Animal Architecture Awards...Is NOT Animal Architecture!!!


I am curious what others will have for opinions on Animal Architecture Awards

To me, this is not Animal Architecture. I feel that they have taken a term that was already being used to describe other projects and chose to just morph the term for their own use. I am referencing the book "Zoomorphic: Animal Architecture" which pre-dates this competition that has been hosted for 3 years. 

Their is even a animal architecture .org website but I am still not clear exactly on what the concept is. I will need to take another look. I am not bashing their work at all since the competition has some nice proposals and their brief is very interesting in concept. 

I am simply wondering why no one has questioned the fact that they hijacked a term used to describe very specific works of architecture. Example: The Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava in 2001. The Animal Architecture aspect is that it mimics a bird with moving wings! 

Maybe I am pushing this too much but I am comparing this term hijacking to this scenario  Imagine if someone took Bauhaus and determined that it was not part of the modernist movement and is some new kind of behavioral psychological non-physical architecture. Yes, Animal Architecture is not its own era of design like modernism or Bauhaus but to me it is a very important conceptual design category of its own.

On the Bustler link above, I only see one example that actually resembles Animal Inspired architecture and that is the Farmland World proposal. 

On another note, WTF on the first two proposals. Maybe some of you out there need to ask yourself what career field you are in before you go and call yourself an architect. Those are not built environments, but rather anthropology and video game design! Doodah... Yes video games often have people and they have buildings too, but that does not make the digital concept of the game a piece of architecture. WOW...this is really REACHING to be architecture!!! Should not have to try so hard! 


Aug 30, 11 3:02 pm


Some text from the website is included below. I hope this clears up some of your questions.

Animal Architecture is an ongoing investigation into the performative role of biology in design. The project operates on the edge between humans and our surrounding "others" -- illuminating alternative ways of living with nonhuman animals, discussing cross-species collaborations, and defining new frameworks through which to discuss biologic design.

...and just to be really clear:

Animal Architecture:
is a project about what it means as an animal to make and delineate space.
is a project about the fashion, obsession, and fetishism of nature.
is not a project about the homes, holes, caves, nests, hives, burrows, or tunnels that animals already architect.
is a project devoted to bridging the humanist divide between “us” and “them.”
is a project born from the belief that the history of Architecture is a humanist history and guilty of relegating all other species of life to the status of second-class beings. What makes us so special anyway?

Some principles and definitions of Animal/Architecture:

1) What is an Animal?

As Derrida would claim, “Human” is merely the name that a particular section of the animal population has given itself the right to give itself. In a similar vein, “Animal” is the term we give to anything that is not us, human that is. Therefore this website will never take “Animal” literally or at face value; and more often than not, will interpret it in its broadest sense. So when we talk about Animal we’re talking about everything from squirrels, and cats, to mitochondria, bacteria, and ecosystems in general.

2) What is Architecture?
Just as “animal” has been broadened so will “Architecture.” With Architecture we’re getting at more than just the brick-and-mortar version of human production and thinking more about systems of organization.

3) Animal Architecture (architecture made by animals, people included):
Animal Architecture, in a very simple and general sense follows some basic patterns. Almost across the board we can say that animal architecture is:
- Highly Structurally Redundant (bone, termite hills, swallow nests)
- Relatively Unplanned (ant tunnels, bee hives coral reefs)
- Dynamic, requiring constant upkeep and maintenance
- Generally Inefficient in its use and distribution of materials
- and follows simple structural logic ie. Material at hand, + force of gravity + method of construction = form. We can see this in conk shells, oyster reefs, termite hills, and yes, beaver dams.

4) The Website, Animal/Architecture:
Crosses the human/animal divide by demonstrating, discussing, and exploring the intersection — the at times literal edge between humans and everything else around them. Architecture, as our historical defense against outside forces will be the fulcrum to open this debate. What happens when we no longer view ourselves to be separate from the world around us? Keep checking back to see what we find out.

And lastly, it is most definitely NOT to be confused with biomorphic or zoomorphic architectural practices. If that's what suits your fancy there are other resources out there. 

Aug 30, 11 5:27 pm  · 

I think this is one of the more interesting competitions out there.

But there exists the idea that biological formalism, which Calatrava does too literally, is just an expiring stylistic whim. Zoomorphic is an architecture book for 1st year students that want to see "cool animal-looking buildings." Just because it pointed this out, doesn't mean it deserves any merit. There have been plenty before it. In its examples there are minimal relationtionship  with performance, ecology, and what it means to be an animal. 

