Environmental ARchiTecture

Green Oasis : laser-cut steel and living plants : Meesters & Marije Van der Park : 2006

Green Oasis : laser-cut steel and living plants : Meesters & Marije Van der Park : 2006

Green Oasis : laser-cut steel and living plants : Meesters & Marije Van der Park : 2006

Green Oasis : laser-cut steel and living plants : Meesters & Marije Van der Park : 2006

These works are more architecture than art by formal definition, but I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to things that blur the lines between art and other things when compiling work for Wunderkammer. Somehow, these works that enter our public spaces or derive from more comfortable familiar forms can come at us a bit perpendicularly, not being obviously message oriented works --- and perhaps are therefore more easily able to get under our skin.

From marijevanderpark.nl:

Design studio Meesters & Van der Park seeks inspiration from nature and technique resulting in Green Oasis, a summer house in the shape of an excavator, covered with climbing plants."The city changes through a continuous process of demolition and rebuilding. Nature comes second almost every time."

With Green Oasis, Meesters & Van der Park re-introduce nature to the city in a functional way. For the design, the agency was inspired by technique as well as nature: the shape of the excavator embodies technique, while the growing climbing plants represent the force of nature. The result is a summer house in the shape of a life-sized excavator, covered with green climbing plants. It is literally a green oasis for those much needed moments of peace and quiet in an urban public environment. The summer house offers seating to four people. The object is entirely made of laser-cut steel and produced by Phoenix Metaalwarenfabriek.

After my last trip to Paris, I haven't been able to get the facade of the
Musée du quai Branly (a relatively new museum focusing on non-western antiquities and indigenous arts) out of my mental environment. I went to see it at night, and the wall of luscious creeping greenery disappearing into the vertical blackness of the sky has really stayed with me. I began to wonder why all of our buildings aren't covered in plants --- then a walk down the busy streets of a city would be akin to a stroll in the woods. We'd process more CO2 this way as well, no small bonus in this age of 387 ppm. Urban jungle could take on a whole new literal meaning, and imagine the little biospheres that we could begin to build-up. Perhaps native birds would repopulate urban areas, and I can imagine people's sense of well-being would improve too.

Musée du quai Branly : Paris, France

Musée du quai Branly : Paris, France

Musée du quai Branly : Paris, France

Patrick Blanc, the creator of this vertical garden (and others), has this to say about urban gardens:

“There are so many places that need a vertical garden: parking lots, train stations, the metro — all those difficult spots, those places where you really don’t expect to encounter the living — that is what interests me above all else.”
Apparently he does interiors as well. Who wouldn't feel more at peace in an office like this? Mmmm, lovely...Is that a tree frog?

Various Vertical Gardens : Patrick Blanc

Green roofs get us halfway there and certainly provide myriad benefits to the buildings' owners --- and the planet as well. My mother is in the process of renovating a partially burned 100+ year old row house in downtown Richmond, Virginia into a Platinum LEED home, and plans to install a green roof. (The penchant for biophilia runs deep in this family!)The house will also have a small roof-garden area and a cupola supporting solar panels. Any ideas or images would be welcome, as they're still in the design stage...

What does *this* green-roofed building remind you of?

ACROS Fukuoka Building : Fukuoaka, Japan : Architect Emilio Ambasz

photo of the jaguar temple at Lamanai ("submerged crocodile" in Yucatec Maya) : from my trip to Belize in January 2007 with my Mom and the Sierra Club

More green roofs, roof gardens, and arbors at altitudes...

Conservatorium of Music : Sydney, Australia

Vancouver Public Library : Vancouver, Canada

Village Model by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser

Village Model by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser

Hunderwasserhouse : Vienna, Austria : Architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser

The Ford Assembly Plant : Michigan, US
(Surprised by this one?)

Center For Green Roof Research : Penn State University

Church with turf roof : Saurbær, Iceland

Home of unknown suburban rebel roof-gardener : somewhere in the US

Amazing, right? Now get going on your own!


Another Mystery Image vs Spiral Jetty

Anyone know who made this image? (Or should we call it an earthwork?) I wonder if it is photoshopped or real? If it is a real image, kudos are due indeed for its creation and execution --- though I hope no trees were executed to create it.

