Third Nature

We have been conditioned over time to view ‘nature’ as something pure and immutable, distinct from and therefore somehow ‘exterior’ to architecture and urbanism. With industrialization, infrastructure became so ubiquitous and so seemingly ‘natural’ to the city that its presence was taken for granted constituting a kind of second nature that is set against the utopian construct of a ‘pure’ nature.

The work of the Third Nature catalyst challenges this position, by exploring instead the uncanny cross-overs and hybrid conditions that characterize a third nature, where computationally generated form and technology in architecture are integrated by design with ecological materials and natural processes. Here, nature is not ‘pure’, easy or predictable—it always retains the provocative primal aspects of wild beauty unpredictability, and strangeness and cannot be easily domesticated.

The workshop considers the industrialized north edges of the Upper Mississippi River, between the BNSF Railway Bridge and Lowry Bridges, one of the key focus areas of the RiverFIRST initiative where a set of pedestrian bridges and trails are designed to provide public access to—and along—the Mississippi river. Taking this abiotic industrialized riverfront territory as a site, students in the catalyst workshop work in teams to explore, design and construct full-scale third nature cladding systems for selected sections of the pedestrian bridges. Unlike conventional cladding, these systems are designed as ‘hosts’ that invite and sustain the presence of insects, volunteer vegetation (weeds) and insectivore birds species to boost the biodiversity and future carrying capacity of this stretch of the Upper Mississippi River.

ARCH 5110: Architecture as Catalyst. Co-taught with Sheila Kennedy and Frano Violich (KVA MATx). Graduate design workshop (1 credit). University of Minnesota School of Architecture.

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