Calatrava designs empty museums reminiscent of HR Giger, its animal on the most superficial level.


Im also suspicious of the winners, but I also think that designing another "wildlife center for endangered birds that looks like a bird" isn't the best example of how buildings or architecture for that matter, can engage with nature and the un-natural.

Aug 30, 11 10:12 pm  · 

Thanks for the explanation Doddz...

Would you say that the systems of a computer are also architecture? In that sense what you are trying to label as architecture is not really "architecture" in the traditional sense and I understand and can appreciate that thinking outside the box approach. It seems that this definition of what "animal architecture" is on is more of a theoretical mix of architecture and biology and maybe animal behavior as well.

How do you relate the animal component once a physical or non-physical object is created and the disconnect that takes place. I am using a computer for an example here since we are all familiar with them. Computers are non-living objects with very complex systems not too different than a biological system that the animal architecture page speaks of.
However, once that computer system is designed and built it no longer requires human interaction to function. Yes, it can break or the power can be disconnected but the system will function otherwise. Not too different from the architecture of brick and mortar type. We as animals can interact with computers and control them and the other player, or "programmer" of the game can interact back either through controls or the software code that was written to interact to your reactions. Is that really animalistic though in nature? Does it have instincts and thought?

What happens if we apply that logic to a video game which is on another deeper layer of disconnect from the living world? The video game is bits of virtual data floating around a system and functioning as it is told to function, but only within very specific parameters. It is not animal and if you learn more about technology you will find that the digital world does not have the ability to be animal. Computers and virtual reality lack the ability to think and we all know that. I am glad I grew up just beyond the level of video games today because it helped me appreciate nature more. I was born in the early 80's so I guess my generation was the one to jump over the fence into the digital world we know now. The first and only video game system I ever owned was the first Nintendo. I really love video game technology today and I study it from a technology standpoint. Maybe I am taking it too literally but video games still have no animalistic qualities or complex systems on the same level as biology. 
Even artificial intelligence is not animal because it is using the same rules of logic as a video game with predetermined parameters. Like der flaneur said, "what it means to be animal." What does it mean to be animal? I think of being animal as irrational and rational behavior, instinct, animal subconscious. Zoomorphic is a better term for animal architecture because it is clear in what it means. Zoo and morphing from an animal and to transform that creativity into architecture. 

I disagree with der flaneur from purely an architectural aspect and personal appreciation for the design of a complex system. There is so much more under the superficial level that is complex and deserving of much deeper thought. There is of course a superficial first glance reaction to Zoomorphic Architecture and I can see where it would attract 1st year architecture students. Architecture is about being artistic and analytical at the same time, and using both hemispheres of the brain. Humans do not know much about psychology compared to what will be discovered in the future. In comparison it is like the age of the earth vs. the time humans have existed. We like to think that we know a lot more about ourselves from a deep down subconscious level but we don't and I really do not think we are even close to being able to apply that kind of knowledge to architecture. The knowledge is only partially found and the technology to implement does not exist yet. Really cool to think about how to do it though in theory! In that sense I love the term animal architecture but I am not fully agreeing with it, and I think that some of the projects that won were not good examples.

der flaneur I think you need to ask yourself again if you are the one who is actually being superficial when you look at the projects in the Zoomorphic: Animal Architecture book. Are you looking past the surface or just judging a book by it's cover? We learn by taking risks and being adventurous and this has always been what makes us human and not "just animals." To engineer any completely new complex building one must balance logic on past accomplishments and precedence and I would argue that Calatrava has created his own logics and precedences that another can advance upon in the future.

