Created by architectural firm Arup Associates, the Insect Hotel was one of the winners of the ‘Beyond the Hive’ competition, a unique architectural competition to design five star hotels for insects. The contest is sponsored by the British Land and the City of London Corporation. (Photo courtesy British Land via Animal Architecture)
One of the benefits of living in a rural place like New Hampshire is that interactions with wild animals occur on a daily basis. I see birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects when I’m hiking, commuting to work, or simply strolling around the yard. Wild turkeys, bears, grouse, moose, foxes, dragonflies, deer, minks, bobcats, raccoons, toads, porcupines, beetles, bald eagles, woodchucks, fisher cats, skunks, and coyotes are all commonplace where I live, and not a day passes when I don’t have some kind of close-encounter with the natural world.
Two weeks ago, for instance, I was hiking alone on a trail when I startled a huge flock of turkeys. I’m not sure who was more alarmed–me or the birds. One minute the woods were silent and calm, and the next I found myself in the middle of a turkey squall. They squawked and fluttered in twenty different directions, wings flapping, feathers and leaves flying. (Yes. Those giant, awkward birds actually leave the ground!) The encounter changed everything about my hike that day; I was more aware, more attuned to the sound of the woods as I proceeded up the trail.
If you live in an urban area like New York City, interactions like this are atypical in daily life, and your relationship to the animal world is more removed. Pigeons and rodents are a regular feature of the urban landscape, but you may never have reason to think about the Peregrine Falcons nesting on skyscrapers and bridges, or about the muskrats, coyotes, possums, and deer lurking in the city’s parks.
Urban and suburban animal sightings recorded in the media typically focus on the most dramatic or entertaining stories–bears shot down in New Jersey, coyotes roaming the West Side of New York City, a turkey nicknamed Hedda Gobbler living on the grounds of the Riverton Houses in Harlem. But the fact of the matter is that we all share our environment with a wide variety of animals whether we notice them or not.
The façade of Arup's Insect Hotel consists of a series of compartments based on a Voronoi pattern, which can be found in the natural world (as in the rib structure of a dragonfly’s wing). The compartments created by the pattern provide the supporting armature for a variety of recycled waste materials and deadfall that are loosely inserted into the voids. The structure caters to the needs of stag beetles, solitary bees, spiders, lacewings and ladybirds. The sides of the hotel are accessible for butterflies and moths, and the top is suitable for absorbing rain water through planting. (Photo courtesy British Land via Animal Architecture)
Imagine for a moment what it might be like if we were less passive about this relationship. What if were more creative and proactive about the ways we coexist with animals?
What if architects designed shelters not only to accommodate humans, but also to accommodate the animals who inhabit the same piece of land?
What if urban planners thought about wildlife corridors as much as they thought about zoning, sidewalks, or traffic calming?
What if we were able to replace some of the natural animal habitats that have been destroyed with new habitats that would boost dwindling populations? Imagine if we could design a way for bees to live outside the hive?
What if zoo enclosures were designed from the animals’ perspective instead of from a hierarchical, human point of view? And what would happen if zoo designers reversed the concept of being “inside” an enclosure versus on the “outside”? How might this change the interaction between animals and humans in an artificial space such as a zoo or park?
These are some of the intriguing questions being explored at Animal Architecture, an online project curated by Ned Dodington and Jonathon LaRocca. Dodington and LaRoocca believe in the importance of ecological relationships and their ability to transform design, urban planning, and more. They describe Animal Architecture as “an ongoing investigation into the performative role of biology in design…illuminating alternative ways of living with nonhuman animals, discussing cross-species collaborations, and defining new frameworks through which to discuss biologic design.”
I first learned about Animal Architecture from architect Joyce Hwang, who has designed several animal habitats, such as the Bat Tower shown in the below photo. (You can learn more about this project and read an interview with Joyce on the Animal Architecture website). Joyce’s Bat Tower is a good example of “Animal Architecture” in practice, as is Fritz Haeg’s Animal Estates project, which I saw at the Whitney Biennial in 2008. Arup’s Insect Hotel, one of the winners of the 2010 Beyond the Hive competition, also shows some of the creative possibilities in this emerging field.
The Bat Tower designed by architect Joyce Hwang and her students at SUNY Buffalo. "When I first became interested in bats and their behavior," Hwang explains, "I was surprised to learn that many species are able to live in spaces that we tend to think of as uninhabitable, for example, under loose pieces of tree bark, between pieces of building material, etc." (Photo by Joyce Hwang via Animal Architecture)
Today, Animal Architecture announced the winning entries for the 2011 Animal Architecture Awards. The projects, which range from the “fantastical, plausible” to the “built,” are an excellent introduction to the concept of Animal Architecture. Of the more ambitious projects, my personal favorites are the Nottingham Apiary and BirdScraper. Of the simple, low-tech designs, I like Bird Habitats and Window Unit.
The winning entries featured below are taken directly from Animal Architecture–all photographs and text are courtesy of the Animal Architecture blog. If the subject interests you, do take some time to explore Dodington and LaRoocca’s site further. Each of these award-winning projects featured below will be published in more detail on Animal Architecture within the coming weeks, and an exhibition is also in the works. You can check the Animal Architecture website for regular updates.
The 2011 Animal Architecture Awards
First Place: Theriomorphous Cyborg
Inspired by Uexküll’s animal Umwelt, the “Theriomorphous Cyborg” is an immersive Augmented Reality game aimed at endowing participants with a non- and extra-human gaze. It is software designed to uncover alternative fields of experience and to activate novel relations between human cyborgs and their “sentient” surroundings.
Each level establishes a new and unfamiliar environment-world; LEVEL 1 endows players with the ability to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field. LEVEL 2 allows them to manipulate their own awareness of time by mixing synchronous and asynchronous signals. LEVEL 3 substitutes the participant’s eyesight with broadcasts from CCTV cameras activated by proximity.
First Runner Up:The Nottingham Apiary
Amelia Eiriksson, Fraser Godfrey, Ana Moldavsky, Esko Willman from the University of Nottingham
The Nottingham Apiary project addresses the problem of collapsing bee populations, upon which humans depend to pollinate food crops. This phenomenon, Colony Collapse Disorder, is attributed to many causes, however there is no conclusive evidence for any specific one. The project aims to restore bee populations locally, with the potential to be replicated in other locations around the world.
An existing derelict structure is used as framework for bee habitation, with hives gradually expanding and taking over. New elements, attached to the old, allow the process to happen. The folly creates a dialogue between the process, the surrounding area and the public, introducing the bees in a nonthreatening context. It acts as the entrance to the building. The visitor route follows The Plight of the Honey Bee installation, creating a gradual crescendo through the spaces.
Second Runner Up: Farmland World
Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer of Design With Company, with Katharine Bayer and Hugh Swiatek