Donna Luo —

    Sit With Me and You’ll Understand

This is a project about ecological restoration and understanding one another through a shared meal. Three small platforms are suspended in a Tawa tree, exposed to the surroundings, with barely an enclosing roof or walls. They serve as spaces to sit, observe, and share a meal with the birds of Urupukapuka Island, hoping to initiate an intimate interaction between visitors and birds, and encourage a greater appreciation of our unique environment. Including food as part of the experience was important to me. Food connects us. The act of sitting down and sharing a meal with someone is humbling, and never fails in helping negotiate their inherent differences. I wanted food to fill the space between humans and birds. Sometimes I think sitting down to eat reminds us of our mortality, and so everything starts to look quite simple, and not as different as we think.

Nature is rarely considered a stakeholder in an architectural project, rather, an obstacle. In the name of so-called beauty, many projects imply destruction, excavation, uprooting, and pollution. But was it not beautiful before? Construction is often motivated by big egos and big pockets, factors I believe aren’t necessary to the production of good architecture. Have we forgotten how to appreciate beauty in nature, just outside our windows? Architecture, in its permeability, isolates itself from nature. We know natural systems work, that growth and decay is unavoidable, yet we don’t design to integrate with these larger systems.

We also don’t draw, or talk about architecture with these things in mind. Inevitably, lichen will grow on a roof, moss will bloom in the cracks, but our drawings still portray ideal objects existing within an ideal vacuum. My drawings are informed by a beaux-arts approach, using monochromatic drawing as a research and distillation tool to look really closely and examine what exists. Rather than fill drawings with standard CAD blocks, I was able to learn in detail the species of plants and animals that would inhabit the architecture. I think this is an attitude I’d wish for visitors to the platforms to have as well — to really look at the peach-fuzz detail of the living things around us and have a sense of wonderment in the light, texture and beauty to be found.

Planting in architecture is often performative, lacking diversity and knowledge about interspecies relationships. After the extinction of Moa and Huia in Aotearoa, the natural dispersal of seeds larger than 12mm are done solely by the Kererū. Subsequently, the biodiversity of our forests relies heavily on their population numbers. The Tawa tree is one of such species that depend completely on the Kererū to disperse its seed. It also hosts many epiphytes, by which planter boxes and tensile rope ‘walls’ support their initial germination before they become mature enough to climb onto surrounding trees and contribute to the forest canopy.

Architecture, built hastily, often means little thought to its engagement with time, and changing contexts. Hung via suspension cables and fabric belts, instead of bolted collars, these platforms are designed to be constructed gradually over a 30 year timespan. Following the growth of the Tawa tree, they carefully negotiate the unpredictable growth of branches. I think it is important for architecture to slow down — it is easier to clear land for development, but adapting to existing and changing conditions is more sensitive.

The cables and fabric employed in the project are designed to encourage plant growth, to become overgrown and manky. The fabric cover is made from untreated linen, which can be made from native flax fibre, which when left damp will encourage moss to grow. The cover also catches fallen leaves, which decompose and become organic matter to support new growth. Other than the steel cables and floor structure, all materials will eventually decompose, so when the architecture itself is ready to go… it’ll contribute to the cycle of biomass in the forest.

Donna Luo is a third year BAS student at the University of Auckland with a background in drawing, photography and painting. Her interests lie in designing sustainably and with underprivileged communities in mind. This project was completed as a part of stage 3 design under the tutorage of Anthony Hoete and many talented friends.

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