Urban Reef portrait of Pierre Oskam and Max Latour
© Bring yourself / NBTC
Bring yourself

Urban Reef

Urban Reef is building a new relationship with nature

Even in the greenest of cities, man controls nature. Pierre Oskam and Max Latour believe that it should work the other way around. With Urban Reef, they create urban sculptures that put nature back in charge.

Bring yourself, Max & Pierre will do the same

Urban Reef portrait of Pierre Oskam and Max Latour
Pierre Oskam (31) is a landscape architect and concept designer. Max Latour (30) is a computational designer and researcher. Together they founded Urban Reef to create sculptures that bring more nature into the urban landscape.

A home for flora and fauna

A tall, meters-high sculpture shaped like a huge piece of coral reef, right in the city center: this is an apt description of Urban Reefs. The material soaks up rainwater and feeds the plants that want to grow there. The fanciful, unique shapes create nooks and crannies that provide a home to a variety of plants and animals.

The idea of Urban Reefs came to Pierre when he was working on his PhD as an ecological designer in Portugal. “There were a lot of vacant buildings in the city of Porto and in the countryside. The plants that I saw there simply seemed to appear on their own and this provided them with a good chance of survival. A city consists of different micro-climates, and I wondered whether that was something that we could reinforce.”
Pierre Oskam of Urban Reef at work
“We create natural conditions in the city using design tools based on natural processes.”
Pierre Oskam & Max Latour

Green oasis

The idea stayed with him until he met Max, who was already doing research on how natural processes can be converted into algorithms and used as design tools. “That’s where we find the synergy,” says Max. “We create natural conditions in the city using design tools based on natural processes.” Since nature is complicated, the same applies to the designs that Max creates in his work.

Those complex designs then take shape in Urban Reef's 3D printer at RDM, Rotterdam's hub of creativity and innovation. In the heart of the old dock warehouse, the start-up has created a small green oasis for itself, where it experiments with its unusual sculptures.

They are currently working on two different versions of the Urban Reef. The first version consists of large, coral reef-like sculptures made of clay, for now. “Clay is quite sustainable, but we would like to eliminate the firing process,” says Max. “Mycelium is an option because it’s a living type of mold that can be easily shaped and can serve as a nutrient-rich surface.” The first sculptures can be admired in test gardens and expositions. There is an Urban Reef at the Floriade in Almere and at the Rotterdam Zoo.
Urban Reef Pierre Oskam behind the computer

Future deter­mined by nature

The second version being tested by Max and Pierre is the Rain Reef. It is a similar, organic, and complex shape that can be connected to a drainpipe like a rain barrel. After the rain, the porous material soaks up the water and provides a good foundation for nature to do its thing.

When will we be able to head over to our local garden center to buy a natural reef to connect to our drainpipe? That’s not something Max and Pierre are currently thinking about. The designers are focusing on a future in which people, plants, and animals have an equal impact. “At the moment, our goals do not necessarily concern the product itself,” says Max. “It’s really about how the sculptures contribute to our vision.”
Urban Reef testing in process
Urban Reef work