Can we preserve nature by savaging it?
“When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a Matsutake mushroom.”
– Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World
A Tibetan town named Shangri-la in Southwest China went through an extremely intensive period of logging during the 60’s, but its forests would ultimately be left, damaged and abandoned after the logging ban which would follow.
However, from this once relentlessly exploited landscape, the Matsutake mushroom would emerge. As one of the world’s most valuable mushrooms, the rarity of appropriate growing conditions makes them extremely difficult to find, and the symbiotic relationship with their host trees is too sophisticated for humans to control, so as to render them essentially non-cultivable.
These mushrooms only grow in disturbed landscapes; in footprints, or else as a result of animal grazing, and in scars left by logging activity. These disturbances, in a conventional sense, thus create a spectacular scene of collaborative survival between the human and non-human, providing the ideal conditions for the thriving growth of Matsutake Mushrooms, and their host trees.
The project aims to rethink the idea of nature conservation through unconventional means – using architecture in the form of human and nonhuman disturbance as a productive principle for ecological preservation.
The design intervention begins with seven sites in or near the forests of Shangri-la, which provision for their inhabitation of the matsutake pickers as well as a mushroom sorting and shipping centre. Depending on their contexts, these seven sites can be categorized into three typologies: the ones in the forest, the ones in the pasture, and the ones close to the farm. They are strategically allocated to combine with local logging, grazing and farming patterns, setting up the conditions for a near-constant, and ecologically productive disturbance of the forest. People log in the forest, keeping the forest thin; animals graze in the forest, eating the forest litter and spreading spores that land on their noses and feet; and fresh Tibetanbarley sustains the humans who subsist on this landscape, with dried stores sustaining the animals when everything else dies in winter.
This is the basis for a set of built proposals which attempt to align their metabolism with the cycle and seasonal patterns of the year; its architecture emerging, aging, dying and re-emerging with the trees, the Matsutake, and its surrounding context.