The Milwaukee Art Museum will stand true as a test of time to be an amazing works of architecture. Just from a structural accomplishment level it is a feat that is just as impressive as a skyscraper is vertically amazing. Calatrava is first an artist but second a structural engineer and in that sense the very definition of what it means to be an architect. Can you give me an example that is better of a modern day "master builder" that builds anything out-of-the-box with complexity and knows how to construct their buildings ? It is my understanding that in Spain every architect is so well versed in structures and actually only an extra exam away from becoming a licensed structural engineer as well as architect. I work with an architect who later in life decided to become licensed in structures and that was well after she finished school. I am sure this is the same in other countries as well, but we have lost the sight of what it is to know how to build and thus have lost control of the profession to construction administrators and investors; and that is just really sad.
I agree with der flaneur that Calatrava creates empty museums and airports too with much wasted space, but that is still more architecture than the theory of animalistic behavior related to levels of a video game for example. There are many spaces that are minimalistic and "empty" as you said but they are also beautiful and breath with life because they are not cluttered. People are inspired by those kind of spaces and they have always been important elements that foster a culture that surrounds or inhabits them.
My interest and words to you all now is really all about practice. I would love to spend time designing buildings based on any whim from biological, animalistic or other inspiration in relation to architectural systems. That is already what architecture is already, always has been and always will be, but we should question what we theoretically call architecture. Especially in the academic setting because that is the level of the thought factory and I think it is time some of us step in against teachers who have never built a single building but feel they have the right to determine what designs are architecture and which are not.  The creative disconnect is becoming far greater when we get more and more theoretical with a fulcrum of imbalance to practice. 

If we like it or not we are all currently living in a era of "thoughts competitions" since 2007/8 and I appreciate the creative thinking process dearly. I feel it is now a time though, that we start to collect our thoughts and do more with them. Make them real and apply them to our surroundings. How is a video game with a dial control and text about a computer program architecture? How is a building that looks like it was abandoned during construction so scary swarms of birds started living in it...architecture? I think NOT! Let nature be natural!!! Birds don't want to live in a building and we should not train them fly into them regardless if they are sheathed in a glass facade. It is a nice step in the right direction to think of controlling our environments like a video game, and to think of how to stop birds from going extinct but if is half about biology and half architecture then it needs to set a higher standard to live up to. Just because you can buy a .ORG and host a competition does not make you an authority and does not grant you respect. That needs to be earned and I think that the people running this group will think more about all this in the future, or at least I really hope they will because they have taken on a very important role. It will be seen in the future how monumental this is, through this group or others to follow.

Not supportive of the group using the name yet, and putting on "architecture" competitions until I see the connection better. I am excited to find out where it goes though...

From 2007 through 2010 a group of us entered architects, engineers, and designers entered several open architecture "ideas" competitions and some competing for large scale real projects that are now under construction or in the planning process. From that experience I feel that some of the "ideas" or "thought" competitions are put on by these so called respected authority organizations in large part to get new "ideas" creative spark for themselves. It disgusts me to see competitions of countless numbers that are put on and the organizers are the ones who are always in the spotlight year after year. They sell books, or gain clients for commissioned work through meeting people through the competition. I am not stating that is one of these groups and but there are plenty of them out there.

One example was an ideas competition we entered 2 years ago which the winning design was great. However some of the runners up were so far from even worthy "ideas" or "thoughts" of architecture that it has to just make me laugh now because it was such a joke. I am sure it must have been meant to be a competition to create hope and bring culture to a major city. While others put a lot of time and effort into the competition entry we were beat out by one entry that was no more than some photoshoped images of lipstick, a purse, and the Boston City Hall in the background. I will not say what competition this was but for those involved I am sure you will know! The designer was clearly meaning for it to be a joke of course but it was a real insult to those who worked very hard to pushed the barriers of what is acceptable today, but may be commonplace in the future. The point is that this experience started to discourage our loose knit group from seven counties that came together to work on that competition.

I guess architecture and the people that often make up the profession are very bitter when they have to design boring boxes with little meaning and are so self conscious underneath their success that they feel that they must make it difficult for younger generations to follow in their foot steps. I am not really sure but I feel that the Fountain Head tells that story much better than I can here in a non-tangible digital world.

This "Animal Architecture" really is making me feel bitter I guess because it must be reminding me about all that is wrong with the profession of architecture, but also at the same time it is making me remember much that is right and honest and just about it as well. Those qualities are all that some of us are left with at the end of the day because we worked so hard and our inspirations were not built or were morphed so much during the process that the idea was compromised. When I came here after a long time of being away because I craved to engage in meaningful debate, I have now found myself again in my thoughts on what architecture is. I hope that someone else listens and "hears" what I am saying because we really need to stand up and act because our profession is slowly dying and loosing the respect it once had.

Please embrace the creativity and the courage to actually build great ideas and thoughts and not just let them be drawings on paper or even lesser web pages. Technology and biology are part of the missing components we have slowly been losing from our inspirations and if and only IF can help be a part of bringing that back...I will support and respect it at that point! 

Sep 1, 11 5:08 am  · 

der flaneur, your last the way. Well put!!!

Did you know that when the pilgrims first settled in New England that there were a species of bird that were large enough in size and numbers to black out the sky?

