The Architectural Animal

These are the posts that started it all. Three years ago this series of seven posts started the project called Animal Architecture. Much has changed in that time and much has been accomplished. But despite new topics, advancements or other occurances these seven posts continue to be the foundation for the work of Animal Architecture…

Announcing the first installment of a multi-week series of original content. It’s been a while coming and we’re happy to  finally share what we hope will eventually become a publication in its own right. Please comment, edit, send-back and discuss these postings as we move along. The postings will occur once a week (we hope!) on Mondays so stay tuned!

… nature has not been natural, in the sense of pure and untouched by human works, for millennia. More provocatively nature’s malleability offers an “invitation” to the artificial.
-Paul Rabinow, Essays on the Anthropology of Reason


We build the way we farm. We factory produce our homes and we factory farm our food.  The way we build reflects our relationship to the beings that we farm and consume. We build walls, delineate one species’ space from another’s, give preference to some domesticated species (canine and feline) and reject the majority of others — we house ourselves in private homes down long cul-de-sac and keep to ourselves. Currently the two trends, farming and living, appear to mutually reinforce the other. Might a change in one practice influence a corresponding change in the other?

The combined idea of living well and eating well first appeared in western text in 1826 from the hand of Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who wrote in the Physiology du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transccendante “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. The phrase was later picked up by Ludwig Andreas Feurbach in 1863 who wrote “Der Mench ist was er ißt.” [Man is what he eats]. “You are what you eat” seems to have reached public consciousness in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s as the macrobiotic and organic foods movement began to gather popular exposure and, with a the successful arrival of businesses like Wholefoods, and growing numbers of farmers markets in major US cities, remains in the public mind. There’s little doubt that macro-biotic or “free-range” foods improve our health, but what about our living habits?

In 2007 the United States slaughtered 8 billion animals. Currently a mere four companies in the U.S. control the production of 81 percent of U.S. cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs and 50 percent of chickens. 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) are killed each year on factory farms and according to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world’s poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced in an automated, factory farmed process. In addition to these staggering death figures, the concentrated amount of animal waste generated by factory farming threatens local ecologies and pollutes groundwater, lakes and rivers. However, despite these concerns and the growing movement in alternative foods, factory farming continues to be the dominant method of food production in this country and around the world.

Factory farming provides a clairvoyant view of who we are. It not only reflects the ways we live, but underlines the way we live with others – our current cultural position in relation to the beings we farm. Factory farming follows a Fordist model; efficient, driven by the bottom line and mechanized. Similarly, our houses are driven by real estate forces and speculative development. They are mechanized, isolated and rapidly reproduced. The relationship between our current method of farming and our current method of living is not merely a simile, and certainly not a chance occurrence, it is also not a Fordist tradition.

The historical link between agriculture and architecture is long and as old as society [fig.3]. Farming is only a viable method of food production for stationary civilizations. As a society grows it outstrips available herding and foraging resources. The local human population is then left with the choice to relocate (nomads) or to begin to control the food sources around them (agricultural). With every early civilization, animal pens, and human houses arrive at the same time — agriculture and architecture coincide and have progressed in near lock-step.


The burgeoning field of tissue engineering, a science initially pioneered for the medical industry is finding an audience in factory farming and has the potential to redirect the agriculture/architecture pair. Briefly, tissue engineering operates by seeding living cells harvested from a body into a biopolymer substrate. Over time the cells grow to consume the substrate and create a singular tissue that is the synthesis of both the underlying substrate and the seeded cells [fig.4]. Tissue engineering is at once terrible, promising and absolutely requires careful consideration. Tissue engineering offers a potential for reinvention, for redefining our roles vis a vis animals and particularly the animals we consume. On the one hand tissue engineering provides a potential source from which to grow and consume meat without the environmental and economic downfalls of factory farming. It also promises victimless meat — meat without killing a single animal. On the other hand, it is extreme factory farming. Henry ford dreamed of a world where industrial products were made-to-order, where there was no surplus storage and the factory produced only what was immediately needed. Tissue engineering is Ford’s dream applied to farming — meat production without the burdensome problem of animals.

While some might take issue with its claim to victimlessness, tissue engineered meat is clearly not on the scale of the current victimization of animals and regardless of its ethical position, the greatest promise of tissue engineered meat is its unique position to other animals, its semi-living-ness.

The semi-living quality of tissue engineered meat offers a new way of considering what we eat, how we eat, and the way we live among other animals. This task of reinvention, and reingagement is, as Derrida and Donna Harraway stress, a question of how to enter into a conversation with the animal. Tissue engineering, by virtue of its conflation of the living and nonliving, starts this dialog. The task then given to us is to extend this conversation into our daily lives. To this end all speciesist distinctions need to be erased. To this end architecture needs to become both active and reactive to animal and environmental actions — animals need to be considered as design factors and most importantly a dialog between architecture and animals needs to be established.

We are the way we eat. The following project has been broken in to three small sections: “The Call; theory and engagement,” “and Response; Process,” and “Refrain.” The first section will discuss the ethical and philosophical arguments towards designing with animals and establish a theoretical set of tools to apply to the problem. It will discuss challenges of representation, conception and language and offer a number of techniques taken from different projects which may be broadly applied to the general problem. The second section will then show the application of the techniques outlined in the first section through three projects: The Terroir, Ovimex, and finally PolySpecies Park. Each project had distinct project briefs, sites and programs, and yet each achieved a high level of local ecolocigal inclusion, particularly with the animals there-in. These projects not only strive for an extreme form of local specificity but also demonstrate that form has always, and is always more than simply aesthetic and/or functional. It is complex and dynamic. It is also always in a process of forming and being formed by the forces around it.

Perhaps the best way to mis-understand form is to isolate it from context and time (i.e. the Miesian / Corbusian  Modernist ideal of timeless beauty and pure-aesthetic, ultimately rooted in Platonic discoures). It is in this spirit that, as Derrida spoke about painting that we should speak about Architecture — about the frame, about the things around buildings, the weather, the air and the animals.

to be continued…

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