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Architectural Ecology

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:48 AM
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by Geoff Manaugh ( last modified Apr 24, 2011



It's not difficult to imagine finding unexpected affinities between a specific animal species and certain types of architectural ornament, whether it's pigeons nesting on the tops of ruined columns in Rome, bats colonizing the attic windows of single-family Victorian homes, or bees, moths, wasps, and other bugs breeding in the cracks of terracotta egg-and-dart.

[Image: A bird in Rome].

However, it would be interesting to see if any of the following scenarios might be true:

1) Ornamental details from a particular phase of, say, the Baroque—or the Gothic, or Dravidian temple design—are found to attract a specific species of bird, whose size, nesting needs, etc., correspond exactly to the proportional details of this decorative style. Because of the foods those birds eat, however, and, thus, what seeds they later spread around their flight paths, their guano results in a very specific kind of forest growing around each building (or its ruins). The buildings catalyze their own ecological context, in other words, ringed by forests they indirectly helped create.

2) A particular type of early modern warehouse or other such industrial structure is found to house a specific species of bird, perhaps because only its frame can fit through gaps in the brickwork, precluding colonization by other species. Thus, while all other bird species in the local ecosystem have gone extinct—due to habitat loss, food-web collapse, or whatever—these birds, regally ensconced inside their protective warehouses, manage to survive. They are thus saved by 19th-century architecture—perhaps even by one architecture office's work. A species that only lives inside buildings by Anthony George Lyster.

3) When the type of stone used to build a region's churches erodes, weathering away to nothing, its remnant minerals fertilize a specific type of weed or small flowering plant, one that would otherwise eventually have died off. Thus, whenever you see a particular flower, you can deduce from its presence that a church built during this particular phase of architectural history once stood there. The flowers are archaeological indicators, we might say: botanical traces of architectural history.

[Image: Del Castello dell'Acqua Giulia by Piranesi].

In all three cases, these buildings' unanticipated side-effects would ripple outward to influence the evolutionary development of other, future species, whose ecological origins are thus at least partially predicated on the existence of a specific phase of, for example, Baroque architecture or 19th-century warehouse design. So when those architects were designing their buildings, they were also indirectly designing future species.




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