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[spatial] an ecological façade
2019 - 2020
Premise. This thesis began with an observation: of the city, and of value systems inherent to societies. Birds perch on building facades, so humans install anti-bird measures, which keep birds away for a while until they don’t. The cycle repeats itself – and has repeated itself for decades on end. Why do we do that? And why don’t we do it to all birds? There are only six bird species that we are legally allowed to cull in Singapore - but why these six? From my research, the birds we come after share common traits: they frequent urban areas, and congregate in large flocks. 
Current landscape. There has been much research on ecologically-responsible building design. In Forman’s (1996) seminal work on Landscape Ecology Principles, the ecologists study how fauna navigate the environment, and how designers can accommodate these patterns. 

But in recent years, new conversations have emerged. Corlett (2010) highlights equatorial cities (like Singapore) as a fertile ground for novel ecosystems – non-native species that have moved in to make cities their home. My position is much like Corlett’s: to design ecologically, it really is key to acknowledge “what is there, rather than pick and choose among the species on the basis of their origins”. 

Forman’s ecological principles are helpful when designing for native ecology. But we’ll have to adapt them when considering non-native dwellers: those like pigeons, who would be impacted less by urban softscape, more by the buildings in the city. So, by coupling learnings from Forman and Corlett with some further research, we could question how we design ecologically-responsible buildings in equatorial cities.
Research. I studied the ergonomics of pigeons, life cycles and behavioural patterns. Thereafter, I translated these needs into a set of spatial guidelines for design. Looking at these guidelines, I realised that the best way to design a whole façade was to break it down into smaller units. Each unit supports a pair of pigeons for their five year lifespan, including all their 482 offspring, for a feral pigeon's typical lifespan of 5 years.

Scope. This project narrows the scope of focus to the zone of pigeon vitality, since pigeons frequent heights from 21.5m to 50m (Thaxter et al 2015). The aim of this thesis is to design a façade sharing system within this elevation, which accommodates both man and pigeon. Thereafter, these units can be repeated across the elevation. This means that the footprint is flexible according to the site. Regardless of typology, its logic remains the same: it is to form an interior courtyard for dedicated human use, freeing up the external façade for sharing between bird and man.

Based on the study of pigeon perception by Mann et al (2014), the project creates stepping stones for pigeon navigation in the city. After pre-empting a growing concentration of forest dwellers as the rail corridor develops, I mapped out clearly defined patch boundaries on site, and designed an intervention with a goal of directing pigeons away from the rail corridor.
Orchestrating the thesis. To explore the role of the façade, there are conditions that I need to set up. This is why many human programs – which do not necessarily need to occur there – are placed at the façade of the apartment unit. By doing so, we create spatial opportunities for both man and pigeon to utilise and engage with the building skin, resulting in various spatial and boundary configurations.

Spatial organisation. To a lesser extent, pigeon life cycles determined spatial organisation. Continuity across floors is designed into vertical cores for the nesting and dying spaces, so as to rid of by-products and allow these cycles to renew themselves. Yet, creating a closed loop within a single unit wasn’t a priority– a continuous path from where a squab is born to where an adult dies isn’t necessary when pigeons can easily fly. Overall, quality of space required by human-bird programs primarily drove spatial organisation.
The grid. Spacing between perches determine where birds can access. For instance, the grid carves out a space for humans on the upper level of the duplex. The vertical spacing is just enough for natural ventilation, yet far too narrow for pigeons to enter. At the grid, human needs for ventilation and light influence where pigeons are allowed to access. Both groups can be accommodated in the façade simultaneously, providing both with spaces of rest.
The stairwell. Pigeons are brought deeper into the façade. Winder stairs are placed around a highly secure and narrow vertical core, housing pigeon dying spaces. The human gaze is shielded both from the inner core and the outward-facing nesting spaces, as is that of the pigeon. The pigeons’ need for privacy is compatible with the nature of human staircases. The spatial opportunities abovehead, underfoot and adjacent can be filled by birds, hence wrapping pigeon programs around a transition space for humans.
The living spaces. The bay window’s view on the lower floor is kept unobstructed and pigeon-free. On the upper floor, pigeon copulation spaces are niches that are tucked under the windows. Both floors play with façade depths to achieve this. Once again, a peeling-away of the façade carves out gathering spaces for pigeons, while forming functional elements that humans can use as furniture.
This thesis positions the façade as a robust means for urban ecological response. The overall spatial organisation proves that programming spaces for the pigeon experience can still result in a product that works for humans too. Apart from working with specific façade elements and varying its depth, it definitely works to think of the facade as a living space with thickness and volume to it, rather than a skin. In doing so, we witness how human and pigeon demands push, pull, and converge in spatial opportunities on both sides of – even within – the façade itself.
[spatial] an ecological façade
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[spatial] an ecological façade

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Published: