Liam Young, 06 03 10


I am pleased to announced that Wen Ying Teh and her project from the Menagerie studio at the AA ‘Necessary Monsters’ run by Liam Young and Kate Davies has been awarded the RIBA 2009 Bronze Medal. The studio have trawled the wilds of genetic modification, augmented bodies and neo biological invention to query today’s idealistic and preservationist views of the natural world. For three weeks we voyaged south, following Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands and South America. We discovered a precious and fragile wilderness teetering at the point of collapse, an ecology in crisis, bearing the scars of a ravenous tourist economy. Projects were developed in this context as critical tools to instigate debate and raise questions about architectural practice in relation to the social and political consequences of various environmental and technological futures.  Read below for an exert of the project or explore it in full on the RIBA website.

An existing salt mine sits as a scar on the Galapagos Landscape. Once the natural habitat of Flamingos, this salt lake has long been a desolate space ravaged by the nearby restaurant industry. The Galapagos is caught between its massive contribution to the Ecuadorian economy and its value as a historic wilderness.

This project is conceived of as a provocation and speculation on how these two demands may be hybridized as an alternative to the typical conservationist practices applied across the islands. The two traditionally mutually exclusive programs of salt farming and Flamingo habitat are re imagined as a new form of symbiotic designed ecology; a pink wonderland, built from colored bacteria and salt crystallization, dissolving and reshaping itself with seasonal and evaporative cycles. The building becomes an ecosystem in itself, completely embedded in the context that surrounds it.

Formed from fine webs of nylon fibers held in an aluminum frame, this strange string instrument allows the salt farming process to be drawn up out of the lake, returning it to the endemic flamingos whilst at the same time ensuring the continuation of a vital local industry. Using just capillary action, salt water from the lake crystallizes on the tension strings forming glistening, translucent enclosures. It encrusts the infrastructure of a flamingo observation hide and solidifies into a harvestable field ready to be scraped clean by miners.

The project has been developed through scale models that were used as host structures for an in depth series of crystallization experiments. Material erosion, spatial qualities, structurally capacity and evaporative cycles were all determined through physical testing. The architecture and its physical models grew slowly across time, emerging from the salt waters they were immersed in, to become fully developed crystalline structures.

The Galapagos is an ecology in crisis. The project is positioned as part documentary, part science fiction offering both a rigorous technical study and a speculative near future wilderness. An evolving future for the islands is imagined and it demands an evolved and mutated architecture.


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