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Key details


  • 29 February 2024


  • RCA

Read time

  • 6 minutes

The RCA Grand Challenge is the biggest single-institution postgraduate design project in the world. The initiative promotes interdisciplinary collaboration across School of Design programmes to address ocean-related challenges of broader societal relevance. This year, close to 700 students are taking part from MA programmes as diverse as Design Products, Fashion, Innovation Design Engineering, Intelligent Mobility, Service Design and Textiles.

The RCA Grand Challenge 2023/24: Ocean & Cities, brings London closer to the ocean, exploring a wide range of design challenges at the interface of land and sea. The projects support behaviour change among citizens and organisations through the use of ocean science, co-design and place-based approaches to address the impacts of cities on the ocean and increase city resilience to ocean-related impacts of climate change.

The RCA Grand Challenge 2023/24 is part of the RCA’s work as a UNESCO Ocean Decade Implementing Partner, supporting efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health.

Exploring London as a coastal city, students defined specific challenges to address, from the protection of marine ecosystems and flood mitigation to sustainable fishing and increased ocean literacy. In January, 140 student teams partnered with communities across each of London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London to engage with different forms of ocean science. The students' design proposals are grounded in real locations across the capital and seek to recognise the unique relationships between local stakeholders and the ocean. The students utilised Maptionnaire, a digital community engagement platform, to engage with local citizens, and applied co-design methods to co-create with people whose lives could be improved by the design outcomes.

The student groups have submitted video presentations of their designs and 13 projects have been selected for the shortlist. These creative speculative design proposals demonstrate the effectiveness of a community-centred approach to design and address a range of topics including flood mitigation, sustainable packaging in collaboration with the seafood industry, and reducing fatbergs in sewage systems.

From 21-27 March 2024 (excluding 24 March), a Grand Challenge exhibition showcasing the shortlisted projects to the public will be open in The Hangar at the RCA Battersea campus. Three winning projects will be chosen on 20 March by a judging panel including representatives from DEFRA, NOC, UNESCO, and Wandsworth Council.

Discover the Grand Challenge 2023/24 Shortlist:


Grand Challenge, Habi Tide

Borough: Lewisham

Team Members: Watanya Aekplakorn (Service Design), Claire Lee (Fashion), Ching Hang Ng (Innovation Design Engineering), Dawoon Yim (Design Products), Ruyi Yu (Textiles)

HabiTide proposes a sustainable solution to rebuild the fish habitat in Deptford Creek by 3D printing biodegradable structures from fish bones, sodium alginate and clay. The removal of over 480 shopping trolleys inadvertently halved the fish population, as these structures served as vital refuges for young fish during tides.

Inspired by shopping trolleys and natural fish habitats, these organic-shaped structures provide shelter for migratory freshwater fish, mitigate heavy metal contamination, and when revealed at low tide foster awareness about Deptford Creek's ecological history and the looming challenges of rising sea levels.

Rhythm of the River

Rhythm of the River

Borough: Kensington and Chelsea

Team members: Kaitian Cong (Textiles), Jingting Hu (Fashion), Diego Muñoz (Innovation Design Engineering), YiXin Peng (Design Products), Sai Srihitha Rapuru (Service Design)

Rhythm of the River looks to address the disconnect between humans and natural rhythms which can lead to neglect of our environments, in a way that marries ecological awareness with accessibility to take into account the significant income disparities in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It introduces an intertidal riverfront area along the Thames, open only at low tide, which challenges visitors to adapt to nature's schedule with a tidal clock artwork to display the tide times, linking the community with the river's natural pulse.



Borough: Lambeth

Team members: Mugdha Attarde (Service Design), Jianing Hu (Fashion), Wei Lu (Design Products), Guy Turner (Innovation Design Engineering), Chen Ziru (Textiles)

Sift looks to address the high levels of waste sewage released into the Thames. The project focuses fatbergs- huge build-ups of FOG (fat, oil and & grease) that block sewer pipes, reducing sewer capacity. London has 3.7 million dwellings with no means to capture FOG at the kitchen sink. SIFT reinvents the kitchen washing bowl as a means to sustainably capture FOG, where cooking wastewater is passed through a naturally oleophilic filter membrane made of waste coconut husk fibre. These disposable filters can then be recycled and repurposed as biofuel.

Alluvium Dice

Alluvium Dice

Borough: Ealing

Team members: Mimansa Bhandari (Textiles), Hao Chen Cheng (Design Products), Juan Pablo Guzman Alvarez (Innovation Design Engineering), Xiao Yue Lian (Service Design), Yue Qin (Fashion)

This project looks to co-design with and for animals to support the ecosystems of the London Borough of Ealing to thrive, in closer connection to the ocean. Alluvium Dice are hollow modular elements assembled to scaffold dams, channels, and lodges built by beavers, to facilitate fish migration, waste collection, and aquatic succession for biodiversity. Intended to be installed during annual community workshops, they support awareness of interspecies interactions in the pilot project of re-integrating beavers into Paradise Fields, Ealing.

Aquatic Ecologist Scout Pack

Aquatic Ecologist Scout Pack

Borough: Kingston upon Thames

Team members: Xiaotong Liu (Fashion), Daisy McClay (Textiles), Vishal Mehta (Innovation Design Engineering), Xiaozhuo Jiang (Service Design), Hongyu Wu (Design Products)

Aquatic Ecologist Scout Pack is a resource for the Scouts to add more ocean-related activities and badges to their manifesto to enhance ocean literacy, foster a sense of ownership, and provide valuable education. Through a thoughtfully curated blend of staged activities under the theme of Aquatic Ecology, and spontaneous initiatives termed Ocean Aid, the proposition goes beyond traditional scouting. The immersive activities will cultivate environmental stewardship and a lifelong appreciation for our oceans.



