Student Award of Excellence: Convergent Species

Student Vivian Chin, University of Toronto

Location Various sites

The expansion of human territories has dramatically overlapped with animal boundaries and activities, allowing geographic, socio-economic, and cultural forces to effect mutations in behaviour. These overlaps generate two kinds of boundaries–inadvertent, and constructive. Animals that augment their habitation through symbiotic relationships with human activities exist in inadvertent boundaries. Inadvertent boundaries are adaptative, formless, and are a byproduct of human activities, such as environmental or physical effects. Constructive boundaries are territorial and constructed, such as national borders. These boundaries generate habitations due to marginalization and opportunism. Animals which inhabit these boundaries should neither be considered domestic nor wild, but a new group that is defined by their contingence to both human and natural environments. This proposal seeks to respond to these inadvertent and con- structive boundaries and questions the potential of adaptation, mutualism, and cohabitation.

The project is composed of two parts; research into these boundary conditions, and a design proposal focused on one such site. Through research and analysis, 11 sites were explored which exhibit these overlapping boundaries and activities between animals and humans. These sites include: 1) the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine, where the Przewalski species of wild horse has adapted and survived within the harsh sub-urban environment; 2) the abandoned Caspian Sea oil derricks of Baku, Azerbaijan, where cormorants have adapted natural nesting habitats from onshore forests to the vacant offshore oil infrastructure; 3) the uninhabitable landmine fields of the Falkland Islands, where nesting penguins have capitalized and flourished in the empty land; 4) the expansion and occurrences of endangered flora and fauna in the Korean Demilitarized Zone; and 5) the Riviera Beach Power Station in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the main focus of the project holds.

Every winter, there are as many as 200 manatees which gather around Florida’s power plant warm-water outfalls. Manatee populations have modified their migration patterns to this constant discharge of warm water. Specifically considering the Riviera Beach Power Station, this proposal focuses on the territorial boundaries of animal and human occupation. New programs, such as hotel, spa, restaurant, and pool are inserted into the power plant infrastructure to form convergent zones where all habitants are mutually beneficial. These program insertions are based on the power plant operation, generating mutualistic relationships between the existing power plant and manatees with new forms and occupants.

Hariri: I think that this student is an artist, and her drawings and paintings are extremely moving. The drawings should be exhibited as paintings, as they are both artful and meaningful. A lot of artists are struggling with a narrative, but not this student.

Macy: I like the way the project notices the existing condition. Often, things that are the most dangerous can often be the best spaces for habitat. The most famous example of this is the Rocky Mountain Conservation Region in the US which is adjacent to a large nuclear waste dump. Because it is off bounds for humans, we have this amazing flora and fauna juxtaposed. The idea of wilderness and nature that is something humans have pulled out of is ironically true in the most polluted of landscapes. This student took that premise and started to explore the extreme juxtaposition of sites that are the most problematic, and that are either industrial wastelands or political off-bound areas. It is a very experimental, provocative project that results in some nice intersections that might make us rethink the role of nature in the city. The image of the manatees around the hot-water dump off the coast of Florida really impresses me. In the national park systems in both Canada and the US, lookouts are a critical part in terms of where roads come in and out. Norway is doing the same thing now. This reminds me of those kinds of projects where there are routes and roads as part of the itinerary.

Thom: I was taken with this project because this is such a courageous student who could have spent an entire term on any one of these issues, but instead took all of them in the context of a global view. Yet each one is so different and considered so deeply that to me it was quite profound. Obviously, the project was done by someone with a broad perspective, yet she achieved a remarkable depth of understanding.