(Via the excellent art blog Le Territoire Des Sens.)

It's a Spiral Jetty for the environmental cause.

So then that poses and interesting question. Is Spiral Jetty a work of art with an environmental message? It's all in how you interpret it of course, whether you focus on the bulldozer tearing up and reshaping the landscape --- or the heightened awareness of place and landscape that the earth-work has brought to people who have watched it surface and submerge over the last 38 years.


WWF Campaign

Seems like the image that I posted of the car spewing sculptural exhaust may have been Photoshopped! Gasp!

It in fact appears not to be a piece of art, but a part of a clever campaign by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Beijing to ask Chinese citizens not to drive one day a week.
The sculptural smog balloon represents how much pollution is eliminated for each car taken off the road for a day.
Via tranism.com)

Here's a link to some details on the project.

Not sure if this fits a traditional definition of art, but as an object and statement that's aesthetically pleasing and provocative, centering around environmental issues, I'd say it's pretty effective, and deserves to be posted on Wunderkammer. I don't really care if it's "art" or not --- it's fabulous to look at and really gets a message across without being in the least dry or boring.

Here is another great campaign by the WWF, this time taking a focus on animal rights and the shameful use of the skins of threatened species for luxury goods. What kind of person could wear shoes made of this little guy?


David Shrigley

Lost : color photograph : David Shrigley : 1996

While David Shrigley's work does not all deal with environmental concerns, this piece did bring something up that really bothers/interests me, so I decided to post it. (Also, this piece is hilarious.)

I have been thinking for a long time about how animals like pigeons and rats get such a bum rap in our cities --- as opposed to the cherished position we give to pets. Really pigeons are one of the few species that have "made it" and been able to adapt to survive in the environment that we have created when we destroyed their former habitats. Pigeons are a species known as the Rock Dove. That sounds nice right? They used to live on cliffs and rocky ledges and didn't eat garbage or old KFC before we were around. Some bird guides still call them the Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon, though others have changed the designation to "Common Pigeon."

One interesting thing, is that pigeons are in fact feral animals, domesticated by humans several thousand years ago and now existing as a semi-wild populations in urban areas world-wide.
(For those of you knowledgeable about how domestication generally affects species' appearances, this will explain the piebald coloration that many pigeons have.) We changed their behavior to tolerate our presence and be dependent on us for food --- then when they try to live side by side with us in the only way they know how, we call them "rats of the sky" and kick them. Not cool humans, not cool.

(I also feel this way about dandelions. The idea of a "weed" is just bizarre to me. Plus dandelions are so pretty. Why would you not like a lawn dotted with lovely yellow blossoms --- with edible leaves and flowers that can be made into a very nice wine to boot?)

I hope David doesn't mind me contextualizing his work in this way. I am not convinced that these pieces are necessarily intended to make environmentalist statements, but I figure they are open to interpretation. More David's witty and excellent photographs --- and other works can be seen at

River For Sale : color photograph : David Shrigley : 1999

Stump : color photograph : David Shrigley : 1999


Kaleidoscope Eyes Mystery Surprise

I found these images on the blog of the lovely Kaleidoscope Eyes, who blogs about style and magical ephemera, but don't know who the artists are. Anyone have a clue? I'd love to see more of these different artists works, as I think these pieces are quite clever and effective. The exhaust is the best use of inflatables that I have seen yet. I wonder if the piece was a static sculpture, or if the car could drive around? It would be so great to see that coming down the street! That's pretty much what I think every time I see a car these days. Get out the bikes guys, now that the weather is nice. There is no freer feeling that flying past traffic on your zippy little two wheeled wonder. Bikes forever!

Perhaps the neon piece is a tad un-subtle, but I can relate to that feeling and it made me laugh.

