What are animals doing in design? To answer this question, William W. Wurster Dean and Professor of City and Regional Planning Jennifer Wolch and Ph.D Student in the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning Marcus Owens analyzed a small sample of contemporary animal design projects, taken both from the bodies of work of established practitioners as well as one-off projects and competition entries circulating on design culture media platforms, to further look at the relationship between humans, animals and built environments. Located at the intersection of human-animal studies (HAS), their paper considers what it means to pose such a question given the relations between humans and animals in design studies, whose focus is on technology, material and visual culture.
Titled “Animals in Contemporary Architecture and Design” and published in the Spring 2017 issue of Humanimalia: A Journal of Human/Animal Interface Studies, Wolch and Owens’ research proposes the intersection between the animal and human domains as increasingly politically relevant for humans, given market-driven advances in biotechnology and the relationship of design to the economies of attention, creativity, and innovation. Their research suggests that the aesthetic practice of design provides an ideal forum for bringing the question of animality and desire into studies of technics and technology. Likewise, they show that technical aspects of design provide a means to understand animals beyond the innate morphological essences assigned by humans.
In the case of both animal and design studies, Wolch and Owens argue that there is already evidence of trajectories towards convergence in the two fields. Given its roots in the animal rights and liberation movement, and predicated on growing scientific evidence of nonhuman subjectivity, the authors argue that HAS has particular relevance in the contemporary moment as resilience politics and ecological crises cause us to question our own humanity.
To get an overview of contemporary design for animals, Wolch and Owens conducted a web-based, targeted search of design-culture media for projects referencing animals dating from the year 2000 to 2014 to ascertain which animal types received the most attention from human designers. Their survey focused on the so-called “blogosphere” of prominent architecture web-blogs, including Archinect, Archdaily, Designboom, Dezeen, BLDGBLG and more.
Wolch and Owens conclude that humans’ designs for other animals instrumentalize nonhumans by appealing to specific aspects of their physiological capacities, some in more productive ways than others. In this light, the most successful animal designers are those that acknowledge the lives of the common animals in our midst, and integrate animal subjectivity into contemporary practices, while also executing a novel technical outcome.
Read more about Dean Wolch's recent publication here.