We have lost touch with the softer systems of dynamic change that live within and around us — systems that govern our very existence. In an expanding and increasingly volatile world an anachronistic model of architecture and urbanism based on planning, authority, history and permanence has less and less ability to solve today’s economic and ecological problems. Instead, a system of speed, flexibility and soft-structure is required for the World’s most complex social, environmental, and economic issues.
This is not the first time that an architectural solution of speed, lightness and flexibility has been proposed to solve our most challenging urban problems. Avant-garde thinkers in the mid 1950’s and ‘60’s in Europe and America such as Cedric Price, Buckminster Fuller, Peter Cook and particularly Yona Friedman proposed radically flexible and mobile models of architecture and urbanism to solve some of the most pressing and visible problems of the immediately post-war world (1). Yet there was something missing, aberrant, or unsettling about each mega-structuralist project (fictitious, totalitarian, too widely accepted…). In many ways the mega-structural projects (in their form of proposals) did not fully realize their promises of freedom and democracy. They sought to upend social and economic hierarchies in the world through architectural design, restructure academies, and democratize the construction process only to find themselves on the cover of design magazines, lecturing in the same schools and, at the end of the process, still left with an architectural artifact. After much praise and optimism the project as a whole was abandoned. By the 1970’s Banham, previously a vocal champion of the project declared the “megastructure is Dead (2) ” A new generation of architects took its place and focused on a smaller scale of modular architectural proposals – with their own set of potentials and limits (3). But now, perhaps our world has returned to that period of time when thinking bigger was thinking better…
A microcosm in your back-yard
Bio-City is a cross-disciplinary, six-month-long performance-art-sculpture scheduled to begin at Lawndale Art Center in January of 2016. The project will involve the creation of numerous small-scale structures each one timed, designed and tuned to attract, interface, or illustrate indigenous and migratory life on the site. The project seeks not only to create a beautiful, quasi-natural urban landscape but to address the decline of biodiversity in urban areas.
The message is clear: Our world is filled by many creatures. It is time that we began to live with and among them.
Part art-sculpture, part habitat; part man-made and part animal-made. Always educational, aesthetically exciting and highly interactive.
Our intention is that this Bio-inclusive eco-performance-artwork will transgress, distort and alter anthropocentric world-views by delivering a message of eco-awareness, biodiversity and cross-species collaboration.
A series of installations timed with seasonal and biological rhythms to invite the habitation of Houston’s wildlife.
BIO-City is planned to be monitored and adjusted over the course of a 6 month cycle. A series of installations will occur at key moments and each time followed by weeks of observation and analysis.
The first phase in the winter of 2016 will set the stage at Lawndale’s outside rear courtyard. Soil and water elements will be established and emphasized in key locations. Floral elements, grasses and other plants, will also be framed or planted. After 6 weeks of periodic observation a series of insect habitats will be placed according to site conditions and the success of the first stage. After another period of inspection and based on the presence of certain insect populations, a secondary species will be invited to participate. This species is intended to be insectivorous and could include birds and/or some mammals.
On display at Lawndale Art Space, Houston Fall 2010.
URBAN AERIES / PURCH (Positioned Urban Roosts for Civic Habitation) – is a combined exercise in engaging other alternate-architects (specifically birds here) in the production of co-species habitations. The over-arching desire is to begin to define a new type of cross-species architectural collaboration where human and non-human architects can create in tandem an alternate method of living in this modern world.
We started our journey at the cross roads of two apparently contradictory truths. Firstly we knew that Houston is “smack-dab” in the middle of the largest spring bird migration in the world, and yet, for some reason, hardly any, in fact almost none of these birds were ever sighted in the downtown area. “How could this be true?”we asked. “Is this really the case?”And so we set out to investigate
1) If in fact there are no birds of interest in Downtown Houston.
2) If, depending on our research there were indeed no birds to find, feeling that this was somehow regrettable, what could we, as designers and planners do to remedy this situation? The information contained in charts, maps graphs and illustrations is a record of our research and process.