This one doesn't make me laugh:

As some of you may know (or have noticed) polar bears are one of my most favorite creatures on this little planet. The long awaited, long delayed, and long fought for decision by the EPA as to whether or not to list polar bears as an endangered species finally came through a couple of days ago --- but only listed the bears as threatened. Moreover, there are apparently exemptions in the law regarding global warming effects on the bears and several other damaging loopholes. The decision was also delayed long enough by the Whitehouse so that large tracts of land in the polar bears' territory could be sold off for oil drilling. Way to get all Orwellian on us, Environmental Protection Agency. Might as well change your name to Ministry of the Environment at this point. The agency has been so gutted and turned inside out by the Bush regime, it now seems to be actively working against protecting the environment. You can read more here from an activist perspective at Greenpeace and a "populist" perspective in the LA Times.


Interview with Harri Kallio

from the series Lepidoptera Portraits : digital pigment print : Harri Kallio

from the series Lepidoptera Portraits : digital pigment print : Harri Kallio

Hi Harri, thanks so much for offering to do an interview for Wunderkammer.
I recently did a post on your series "The Dodo and Mauritius Island: Imaginary Encounters." I wonder if you'd tell us a little bit about your experience creating that series, which you worked on for several years. Have you had a long standing interest in the dodo? Dodos are definitely enigmatic and fascinating creatures, but could you tell us what in particular drew you to use them as a subject for your photographs?

Harri Kallio:
As a child, I was fascinated with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Many years later I reread it, and I found the dodo to be a great character. I couldn’t help laughing when I looked at it - somehow it was hard to believe that there had been something like the dodo really out in the world at one point.
I became fascinated with the idea of actually building dodo models and seeing how they would look in the real world. In order to be able make work of the extinct dodo birds in modern Mauritius Island landscape I needed to use photography to reinvent the past. “The Dodo and Mauritius Island, Imaginary Encounters”, is a reconstruction and photographic study of the long extinct dodo bird. Based on extensive research, I produced life-size sculptural reconstructions of the bird myself. The project culminated in photographic reconstructions of the dodo bird made with the models in their natural habitat of Mauritius Island. I created my photographic work in the very same locations where dodos went about their daily activities. The resulting photographic work is a visual interpretation of the dodos in the actual locations where they once lived — an imaginary encounter between the viewer and the dodos on Mauritius Island. I also wanted to recreate the kind of moments that must have occurred when the settlers arrived and the birds encountering people for the first time. My idea was not so much to create a scientific reconstruction of the birds, but instead to somehow put the Alice in Wonderland dodo, a character that is faithful to it’s appearances in art history, in the landscape on Mauritius Island — to create a character that is part myth and part real.

from the series Lepidoptera Portraits : digital pigment print : Harri Kallio

Narrative and fantasy play a strong role in your work. This is true in my own work as well, and I believe holds true for many other artists making work about the natural world. I think that this may in part be due to a cultural longing to reconnect with something that we have lost. Do you have any insight to offer on the co-mingling of dreams and desires with a contemporary look at human beings' relationship to nature --- in your own work, or in general?

From the point of view of geological deep time the whole foundation of modern human culture, the oversized brain resulting in conscience intelligence is a freak accident. The final realization for the importance and place of human culture in the natural world is that we are not supposed to be here. From the perspective of life as such on this planet humans are not important. Humans are not highest possible outcome of billions of years of evolution rather a tiny accidental side path in a vast tree of life. Ever since Copernicus started to put humans in their place telling that earth is not the center of the universe, followed by Charles Darwin telling us how closely related we are with the rest of the animal kingdom, not separate, not special, not above, humans are having harder time to keep the idea of human superiority over nature together. As science is continuing to open new perspectives to the world humans become more and more aware how closely integrated we are with the nature regardless of all the efforts to distance ourselves from the rest of the Animal kingdom. A good example is the fact that one quarter of our body weight is consisting of bacteria. Bacteria has been around over 3.5 billion years on this planet, humans as species have been around about 200 000 years or so. Bacteria will be around just fine after human culture has expired itself. Life on this planet will be just fine.

from the series Lepidoptera Portraits : digital pigment print : Harri Kallio

Your work seems to me to be reverent of the natural world while simultaneously taking a tongue-in-cheek view. Your Lepidoptera Portraits show us a surprising and sometimes funny beauty hidden in some of nature's overlooked creatures, while the dodo series humorously and touchingly elaborates on a creature lost from the world due to human actions. Through these strategies of beauty and wit, one thing your work deals with is the way that we humans look at and relate to nature. Why do you think that this has become a major theme in your work? Following from this theme, do you consider your work to be addressing environmental issues?

