Animals in Contemporary Architecture and Design

Image: Bauhaus style dog structure design for Cubix Dog House

Jennifer Wolch, William W. Wurster Dean, Professor City and Regional Planning


Jennifer Wolch, William W. Wurster Dean, Professor City and Regional Planning and Marcus Owens, Ph.D Student, Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning


Published in Humanimalia, Volume 8, Number 2 - Spring 2017

Project Description

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. 

History of Design in Relation to Technology. To begin to place animals in design, we must first understand design’s historical relationship to technology, and to material and visual culture. Across theories of design in domains from anthropology (Ingold), to philosophy (Flusser), to histories of technology (Marx) and art (Coles 8), design is understood as a way of making and doing that emerges from the broader classical Greek techné associated with the practical, manual labor of slaves and peasants. For these scholars, design becomes distinct from technology and the broader techné with the division of labor associated with Taylorist industrial production. Ingold describes how the emergence of design and other “spontaneous work of the human imagination” such as artistic or scientific genius, act as an antipode to technical practices resulting from the rise of machinic labor and the decline of the artisan (295). For scholars of material culture and technology, design refers to the curatorial or aesthetic arrangement of materials or technologies (Bijker et al.). In this way, the “work” of the designer is this added curatorial or aesthetic labor that extends beyond the immediate material functionality of the technology itself.

Species Representation. All in all, our search included a suite of weblogs and traditional publications, including books, journals, and exhibition catalogs dating from the year 2000 to 2014. In Linnean terms, of the 86 projects considered, two deal with mollusks, 12 with arthropods, and 72 with vertebrates (we found no projects that explicitly dealt with annelids, sponges, or jellyfish). Of the 12 arthropod projects, seven are bee projects, concerned with an animal whose relation to technology is also subject to numerous scholarly investigations (Kosek; Parikka). Four of these bee projects were variations on a bee hive, a type of project addressed here as a decorative variant of animal housing. Other designs included an ecological project that aims to assist bees in pollination, and two were projects that exploit the tendency of bees to produce honeycomb structures. The two mollusk projects found in our query were Natalie Jeremijenko and Chris Woebken’s “mussel choir” and SCAPE Landscape Architect’s “Oystertecture” proposal for New York Harbor.

Full article and bibliography are available here.