Borough: Harrow

Team members: Zachary David Patrick Berry (Innovation Design Engineering), Yiqing Liu (Design Products), Yipan Pan (Design Products), Rasi Surana (Service Design), Yingqiao Xiao (Service Design)

X-River aims to encourage citizens to become stewards of the water bodies around them, connecting them to the oceans. X-River is an immersive experience which allows diverse groups to explore the biodiversity in urban water bodies and train as Riverfly monitors to collect data on water quality. It is used by conservation organisations to train volunteers, and by schools to create interest among students about nearby streams to prepare the next generation of Riverfly monitors. It can serve as an experiential exhibit in museums and a means to drive awareness in boroughs through local events.



Borough: Lambeth

Team members: Rashi Agarwala (Innovation Design Engineering), Shucheng Li (Design Products), Wenying Qi (Fashion), Ayushi Saxena (Service Design), Yidan Wu (Service Design)

SuDScape streamlines flood management by utilising VR and AR technologies, ensuring resilience in the face of climate change in Lambeth, where flooding poses a significant challenge. The XR platform empowers Sustainable Drainage Systems designers to visualise and experiment with interventions on-site in flood-prone areas, enhancing decision-making. Expanding into AR, they engage citizens in the design process by humanising complicated mapping information and fostering community involvement. SuDScape looks to extend the platform to enable navigation of Lambeth virtually, simulating rainfall scenarios.

The Forgotten Pier

The Forgotten Pier

Borough: Bexley

Team members: Oorja Nagaich (Service Design), Saisai Zhuang (Fashion), Shibo Pei (Design Products), Wei Zhang (Service Design), Yunjie Shu (Textiles)

The Forgotten Pier is a co-created art installation to be used as a starting point for collective engagement in Bexley to preserve the Thames river. Residents were invited to fill a canvas representing Erith Pier's topography with memories and waste collected from the locality. The team elevated the installation by incorporating sensors and sounds, suggesting human intervention can alter river ecology. This visual and tactile piece will be expanded into a toolkit for wider use, fostering behaviour change and a renewed sense of shared ownership toward the river.

Barking Barges and the Mussel Conservation Center

Barking Barges and the Mussel Conservation Center

Borough: Barking and Dagenham

Team Members: Keerthi Pradaa Balajee (Innovation Design Engineering), Jinglei Cao (Service Design), Yiming Pan (Fashion), Thomas Scrimgeour (Design Products)

This proposal envisions leveraging conservation efforts for the freshwater pearl mussel species to positively impact Barking and Dagenham's socio-economic development. The aim is to build a self-sufficient and sustainable network of reclaimed barges, serving as versatile platforms to support recreational, conservational, communal, and agricultural spaces.

The project reimagines the urban development of Barking with minimal intrusion into the local ecology, fostering a sustainable and regenerative future.



Borough: Southwark

Team members: Yucheng Jia (Fashion), Jeremie Kofman (Innovation Design Engineering), Siqi Liu (Textile), Anees Mehkri (Design Product), Zijie Zhu (Service Design)

Bio-Loop looks to address the widespread use of harmful single-use plastic packaging in the seafood industry, based on research with fishmongers at Borough Market in Southwark and Notpla (seaweed alternative to plastic). The collaborative platform connects bio-packaging companies with seafood industries, facilitating visibility and accessibility, tailored to exchange raw materials in exchange for affordable bio-packaging. The platform, serving as a comprehensive hub for a variety of packaging use cases and base materials, would foster awareness and encourage a shift away from single-use plastics.

Bexley’s EELvolution

Bexleys EElvolution

Borough: Bexley

Team members: Raveena Rajesh Batham (Design Products), Lucy Katherine Bishop (Textiles), Minmin Ke (Fashion), Wen Xing (Intelligent Mobility), Xinyu Zhu (Service Design)

This app proposal actively involves Bexley’s local community in eel conservation in the river Cray through real-time updates and educational content, while also encouraging participation and a sense of shared responsibility.

With user-friendly features, it has the potential to create widespread awareness about the importance of protecting the river and its endangered eel population.

This urban design proposal strives to resonate with individuals across diverse age groups, thereby fostering a collective understanding of the importance of conserving and protecting these vulnerable aquatic species.

2049 Oceans Committee of Enfield

Oceans Committee of Enfield

Borough: Enfield

Team members: Anna Gao (Fashion), Kelly Harrigan (Design Products), Yiwen Tai (Service Design), Yixin Xu (Design Products), Xinyue Zhang (Textiles)

The Oceans Committee is a platform for ‘social dreaming’ to give stakeholders a voice to debate public policy, engage more people in ocean science, and encourage communities to imagine more creative and empathetic climate change initiatives.

The project looks to enable co-design with citizens but also with birds, rivers and oceans. Set in the year 2049, two-hour role-playing workshops bring together designers and locals to speculate the futures we want for our cities and ocean.

Combining playful costumes, research-based characters, and public discourse, the semi-structured framework can be adapted to stakeholders of different boroughs and cities across the world.



Borough: Bromley

Team members: Mu Hu (Service Design), Benedikt Huber (Innovation Design Engineering), Lin Jiang (Textiles), Ki Wook Rha (Design Products), Xinyi Xu (Fashion)

RE(E)DRAFT is a revolutionary floating reed bed filter system, utilising exclusively locally sourced, biodegradable materials, such as old wine corks and fallen branches, to maximise positive environmental impact.

The system looks to combat sewage pollutants, street runoff, and agricultural activities from threatening local water bodies in Bromley and downstream systems by capitalising on reed rhizomes' pollutant-absorbing properties.

Each square metre of reeds can filter 100 ㎡ of water, especially effective when rooted in floating systems.