Machine Ecologies

Sarah Klym, University of British Columbia


“This project tells an incredibly poetic story about the relationship between machines and ecology. The drawings are stunning. The longer you look at them the more you see. I’m not clear on the architectural implications, but there is incredible artistry here.” – Michael Moxam, juror

Autonomous seeding machines sow a weave of different crop types, optimizing for factors including light, symbiotic adjacencies, and weed competition.

In the drive for ever-increasing yields, the adaptability of traditional farming has given way to way to industrialized agriculture. Large-scale machines have remade farm landscapes into gridded monoculture sites, geared towards efficient resource production and extraction.

But with the climate crisis creating turmoil in ecosystems, these liminal farm landscapes will become pivotal zones of ecological transition. How can they be remade as places of natural succession that support the interconnected futures of plant, animal and human communities?

After the harvest season, mobile collection machines pull debris from the landscape.

This thesis proposes a speculative future in which different kinds of machines support the health of hybrid, complex agricultural landscapes. The new ecology of machines includes several types of small-scale devices.

Throughout the year, floating drones and soil sensors monitor the landscape, creating a comprehensive almanac of its characteristics and potential. Each spring, gyroscopic spinning tops carve delicate trenches across open fields for seeds and fertilizer. The planting patterns interweave different types of crops, informed by data from the network of drones and sensors to make the most of light, symbiotic adjacencies, wind pollination, and weed competition.

Embedded soil sensors transmit information to clusters of floating drones.

After sowing, the seeding machines are re-purposed as the pendulum-like blades of tiny weeding and harvesting machines. They roam the landscape in search of weeds, touching the earth lightly and cutting above the ground. As the crops are ready to harvest, the same machines reap ornate patterns into the fields, laying cut crops into careful windrows to dry.

At season’s end, collection machines with rotating armatures pull debris from the landscape, meandering until they fold under their own weight. The accumulated material decomposes into closely monitored compositions of compost and microbiota.

As uncertain tides push and pull environmental thresholds, deep ecological thinking will help create resiliency. No matter the future, rethinking the way we divide and cultivate productive landscapes is an essential step to riding the waves of change to come.

Location: Charlie Lake, British Columbia

Advisor: Thena Tak