Like I said above I don't see humans separate in any way from the rest of the nature. I feel like the term environmental is used in somewhat misleading context. I feel like the term environmental is referring to the age old idea of humans being separate from nature somehow exploiting the resources from a distance, Us (humans) and them (nature). The fact is that we are digging a hole for ourselves as well. The fact that humans are a species who created enough nuclear weapons to end most life as we know it on this planet, including ourselves, is our most extreme environmental (un)achievement. The accelerating technological progress is putting even more responsibility into human hands with the budding new Bio, A.I. and Nano technologies. The next phase of potential disaster creating technologies is very near with self replicating nanorobots, maybe resulting in so called "Grey Goo" scenario where uncontrollably reproducing tiny nano entities consume all organic matter stopping only where gravity holds them down. Or perhaps the whole planet is just going to disappear in a black hole created by the Large Hadron collider when it is put to work later this summer in CERN. I am fascinated what a bizarre world humans have created and disturbed how much diverse life is discarded everyday to make room for the needs of the ever expanding human population.

Thanks so much for your time Harri, I appreciate you giving us greater insight into your views and work.
Harri Kallio's website can be seen at: http://www.harrikallio.com

from the series Lepidoptera Portraits : digital pigment print : Harri Kallio

I agree with Harri about the pervasiveness of the
idea of a hard line existing between human beings and the rest of the natural world, and I also agree that it's getting harder to defend this viewpoint. I'm not sure that this is an idea that people will want to let go of gracefully, however, despite that fact that there is definitely a wide-spread damaging effect that framing our relations with our environment as "human vs nature" does to the integrity and usefulness of many disciplines: economics, philosophy, policy-making, and certainly to environmentalism. I don't believe that this dualistic point of view can be backed up by an objective scientific view of the world and evolution. It is a view based on a long cultural history of treatises on human superiority and domination over nature --- and it's about time, in my opinion, for it this self-aggrandizing and destructive idea to "go the way of all things" (i.e. expire).

Certainly, we humans are special in many ways, but a rain forest ecosystem can be seen to be equally complex and wonderful. Moreover, how would our existence as a species and culture(s) be severely maligned if we let this destructive mentality of nature "for use value only" progress to it's inevitable end? To me this 'dividing line' is more truly a fuzzy and nebulous time-line of progressive evolutionary change made up of beneficial mutations and the selection for those traits --- not
unlike the gradation between the great apes and monkeys. While we are different from other animals in certain respects (though not as many as people may think) --- we, and the world we create, is in some fundamental way still to be considered as a part of this continuity of Darwinian selection, like all other life on this planet. To quote Jared Diamond from the opening of his book The Third Chimpanzee :
"It's obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It's also obvious that we're a species of big mammal, down the the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species."
...a contradiction that certainly bears more elaboration and investigation --- one thing that art-makers are very good at.


Mark Fischer

False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens) : digital image : Mark Fischer : 2008

White Beaked Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) : digital image : Mark Fischer : 2008

North Pacific Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) : digital image : Mark Fischer : 2008

Artist and whale researcher Mark Fischer captures the sounds of marine mammals using a special process he invented, turning them into rippling hypnotic images he refers to as "wavelets". Fischer endeavors to map the cetacean language, looking for underlying patterns --- simultaneously producing aesthetic patterns
that he relates to rainbows in their unplumbable beauty.

I have included several images that the artist created from the recorded sounds of the North Pacific Minke Whale, the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, the False Killer Whale, and the White Beaked Dolphin --- though he has created hundreds of "wavelets, " based on different recordings of undersea mammals vocalizing.

According to Fischer:
"A sound as loud as a Blue whale makes can span half the world's oceans, which means two whales could [theoretically] send a signal around the globe in just over seven hours"
Fischer's works reminds us of how little we know or understand of the world of our fellow intelligent mammals. His lacy images provide an enticing, if mediated, glimpse at a world generally out of our reach and beyond our ken (at least for now...).

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis) : digital image : Mark Fischer : 2008