‘Raising Totems’ x ‘Making Meadows in the Woods’

Gary Zhang, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

This project examines ways architecture might play a role in restoration ecology. It learns from Ivette Perfecto’s paper titled, “The Agroecological Matrix as an Alternative to the Landsparing/Agriculture Intensification Model” which explains the importance of spatial connections between metapopulations to promote a higher quality ecosystem. Ivette explains the potentials of the inter dispersion of smaller and more precise farming practices amongst patches of natural habitats as a new model for agricultural production. The potential impact on biodiversity of an Agroecological Matrix model, is also of interest. In particular the potential for the emergence and return of newer and older species through the reconnection of fragmented habitats.

What has become evident through recent field research into the fragmentation of natural habitats is the inequity experienced by ground dwellers like ground nesting bees and bandicoots. Urban development has caused both the loss of habitat and the separation of these organisms from their greater populations. It considers the erosion of the human ground to reestablish these connections and fix imbalances caused by urbanization.

The work will be a speculation and provocation on alternative architectures within these new habitats. In addition, there is a desire to consider emergent domesticities, agrarian practices, and the intersection of the two, something like apple picking and cider donut season here in Michigan. The proposal will take form as a collection of digital images that depict these new habitats and the physical production of a “seed quilt” that will regraft native Michigan flora onto the landscape as a form of land art. The construction of this quilt will act as both a construct of the kinds of infrastructure found in the speculative world and a spatializing of the stewardship attitude of the project as a whole.

Paulo Tavares in his essay “Forest” in the “Posthuman Glossary” writes, “The Myth of the foundation of Rome tells that the city was erected in a clearing carved in a dense forest. The burning and cutting of trees was the first and decisive inscription of history in the landscape, the inaugural act in the construction of human institutions. At the margins of the city and its rural states, the undomesticated forest drew the borders of res publica, setting the limits of Rome’s jurisdiction beyond which land was res nullius or terra nullius, ‘belonging to no one’, ‘nobody’s land’”. I am looking at ways architecture might help change this paradigm and this harsh delineation between civilization and wilderness.

The thesis begins by thinking through aestheticized erosions of the impermeable surface, roads, packed farmlands, front lawns, etc., by producing abstract expressionist material assemblages that get translated to digital images. It proposes a speculative scenario in which brushstroke-esque erosions of the suburban landscape make room for the emergence of new natural habitats. The removal of the human ground will make explicit what lies beneath our feet, what we leave behind. At first the landscape of raw earth left behind resembles the White Desert in Egypt. It is a valley of mutant rock formations. Stewards of these new habitats will adapt these post-rock geologies into architectures that maintain a symbiotic link between humanity and nature. In preparation for emergent life, architecture and its materials must become a part of the natural exchange of materials in the ecosystem. It becomes involved with habitat stewardship not by adding a lot of new things but by reorganizing natural materials. Form and tectonics gain agency in shaping the spatial narrative of natural habitats by becoming involved in the life of plants and animals.

Currently in conversation with the Ann Arbor Natural Area Preservation office about potential collaboration and siting of the work in the Cherry Hill nature preserve. Also in conversation with Northwood Housing to site the work in the community garden.