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.
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.
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
Farmland World is a chain of agro-tourist resorts sprinkled across the American Midwestern countryside. Part theme park and part working farm, guests arrive to the resort via train and stay as part of 1-day, 3-day or 5-day experience packages. Capitalizing on both recent investments in high-speed rail infrastructure and the plentiful subsidies for farming, the network of resorts combines crowd-sourced farm labor with eco-tainment. Guests perform daily chores as self-imposed distractions from the toil of their daily lives. Among the countless activities offered, guests can choose to ride the Animal Farmatures, the dual natured farm implements that complete traditional farm tasks while performing grand rural-techno spectacles. When its time to leave for home, guests climb back into the train, weary and satisfied from their labors as they marvel at the passing landscape they helped transform.
Third Runner Up: BirdScraper
1. Birds Die From Crashing Into Skyscrapers Windows – Over 90,000 birds die every year by crashing into skyscrapers because lights inside the buildings attract birds flying right onto their windows.
2. NYC Is The Only Major US City Without A Wildlife Rehabilitation Center – 4,000 calls from people seeking help for distressed wildlife each year and emergency care and rehabilitation to over thousands of birds; most of them were injured from crashing into the dense “concrete jungle,” New York City.
The skyscraper contains a unique ecological system that produces oxygen and sustains itself. Since the building is located in the middle of the lake, all birds feces will drop down into the lake, thus feces will turn into algae. All algae have photosynthetic machinery ultimately derived from the Cyanobacteria, and so produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis. This is the idea; more birds, they will drop more feces, and there are more algae. If there are more algae, they produce more oxygen.
Honorable Mentions to:
Pigeon Racing Headquarters
The Pigeon Racing Headquarters is a design for the conversion of a Victorian Terrace in Dover into a Racing Pigeon Clubhouse. The hope is for the building to stimulate awareness and interest in pigeon racing as well as undoing the ever-increasingly negative reputation of the pigeon amongst the British public.
The British Pigeon has a much-forgotten heroic association with Dover as they acted on behalf of the British Army during World War I and II, defending Britain’s front line along the White Cliffs of Dover. Buckland Pigeon Racing Club in Dover is in need of new facilities for a clubhouse and is a prime opportunity to start a pigeon revolution for the rest of the country to follow.
The Casino is a gambling warren for humans and an inhabitable environment for animals sited in London, U.K. It explores an extreme design strategy of human’s co habiting with mammals.
The Casino focuses on London’s five protected mammals (bats, common dormice, water voles, otters and badgers), each of which is given legal protection by UK laws.
The major reason for the decreasing population of each of these mammals is habitat loss from human development. This project engages with the ‘animal’ actively through its design. The Casino investigates how the environments of these mammals can firstly be considered in an urban scheme and secondly influence it. The living mammals impact on the composition and structure of the project, infesting it. The building’s design is heavily influenced by ecological relations of the mammals and their habitat requirements.
Friend and Company Architects
Bat habitats are protected in the UK and solutions are needed to mitigate the obstructions roosting bats commonly cause to housing development. Modern, sealed, energy efficient housing design no longer provides bat roosting opportunities and has increased concentrations of bat habitats in remaining forests and agricultural buildings. Each Bat Station will concentrate biodiversity by adopting a concept similar to Le Corbusier’s Radiant City in which mass housing freed surrounding areas for nature. Instead a UK network of high-rise Bat Stations will enable species densification that will free surrounding areas for greater development and enable closer cohabitation.
2010 saw us tip the balance of the global urban habitation — More than 50% of the human population now lives in an Urban Environment. Clearly, we need to reconcile our attitudes and opinions about the natural world – the forest as a territory of unspeakable dangers and dark secrets – and encourage cryptoforests to break through the cracks in the paving, bringing with them wildlife, insects and a certain degree of disorder that would otherwise be swept away.
The results were a series of individual ‘assisted readymades’ – immanently implementable ‘Nestworks’ whose ambition was to tip the balance of possibilities available to the urban bird population: providing both shelter and habitat.
Prosthetic Lizard Homes
Renee Davies, Cris de Groot and Martin Boult
Extensive living roofs are potentially ideal sites to establish native New Zealand (NZ) lizard (in particular skink Oligosoma sp. (Image 1) populations), as they are infrequently accessed by people, can be made free of non native mammalian predators (major contributors to skink decline in urban environments in NZ) and a non native skink which may compete with native species. Further impetus comes from the requirement for local regulatory authorities to ensure rescue, relocation and habitat restoration of urban NZ indigenous lizards (skinks and geckos) where they are impacted by small developments such as buildings and roads.
Living roof research to date has focused on enhancing natural, ad-hoc plant, insect and bird colonization rather than specific opportunities for species introductions. This project proposes that living roofs can be manipulated to provide habitat and climatic conditions suitable for NZ indigenous skinks leading to deliberate managed relocation of skinks threatened from development.
Koh Hau Yeow
The shift in world view from an anthropocentric perspective to an ecological one calls for the need to improve biodiversity. In Singapore the traditional built environment focuses on displacing the natural environment to make way for architecture that serves solely man’s need. What if architecture and the built environment can regenerate the natural environment while maintaining its human functions?
Urban Ecopoesis investigates and proposes possible hypothetical scenarios whereby holistic co-species development can manifest through urban development that synergies with nature and ecology. It looks at marrying bio-remediation infrastructure of a food waste treatment facility with a model of the outdoor education curriculum of a Green School Bali to regenerate the natural environment among existing dense urban housing landscape. The natural systems such as forests, gardens, and wetlands used to treat food waste becomes the living educational infrastructure of the Green school and as a result as a collective whole, help to create a biodiversity overpass between two isolated forest patches.
In 1943, more than 80 percent of American households harvested food from their own Victory Gardens.” Today, the food consumed in most American households follows a much more circuitous path, resulting in increased preservatives, transportation costs and cultural uniformity. This disconnect particularly penalizes the poor, who are both more likely to live in “food deserts” and can’t afford to pay the high price of imported perishables.
Animal-populated Window Units enable the resurrection of household-based urban food production. This bottom-up agricultural strategy enlists urban dwellers who elect to stock their window space with chickens, bees, or fish in creating a new urban food system. Working at a very small scale, with eminently replicable technologies, these wall projections have the potential to link on-site agricultural production to vast numbers of independent households.
(Photos and text of the Animal Architecture Awards courtesy the Animal Architecture website).
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