

Our project is a ferry terminal that has multiple functions. It’s located in south Boston on the old site of the No. 4 Dry Dock. 

As a “unusual“ ferry terminal, our building also contains space for a green house, an ocean farm, and a market that’s supplied by them.

The macro-system of the building is inspired by a kind of radialarian and its inner and outer circulation. The outer cycle  in our building will be the ferry terminal. Here people are the elements flowing through the system. 

The inner cycle of the building is the key  for the market to be self-sufficient. Ocean farming is a new concept brought up just in the last decade. By raising kelp, seaweed and shellfish, an ocean farm will be able to produce food without any input, just by building an healthy system instead. As seaweed can be used as bio-fertilizers and shellfish can absorb the Nitrogen in the seawater, which is always produced by agriculture, a system is thus established inside the building.

Having the two key circulation of our building determined, our design was based on how to make the cycles more efficient while also balancing the aesthetic of our building.

Site Analysis


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Site Analysis

Ferry lines and Terminals

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Site Analysis

Subway System

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Concept Diagram

Ocean Farm/ Green House Cycle System

Function layout

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Traffic Flow Diagram

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Function layout

Functional Arrangement

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Function layout

Section View

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Function layout

Floor Plans





1:32 model

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