Repost: Animals in Contemporary Architecture and Design

Jennifer Wolch & Marcus Owens analyze a sample of contemporary animal design projects…

We were thrilled to see the work of Expanded Environment mentioned in the recent edition of Humanimalia. In Volume 8, Number 2, Spring 2017  Jennifer Wolch & Marcus Owens conduct a thorough and revealing review of “Animals in Contemporary Architecture and Design.”

What are animals doing in design? To answer this question, we analyzed a small sample of contemporary animal design projects, taken both from the oeuvres of established practitioners as well as one-off projects and competition entries circulating on design culture media platforms. In doing so, this paper also considers what it means to pose such a question, located at the intersection of human-animal studies (HAS) with its attention to relations between humans and animals, and design studies, whose focus is on technology, material and visual culture…

One way of discussing animal design projects in our survey is in terms of this relationship to material functionality and aesthetics. Largely resulting from academic studios, ideas competitions, and art practices, many projects featured on blogs such as BLDGBLG, its Future Perfect affiliates, and Expanded Environment, are more critical or speculative in nature. While they are sometimes elaborations on established typologies, such as a “future zoo,” they also feature forms other than traditional animal typologies, thereby imagining new material components for novel interspecies relations.  These projects blur the boundaries between art and design in different ways.

A Study of Animals in Design: Methods and Materials. To begin to get an overview of contemporary design for animals, we conducted a targeted search of design-culture media for projects referencing animals. This search was largely web-based, as architecture projects, both built and speculative, are not published in ways comparable to books, peer reviewed journal articles, or even popular publications. This can be due to professional non-disclosure agreements with clients, as well as the vast array of competitions, exhibitions, academic studios, and other speculative work that circulates ephemerally in, and in many ways defines, architecture and design culture today. Our survey therefore focused on the so-called “blogosphere” of prominent architecture web-blogs, including ArchinectArchdailyDesignboomDezeenBLDGBLG and its Future Perfect affiliates. Inhabitat, a more consumer-oriented eco-lifestyle design blog, also featured some animal architecture projects. Finally, the blog Expanded Environment (formerly Animal Architecture) is wholly devoted to animals in architecture and design culture, and has organized several “Animal Architecture Awards.” The following discussion of the species distribution uncovered in our search therefore corresponds to a wider body of scholarship visual and media studies addressing the algorithm habitats of charismatic digital animals (or charismatic starchitect brands)* (LorimerRothfelsLippit).

The article in its entirety can be read online at Humanimalia and downloaded here.  We would expect further commentary on the piece itself in the near future. The piece is highly recommended for anyone interested in pursuing or continuing to work with animal-centric design practices.



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