That species of bird no longer exists today. Certainly a problem still that needs to be addressed with better solutions. Just like my anologies of complex computer systems, we are a complex ecosystem that required more than a solution that we think looks interesting. I do not think that making entire buildings for birds is the best way. Maybe a simple first thought of a solution but not the best answer by any means. I think more trees might help but what would I know! Maybe only some of us humans prefer to live in trees but last I checked most birds like trees.

I don't know, I might be crazy or something but couldn't the bird houses look more like trees? Funny that I am thinking we need to build fake trees to replace the ones we cut down in and around cities.

Sep 1, 11 5:31 am  · 

In less than five minutes I found these images that could be used for inspiration. Granted I have done a fair bit of research on tree architecture in the past when I worked on the design of an aquarium that had 100' tall recreated Strangler Fig trees...But I feel like others should be able to find these great inspirations so easily! 

I hope some students or people entering these competitions can push the concept further and make it reality!

Maybe I should go register the domain name and host a competition. Any judges interested?

Sep 1, 11 5:39 am  · 

This is all we need!  we cant even build appropriate environments for us human animals!  It is a dumb novelty, ok its fun yeah yeah I get it, but I think we need to work on our own living arrangements if we really want to help these little creatures.  I hate to be such a negative person, but I can't stand the idea of rich little hippie wannabe's driving their suv's through the strip mall hell we created into the forest to build post modern squiril condo's.  This is arogance at it's best!  If we want to control nature, lets do it in our cities to create a more ecological human habitats instead of bullshiting ourselves with such projects.  This angers me because, like many other things that I can't stand such as organic juice shops, it requires minimal thought and sacrifice and gives the false sense of accomplishment that we are actually helping the environment. 

Sep 1, 11 11:32 am  · 

I think that in the future we may find such projects necessary, but we need to make the cake before we put icing on it!


Sep 1, 11 11:44 am  · 

J.arleo, I totally agree with and appriciate some of your settiment! At the same time I have to say you are wrong in response to what was actually written in previous threads of this post. You simply did not read my second post because some of what I said is along the same lines as your response. Remember! Absorb first, think second, and than react!!! The posts with photos and such are meant to mock I was half serious though because I did register BUT the only serious parts have no intention of further disturbing the natural environment. I was simply showing quick examples of what could be real "Animal Architecture!" We have made such an impact on this planet that in order to reverve it we need to first stop cutting down trees. We need to than plant more trees ASAP! Of course that is all now finally accepted as fact. Now what I was saying was that we will also need to do things like make artificial tress inside urban environments until the real trees can grow back. Maybe someday we can become symbiotic and skyscrapers can be a mix of real stranger fig / living space for more than just birds! Now I am sure people will think I am really freakin' off my rocker now for saying that. I think this is exactly how we need to THINK, but again please read what I wrote because I also think that WHAT we do and how we act to the outside world outside of architecture needs to bring more respect back to the profession. I am sure there must be a balance that was thrown off balance at some point because there is so much being called architecture today that is mostly laughed at by many.

Sep 1, 11 12:23 pm  · 

I'm sure glad we have the world's brightest minds on the case. Let us know when you have all this figured out. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be trying new things and producing new ideas...

Sep 1, 11 12:41 pm  · 

theids, I know, I did read your post!   I was not arguing with you.  I was just adding my own rant !!! 

Sep 1, 11 12:49 pm  · 

dudell, not sayin you should'nt try new things, but these contests undermine the serious nature of the environmental problem.  Architecture is too novel in my opinion when it should be more fundamental and infrastructural. 

Sep 1, 11 1:00 pm  · 

j.arleo, you are the problem with architecture. You think the world is too serious and troubled to try new things. We will never get anywhere if we're only putting out fires. There may be new and novel ways of contributing to the world that we haven't even thought of yet. Architecture is more than a bandaid and a quest to do the least damage. Dream big, my friend.