Early research concluded migratory birds drop when exhausted, rather than being
attracted to ground conditions. Thus, migratory birds would tell us nothing about birds adaptation and endurance to urban conditions. Shockingly, this meant that much of our presumptions about migratory birds had to be rewritten or put aside completely. Our focus became less on the itinerant species from South America, the ones “everyone wants to see” and on the ones that were already in our gaze.
Key species were identified early on that we would be likely to discover in downtown. Each species (there are 8 key species) was researched and their unique biological and ecological factors noted. A profile of factors was created for each species including habitat, food, nesting locations and methods, and unique behavioral characteristics.
Each of these species and their characteristics we mapped to a matrix and what was at one point an undifferentiated collection of animals began to organize into Cliff Dwellers, Tree Dwellers, Insect Eaters, etc...
Understanding that there were multiple micro-ecologies within our investigation zone we started out to discover their attributes and their unique characteristics as they pertained to our key species. Our biological research had shown us there were several crucial
attributes that must be present for any of these avian urbanites to exist: water, foliage, food sources (usually insects) and some kind of elevational change. In addition we mapped where the majority of people were at any given time, along with important existing urban elements. The maps we created individually began to add-up to a rich portrait of Houston’s diverse ecological zones, and the diversity of life already existing in a relatively small area of our city.
We mapped parks, as well as anything green (literally every tree in Downtown Houston). We took note of water features, particular building structures, and the places where there were the greatest densities of humans and birds. The maps, sketches and photos collected in the following pages began to self-organize in to areas of intensities and began to suggest likely areas for fruitful intervention.
Microcinema is designed as a flexible media viewing environment. Veiwable form day or night, and eminently portable Microcinema can be a site specific or site anonymous video experience.
Concept design 2010.
Planter bench = Planter + Bench.
Designed for a friend in Houston the program was to create a mobile landscape solution that incorporated some seating. Thus, planter bench.
In 2014 the Expanded Studio volunteered our design efforts to assist The Native Prairies Association of Texas, Lawther Prairie to created a phased educational facility at their Deer Park Prairie location. Work progressed though concept design. Anticipated resumption in 2019.
The evolution of the Chimney Swift is closely intertwined with modernity and the changing habitats of humans. Although originally nesting in caves and rotted trees, Chimney Swifts now primarily nest in, well — chimneys and other man-made habitats. They adapted to chimneys in the first place due to a scarcity of standing, rotted trees – as these have a tendency to fall onto property and are quickly taken down at the first signs of instability. Chimneys, smokestacks and other tall tube-like structures – often occurring in proximity to the fallen tree – provided an easy proxy. Though, as likely most of you reading this will recognize, chimneys themselves are falling out of fashion or simply not being built. Thus the condition and opportunity originally created by Human activity is now being undone once again.
Will the swifts adapt along with us this time? Perhaps it’s too soon to know. One thing is clear however, that in many developing cities around the world their habitats are diminishing. Enter the stand-alone chimney swift tower.
Chimney swift towers are man-made tube structures generally between 12 and 30 feet and roughly 2 feet wide that are designed and constructed specifically for chimney swift nesting. Designs and “how-to” guides are readily available online for construction. The most common structure is wooden posts stabilized in a concrete foundation wrapped in wood sheathing. Construction is neither terribly complex nor time consuming and materials are all very affordable. But, to achieve a sense of scale and deployment that equals the number of chimneys in cities of the past, even these modest costs are prohibitive.
In a partnership with a local civic group The Expanded Environment has started to develop a swift tower constructed from concrete culverts. Culverts are are produced in huge quantities, at a range of sizes and shapes and if stacked would make an ideal nesting surface for the birds. Early renderings and sketches are included below.
Houston’s first and only specifically designed cidery. The program was developed to include roughly 2,000sf of tasting room space in an 8,000sf warehouse facility in Houston’s developing Arts District.
Under construction in 2019.
The ARK is a newly imagined aquarium experience for a changing planet. Part educational experience and part survival mechanism the ARK publicly explores themes of conservation, preservation and observation in a dynamic environment. The ARK’s primary mission is to make climate change visible in an educational atmosphere. The ARK is: designed to withstand and express sea-level rise, maintain and conserve endangered aquatic specimens from around the world, show-case local ecologies, and act as a functional wetland to mediate storm-surge.