Photography by Tormod Amundsen. Kongsfjord bird hide by Biotope.

Wildlife Architecture

Jamie Lorimer in his book ‘Wildlife in the Anthropocene’ suggests that the vision of wild nature devoid of human presence might have come to an end. I think there is something contradictory about the way we treat wildlife; on the one hand invading the natural environment in every possible way but on the other hand trying to protect it from ourselves by isolation. I always hoped there was an alternative where we gain the trust of nature by bringing wildlife and humans closer and treating nature sensibly, with care and respect.

Photography by Gabriele Ziliute. Hornøya bird hide by Biotope.

Having spent four years completing my Part I at the University of Bath I was keen to explore different ways to look at architecture. I was lucky enough to be offered a summer internship at Biotope in Arctic Norway, a small but unique architecture practice with special expertise in birding. This proved to be an invaluable experience, not only did I learn about designing and building bird hides, but I also had an opportunity to experience the life of an ‘architect-birder’ in Arctic Norway.

Photography by Gabriele Ziliute. The Great Cormorant in Hornøya.

During my time on the island Vardø, I noticed the people there are renowned for their innate passion for nature. Hidden away from the rest of the world Vardø, together with the islands Hornøya and Reinøya, are ‘the seabird islands’, where humans and birds have lived together for centuries and learnt to respect each other. Birdwatchers go there from all over the world to see the Steller’s Eider, the Great Cormorant, Puffins and many other species. Being architects on ‘the seabird islands’, Biotope has over 25 years of experience in birding and uses that knowledge to create shelters for birders. The architects also use their expertise and discoveries to guide local authorities and environmental bodies in the development of protected environments.

Photography by Tormod Amundsen. Nesseby ringing scheme.

By doing this Biotope has become very successful at promoting Vardø and its locale as a tourist destination. Their active engagement in local and international birding events and sharing of online resources (ranging from books, flyers, maps, blog posts with videos and access to live web cameras to track birds) has become part of their design process. As a result, a number of birders, architects and planners visit them every year to learn more about their findings. The strong desire to learn about wildlife and share that knowledge proves to me that people really are willing to make a difference if they know how.

Although, for me, it’s only the buildings of exceptional design from our era, which have gained the trust of nature; I now see architecture as one of the most promising tools that can help bring wildlife conservation into a new light. The ability to create new spaces allows us to pass on something silent but meaningful, something that links back to nature awareness. I understand it may not always be possible but I truly hope it will become integral to contemporary culture.

Photography by Gabriele Ziliute. Boat shelter on the coast of Varanger.

References:

Lorimer, J., (2015). Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation After Nature.