H.N.H.C.L. – Human/Non-Human Collaboration Labs

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Project Team

Authors: Edwin Barajas, Mariana Galvan, Ferdous Kabir

Institution: University of Houston

Instructor: Daniel Jacobs

Studio: WILD LIFE; Undergraduate Architecture, Spring 2021

Project Description

Located in the North-West side of Fifth Ward, in Houston, TX, the site is characterized by its industrial use and its adjacency to a railroad line and residences. It used to be an oil storage facility, but now remains an empty parcel of contaminated land overtaken by flora and fauna. The Human/Non-human Collaboration Lab is a research institute with the intent of developing new methods for remediating the land through the experimentation of ecological methodologies and introduction of new social structures. Typically, remediation efforts executed on superfund sites tend to beautify them with the prime purpose of developing it for a profit. These practices ignore nature’s rights to exist, flourish, and thrive. The institute aims to form new relationships with the land, native species, and humans, by experimenting with different ownership structures, introducing open source practices, and having architectures that are transient, changing with the needs of the site and serving as precedent for other sites as well. A collective of ecological scientists, artists, plant enthusiasts, regional farmers, neighborhood allies, and the non-human organisms comprising the land is formed to bring in different perspectives on issues such as land remediation, de-carbonization and nature’s rights. A long thin service core and a patchwork of temporary experimentation halls are collectively operated by the residents on site and visitors offering each participant a deeply rooted encounter with remediation efforts and explorations forming a quilted network between humans and non-humans.


Studio Description

WILD LIFE is a provocation to experiment with new modes of living in and observing a rewilding world. The studio questioned the theory and practice of how we, as humans, structure our relationship to “nature,” property, material, and ecosystems. To do this, the studio seeks to develop logics of hybridity that view reality as a co-produced and entangled web of social, ecological, and material processes. The studio program asked for the design of a residency and research space for applied ecological sciences and humanities: an institutional prototype for new interfaces with ecological systems and wild spaces. The studio method began with research and mapping at the scale of the site and territory to critically question assumptions about site ownership, property rights, governance, indigenous land rights, and the juridical and legal constraints that help define the site. This phase, data-driven and journalistic, focused on gathering information from a variety of local and municipal sources, collating historical and contemporary maps and data, and assembling an archaeological document of the site through various forms of visualization. Teams researched everything from ground and atmospheric toxicity, to its relationship to water and flooding, to its past and existing flora and fauna, and current residents and institutions that exist on the site. Using the research gleaned from this site investigation, teams assembled an institutional declaration, proposing new institutions to address the ecological issues raised by the site and specific architectural and landscape strategies to house the proposed program. Integral to the development of such institutions is the relationship to issues of regional and national policy, from municipal programs to proposals like the Green New Deal. Proposals addressed the role that architecture plays in these policies: from the commodification of natural resources and their supply chains from extraction to assembly, to their associated labor and carbon impact, to material processing, installation, detailing, and attendant aesthetic conditions. Ultimately the studio asked: how do we situate ourselves—as designers, as people—within these ecological and material processes? How do we foster new sensibilities, symbioses, and ethics of care for each other and the environment? Collectively, the studio reflected on the possibilities for architecture to create new alliances between organisms, structures, atmospheres and ecosystems towards a more WILD LIFE.