House of Species

School of Architecture | Graduate Architecture •
Students | Krithi Krishnan, Vineeta Mudunuri
Faculty | Jonas Coersmeier, Ariane Harrison, Erich Schoenenberger, Olivia Vien •

With the proposition that our cities foster hostility towards other species, we explore the ethical stances of designing a shared space of cohabitation. At our project site, House 14 on Governors Island, we bolster the cooperation between humans, pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest controllers with spaces carved out of permeable and sustainable materials. With collaboration between species as the marker of design strategy, we aim to soften the rigid boundaries of the House through self-sustaining microenvironments.

The mass is a palimpsest of House 14 that seeps in and out of the house, destabilizing the idea of interior and exterior spaces. The creation of niches, crevices, and scaffoldings using a combination of organic materials gives an opportunity for various species to thrive around it.

By using porous textures derived from physical models, placing human and non-human species at various scales, we speculate about the territories and interactions between multi-species. While the ground floor remains environmentally uncontrolled, the first floor includes spaces that are environmentally controlled and maintained for human comfort. Permeable ground and native plant species such as common milkweed and blue asters aid in the retention and absorption of rainwater. These plant species are also an important resource for pollinators such as endangered monarch butterflies. The inclusion of walkways and balconies that extend beyond the boundaries of the house provides an added layer of interaction with the species around the site. The project examined thickness, pockets, and nested forms as means to create constructed habitat for native birds and small rodents such as squirrels. The existing walls fold or peel off to expose the interiors as a way of inviting species to share the space. The project envisions an interlaced volume of human and non-human territories that becomes a house in itself. The design intervention speculates on the boundary of a domestic container and the traditional manicured lawns of a Victorian house.

The chunk model and its detail illustrate the opportunities for birds and small mammals to nest and burrow. The materiality of the structure is twofold; the rigid structure is perceived as a prosthetic and porous organic infill that acts as a medium for multi-species to carve into.

Through the study model shown here – the walls are illustrated to be continuing from the ground. By creating rough textures and undulations, the residue spaces become habitats for species. This provokes a re-examination of our current building elements and redesigning them for a new shared nature. Small ponds and decomposing pits spread across the tectonic landscape make way for colonies of mushrooms, frequent visits by dragonflies, and the growth of moss. Flowering plant beds like lavender and milkweed would be successful in persuading various species of butterflies to visit the site. The presence of London Plane and Ginko trees on the site also adds another tier of the existing environment that would interact with the growing new system. The programmatic development of the projects is integrative of wet, dry as well as avian life forms. The presence of multiple small ponds/pits on the tectonic ground leaves an opportunity for the decomposition of mulch and other organic matter found on site. The walkable surfaces are punctured to allow free movement of species from one medium to another. The study and evolution of this core as a hyper-dense development of various local ecologies on a small plot also serve as an educational objective. The ongoing development of our research would involve: Studying constructed nature, rethinking how we build domestic spaces to make them more inclusive to other species.

Through a study of the species on Governors island, we organize a “species calendar” to understand the seasonal rhythms of species present on site. The calendar also recognizes the commonalities and interdependency of the species as a local ecosystem.
Our study of habitats, food, substrate, and movements of species found on GI leads us to a scalar study of non-human spaces. Grouping the species also helps in identifying behavioral patterns of species and studying the groups dependent on each other.
The substrate elements contain and aid the species while also serving as a wall between human and animal. A compact selection of organic and inorganic materials are seen as mediums for species survival. The landscape mimics the design language to provide plants and rodents the depths and the soil conditions necessary.
Using the speculative drawings produced as an intersection of materials and the residence, we begin to categorize conditions that could exist for co-living and further develop them into usable zones. We represent each condition with examples that aid us in space making.
Speculative planning of the house showcases the blurred boundaries between humans and non-humans. This hybrid geometrical language creates opportunities for an interlocking system between structured elements and porous habitats. Through material exploration, porous and fibrous forms are developed and the guiding geometry translates into the development of a constructed tectonic ground around House 14.