Factory of Hyper Ecologies


Oceans  are shaped  by  networks of trading routes, infrastructures, and varied technologies of extraction. Selected areas of natural conservation under the management  of public and private institutions are staged and curated pockets of “desirable” oceanic imaginaries. Most conservation strategies support the idea of a ”good and untouched” wilderness that needs to be restored under fearful museum-like logics and still reinforce the traditional dichotomy between Nature and Culture.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is Australia´s most celebrated ecosystem declared World Heritage Area in 1981 and described by UNESCO as the “most spectacular maritime scenery in the world”. The idyllic, pristine and fragile ecosystem hosts a constellation of technologies that  operate  in the backstage of the “natural spectacle”. The Great Barrier Reef “wilderness” is a designed environment in which, floating platforms, patrolling robots, tourist resorts, research laboratories, legal and illegal fishing boats, environmental activist-centres, diving schools, military bases co-exist. This network of actors manage, study, extract, survey and consume both physically and virtually the reef in a non-coordinated manner. The spectacular vanishing of colour in the reef’s recent coral bleaching events, speaks to governmental and private interests as well as to collective and individual sensibilities.

As fast as the stunning colours disappear from the oceans, infinite online catalogues allow these species to spread and populate thousands of domestic aquariums. An intricate global trading network has taken the role of commercially atomizing the colourful landscapes into encapsulated individual commodities. Thousands of exotic coral species can instantly fulfil human desire of exotic possession.

The Factory for Hyper-Ecologies is an experimental design studio that invites participants to design a multi-scalar architectural proposal (urban, building and human scale) for interaction, consumption, study, production, management and nursery of coral communities that investigates present and future programmatic synergies. Students will explore the possibility of a pro-active ecology-preservation that waives denser, more articulated relationships between scientific research, fishing industry, tourism, natural management, non-humans, technology, environment and aesthetics. This studio is a speculative interrogation about the capacity of Architecture to respond to contemporary environmental  challenges  and hyper-ecologies in the age of Antropocene.

The Reef Co-Op by Miguel Gilarte and Charles Curtin
The Reef Co-Op by Miguel Gilarte and Charles Curtin


When developing the multi-scalar research- what tools and sources did the students use? How did they work together or separately to combine and visualise this body of analysis?

The multi-scalar research analysis occurred during the first 3 weeks of the semester. The class was organised in 4 subgroups of 3 students each that would investigate a topic in the Global, Territorial, Local and Human scale. Each group analysed the Great Barrier Reef from a different perspective: the Reef as an ecological site and legislative site (GBR marine park, Regional, national and international legislation, Unesco, biodiversity, ecosystems, ecological threats), the Reef as productive site (tourism, mining, trading agriculture and fishing industries), the Reef as a reproductive site (artificial reefs, coral nurseries, coral trading) and the Reef as a virtual site (monitoring systems, online advertisement, idealised imaginaries, etc). At the end of the 3 weeks, the students would compile all the work to generate a Common Digital Archive accessible to all students in the class.
In order to generate a cohesive set of documents, designated students created a general template, a base map for the Global and territorial scale. The base map was generated with GIS mapping. Each subgroup used a different colour palette that would differentiate the different approaches to the analysis of the GBR.

What role did the drawing play in the development of the project past the stage of research and data collection? What role did you as tutor play in promoting discussions through this medium?

The drawing was a crucial tool to generate the architectural proposals. The biggest challenge for the students after the development of the initial analysis was to select the site and to define the program of their proposal. Drawings became the creative tool to move beyond the data-driven analysis of the first weeks. The process of drawing on each specific site helped students to understand the scale of the site and to link broader aspirations of the project to the specific site conditions.
Zeh-Zophora: A Clinic for Humans and Non-Humans by Francesca Capicchioni and Melinda Barbagallo
Zeh-Zophora: A Clinic for Humans and Non-Humans by Francesca Capicchioni and Melinda Barbagallo

What dictated the various positions /scales of the student projects? How and to what extent did you direct them?

The selection of the site was linked to current localised environmental threats such as water pollution in rivers, acidification, eutrophication, etc… The scale of the project was linked to the type of program that the student would propose. The main constraint for the programmatic definition was to propose an architectural design that would bring together natural conservation strategies and current extractive industries such as tourism, research, agriculture, fishing, etc…

What defined the various types of drawings through which each students whose to explore their project? How important is it for a student to develop their own language of representation?

Every team of 3 students submitted 6 A1 panels that would include; a site plan, a floor plan/section, a graphic manifesto, and ecosystemic program diagram and a detail. The language of representation was an investigation that ran in parallel to the design development. Also, students that to develop a specific epistemology of their projects. Each team had to create words that would allow describing the hybrid conditions of the projects.

Bio X- Market for the Trans-territorial Exchange of Biological Substances by Ben Feher and Adam Hoh
Bio X- Market for the Trans-territorial Exchange of Biological Substances by Ben Feher and Adam Hoh

What is your take on the contemporary tools through which we operate? How do these challenge the very notion of the architect?

One of the main objectives of the course was to explore the role of architecture in blurring the dichotomy between Nature and Artifice. Across the semester, as a tutor I always opened the discussion to other fields, inviting Marine biologist, scholars from environmental humanities, artists, landscape architects.  During the field trip to the GBR, we stayed at a scientific research station from the University of Queensland in Heron Island, where students were students were exposed to the researchers work on site.
In my opinion, Architecture can not anymore operate in isolation. It is crucial that future architects are able to engage with other fields of knowledge. We need to participate in decision taking fora and contribute to the cultural shift that we are undergoing.
The students presented their work at the conference ‘Sustaining the Seas’ at the Universtiy of Sydney in December 2017. The work was exhibited at the exhibition of the conference and 2 students presented their project in one of the lectures. The conference was a multi-disciplinary forum. Experts from other fields (science, law, humanities, art…) engaged with the capacity of architecture to project alternative imaginaries. Expanding the conversation and the influence of architecture is one of the main future challenges of the discipline if we, as architects, want to become relevant.

Are you interested in pursuing this research further?

This work is an ongoing research that will continue under future Design Studio courses and personal investigation projects both in/outside academia. The investigation is linked to the work that I also develop as part of GRANDEZA( www.grandeza.studio). GRANDEZA frames architectural practice as a space of hybrid action that blends education, design and cultural production. The team aims to position design as a tool for emancipation.

Do you see the space for a publication in the future?

Publications, events, performances, street actions, symposia, Biennales…Any kind of public dissemination of the work will be explored.