Sep 1, 11 1:07 pm  · 

I just wanted to post my little two cents here, in defense of Animal Architecture and specifically the awards projects. Something we all seem to agree on is that the planet is in shit-shape, and we as humans and as architects in particular, need to make some changes to the ways we are living in and designing our world if we want to have it intact for the rest of our lives and future generations. I believe, theid, that you're actually more in agreement with the ideas behind Animal Architecture than you think. The way I see it, Animal Architecture is taking a new perspective on how we can go about making those changes in the world and in our design process. In order to change our impact on the world, we first need to fundamentally change the way we think about and view the world, and the way we consider our relationship to the natural world. This is a huge step, the biggest step, but I would argue, and hope you would agree, that it's the first step necessary in order to start changing the way we affect our environment. "Cospecies coshaping" simply suggests that we think more about living in harmony with the natural world, and taking inspiration in our designs from the original architect - Nature. Therefore, a project such as an augmented reality game that provides multiple new perspectives through which we as humans can view our environment, is a step towards changing the way we think about our environment and where we view ourselves within it. You wrote about balance... I believe Animal Architecture is also about exploring to find that balance somewhere, between humans and our environment, through new perspectives. It hopefully will cause some to, as you say, stop, absorb, think and then react in a way they might not have reacted previously. And well, at very least, it prompted a good discussion here that seems to have already put some new ideas in some heads!

Sep 1, 11 1:11 pm  · 

No your the problem dudell!!!  the world is serious and troubled!  People SHOULD try new things as I stated, but to direct your 'big dreams" towards dead end outcomes like "animal architecture" is pointless.  It is also arrogant and elite to spend time on such things when there are 3 year olds starving in Africa, superfund sites next to daycare centers, big agriculture and big oil, suburabization, ect............and your using your energy to build friggin birdhouses, get the f out of here!  Birds did fine for 40 million years without us.   It is also passive agressive in that it presents itself as revolutionary, but does nothing to pose a real threat to the power structure (like decentralised energy and food production may) that must be overcome to have real revolutionary results in our built environments.  How about using your education to actually serve society.  If you were a doctor would you be a heart surgeon or a plastic surgeon that specialises in butt implants?  Also, I do think Big, but my dreams are subject to logic, reasoning, and morality.  And as far as "putting out fires"  that's a crazy statement.  Really?  you think we have done this enough in architecture? 

Sep 1, 11 1:42 pm  · 

I see your point theM, just think that there are more pressing issues to work on.  I am not against the idea of integrating microhabitats for animals in our cities.  I think that's a great idea, we need to create hybrid places, but there are so many other things to do first.  I usually take a shower before I comb my hair, thats all i'm saying.

Sep 1, 11 1:53 pm  · 

Meanwhile, the rest of us will be trying new things and producing new ideas...

Here's an absolutely great idea that architecture has not figured out yet. Perhaps one of the most pressing issues facing the world right now...

Perhaps architecture could actual build affordable housing that's not terribly valued engineered, housing that people actually want to live in and housing that treats its residents with dignity and respect.

Sep 1, 11 2:02 pm  · 

I agree James R!!!

The problem is that it's not glamorous enough for some people to work on!

Sep 1, 11 2:09 pm  · 

Thank you TheM and Dudell. It's nice to know that there are vocal champions of AnArch out there. And thank you J.arleo and Theids, your feedback and reaction to the project indicates just how much more work indeed needs to be done! 

Sep 1, 11 4:20 pm  · 
eric chavkin

I also thought of Michelangelo's 'Prisioners' series .  19thC artists re-interpreted this transformation motif in many forms such as crashing waves that become charging horses. plant-life as garden furniture, bird or fish shaped transportation and other metonymy that I don't remember now.

The later larger- than-life social-realist memorials of the Stalin period trace back to those very expressive 19thC examples of transformation  and this is the motif  I see here, redone in the MLK monument. It is inspired in a sense , by Michelangelo's last , some argue, unfinished works.

eric chavkin


Sep 1, 11 8:57 pm  · 

to be human is animal. we should design accorindgly, with an understanding that the resources we use and the places we build are not just for us.

the 3 year olds starving in africa will need homes that are built to engage with their environment effectively. because birds et. al, have not done well with us for 40 million years

dont be selfish

Sep 2, 11 12:21 pm  · 
eric chavkin

Glen Small has his biomorphic Biosphewre with all it animal/vegtable/living organisms refernces. I like that biology is not just part of the architecture but the reason for it . And his city moves, albeit creeping slowly, like a vine across the landscape. Archigram Walking Cities resemble gigantic alien warships.

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eric chavkin

Sep 2, 11 1:26 pm  · 

Thanks j.arleo for adding your own rants!!! :-)

Sep 3, 11 3:48 am  · 

Wow!!! Lou Kahn!!!! I love your work.

You are my favorite architect ever.

I thought you died in a bathroom in grand central station or something but I guess not!

Sep 6, 11 2:48 am  · 

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