Sarah Gunawan, University of Waterloo, School of Architecture, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Material Eco/Systems: Prototypes for Ecologically Enmeshed Material Assemblies in Suburban Construction
Despite efforts at all levels of government to curb unsustainable sprawl, the peripheral suburbs of Ontario’s major cities are growing faster than anywhere else in Canada. These suburbs are typically constructed with inexpensive methods and materials, resulting in an abundance of low-quality, short lifespan housing stock. The inevitable degradation of suburban materials creates a porous building envelope that allows microorganisms, vegetation and animals to occupy the periphery of single-family houses. Moisture leaks into basements enabling mold growth, plants colonize cluttered rain gutters blocking drainage, and raccoons access warm attics through deteriorating asphalt shingles. Suburban homeowners perceive this process negatively because it puts downward pressure on their property value. But what if the degradation and transformation of suburban building materials could be designed to create value for both humans and ecological systems across scales?Synanthropic Suburbia (PDF, 10.20 MB) »
Four prizes were awarded in the increasingly popular Next Generation category for students and professionals up to 30 years. This category seeks visionary projects and bold ideas, and gives young professionals public exposure and a platform to gain recognition. The first of four Next Generation prizes in North America went to Georgina Baronian from Princeton University, NJ, USA. She developed a universally applicable roof design with a cooling function. Second prize was won by Jason Heinrich from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, for a set of rules for establishing a sustainable urban neighborhood in the city of Vancouver. Sarah Gunawan from the University of Buffalo, NY, USA, received third prize in this category. She investigated the potential for people and wildlife to coexist based on an example in Markham, ON, Canada. Fourth prize went to Peteris Lazovskis of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA. His experiments investigated climate control in buildings using the example of the Commonwealth Mental Health & Wellness Center.Read more »
Entitled “synanthropic suburbia”, the project explores potential architectural habitats for wildlife of various kinds that live near and benefit from human habitation – thus the use of the term synanthropic, meaning living in symbiotic relation with human beings. Based on a meticulous analysis of suburban neighborhoods in the province of Ontario and the city of Markham in particular, the project’s author proposes a set of small interventions for animal residents normally neglected in any design or planning process – in this case, raccoons, chimney swifts, tree swallows, blue birds, barn owls, and brown bats, all native species to the region.
Bewildering aspects of the thesis notwithstanding, the jury appreciated the design of so-called “ecological prosthetics” to be installed as micro-additions and habitats for animal users to houses across residential neighborhoods. Taking their cues from the iconography and type forms of existing houses, the interventions expand upon conventional building components to create entirely new architectural vocabularies. The “compost chimney”, “extended eave”, and “habitat dormer”, for example, provide living opportunities for wildlife and enhance the neighborhood’s ecosystem. The design promotes a discourse on the relation between human activity and the environment, offering strategies for understanding architecture in symbiotic rapport with nature, without succumbing to romantic notions of the “natural”.See more
Beyond sustainability - enhancing ecology through architectural intervention
Suburbanization throughout Ontario has transformed vibrant agrarian and natural ecosystems into homogeneous suburban landscapes incapable of supporting a diversity of wildlife. The objective of Synanthropic Suburbia is to retrofit existing suburban neighborhoods into viable animal habitats. The project seeks to be move beyond sustainability, towards an architecture that actively improves its local ecosystem. Through the strategic addition of ecological prosthetics, the project offsets the negative impacts of suburban development and encourages homeowner engagement with local ecosystems. Each prosthetic is carefully detailed to limit its environmental impact and accommodate the biological needs of select animal species to create resilient architectural and environmental conditions.
Suburban standardization - leveraging uniformity towards economic viability
Ecological prosthetics are designed to leverage the uniformity of residential wood-frame construction in developer-built communities. Each prosthetic is standardized to typical housing models and prefabricated, reducing overall cost and enabling homeowners to affordably modify their existing home. In return, homeowners receive improved building performance and enhanced ecosystem services. Compost chimneys improve soil quality, limiting the need for chemical fertilizers; extended eaves collect and store rainwater for irrigation, reducing water consumption; and habitat dormers encourage insect consuming animals, controlling local pest populations. The investments of individual homeowners accumulate, resulting in a suburban community with increased biodiversity and environmental performance.
Innovative practice - expanding architectural thinking through ecological principles
Synanthropic Suburbia explores new disciplinary frontiers by integrating ecological principles into architectural design. By focusing on identifiable suburban elements like the chimney, eave and dormer the project makes ideas of multi-species cohabitation and environmental stewardship accessible to a wide audience. Though formally subtle, the prosthetics radically alter the performance and function of conventional building components to embrace animal species. These design principles have broad applicability and could be adapted to local species, construction methods and homeowner desires to create a range of prosthetics. Furthermore, the project speculates on how the multiplication of small architectural interventions across a community could have wide-scale, positive environmental impact.See more
A conscious approach to considering the ecosystem – the animals, vegetation and microclimate – is key to the sustainable …
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