Architecture, Building and Planning - Research Publications

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    Interspecies Cultures and Future Design
    Parker, D ; Soanes, K ; Roudavski, S (Brill, 2022-04-01)
    This article introduces the notion of interspecies cultures and highlights its consequences for the ethics and practice of design. This discussion is critical because anthropogenic activities reduce the abundance, richness, and diversity of human and nonhuman cultures. Design that aims to address these issues will depend on interspecies cultures that support the flourishing of all organisms. Combining research in architecture and urban ecology, we focus on the design of urban habitat-structures. Design of such structures presents practical, theoretical, and ethical challenges. In response, we seek to align design to advancing knowledge of nonhuman cultures and more-than-human justice. We present interspecies design as an approach that incorporates human and nonhuman cultural knowledge in the management of future habitats. We ask: what is an ethically justifiable and practically plausible theoretical framework for interspecies design? Our central hypothesis is that the capabilities approach to justice can establish goals and evaluative practices for interspecies design. To test this hypothesis, we refer to an ongoing research project that aims to help the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) thrive in Australian cities. To establish possible goals for future interspecies design, we discuss powerful-owl capabilities in past, present, and possible future situations. We then consider the broader relevance of the capabilities approach by examining human-owl cultures in other settings, globally. Our case-study indicates that: 1) owl capabilities offer a useful baseline for future design; 2) cities diminish many owl capabilities but present opportunities for new cultural expressions; and 3) more ambitious design aspirations can support owl wellbeing in cities. The results demonstrate the capabilities approach can inform interspecies design processes, establish more equitable design goals, and set clearer criteria for success. These findings have important implications for researchers and built-environment practitioners who share the goal of supporting multispecies cohabitation in cities.
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    An Artificial Intelligence Agent That Synthesises Visual Abstractions of Natural Forms to Support the Design of Human-Made Habitat Structures
    Mirra, G ; Holland, A ; Roudavski, S ; Wijnands, JS ; Pugnale, A (Frontiers Media SA, 2022-03-17)
    Biodiversity is in a state of global collapse. Among the main drivers of this crisis is habitat degradation that destroys living spaces for animals, birds, and other species. Design and provision of human-made replacements for natural habitat structures can alleviate this situation. Can emerging knowledge in ecology, design, and artificial intelligence (AI) help? Current strategies to resolve this issue include designing objects that reproduce known features of natural forms. For instance, conservation practitioners seek to mimic the function of rapidly disappearing large old trees by augmenting utility poles with perch structures. Other approaches to restoring degraded ecosystems employ computational tools to capture information about natural forms and use such data to monitor remediation activities. At present, human-made replacements of habitat structures cannot reproduce significant features of complex natural forms while supporting efficient construction at large scales. We propose an AI agent that can synthesise simplified but ecologically meaningful representations of 3D forms that we define as visual abstractions. Previous research used AI to synthesise visual abstractions of 2D images. However, current applications of such techniques neither extend to 3D data nor engage with biological conservation or ecocentric design. This article investigates the potential of AI to support the design of artificial habitat structures and expand the scope of computation in this domain from data analysis to design synthesis. Our case study considers possible replacements of natural trees. The application implements a novel AI agent that designs by placing three-dimensional cubes – or voxels – in the digital space. The AI agent autonomously assesses the quality of the resulting visual abstractions by comparing them with three-dimensional representations of natural trees. We evaluate the forms produced by the AI agent by measuring relative complexity and features that are meaningful for arboreal wildlife. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that AI can generate design suggestions that are aligned with the preferences of arboreal wildlife and can support the development of artificial habitat structures. The bio-informed approach presented in this article can be useful in many situations where incomplete knowledge about complex natural forms can constrain the design and performance of human-made artefacts.
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    The Last of Their Kind
    Roudavski, S ; Rutten, J ; Holland, A (The Special Interest Group in Computer Graphis (SIGGRAPH), Digital Arts Community (DAC) exhibition The Earth, Our Home: Art, Technology and Critical Action, online, opened January 28, 2022, 2022)
    The Last of Their Kind is an outcome of a research program that seeks to open possibilities for participatory designing that involves nonhuman lifeforms. This exhibit gives detail to intertwined and mesmerizingly rich stories of interspecies communities. To provide a brighter contrast with familiar human-centred narratives we focus on plant lives. Humans often study plants as resources. Instead, we seek to tell stories about the self-directed lives of plants and relevant ethical questions. The Last of Their Kind focuses on individuals, species and communities facing extinction. Some call these beings ‘endlings’. How should humans study and preserve stories of beings that go away, often forever? Nobody has a complete answer, but we can try to bear witness, record as a lesson, sometimes help. We focus on three different characters. One story follows a group of elders. Another looks at the last representatives of a species. And the last considers a formerly dominant but disappearing community. Engaging with these beings, we use lasers, magnetic fields, and particle accelerators to generate detailed data representations of plant worlds. Applying analytical tools and artificial intelligence to this data, we seek to capture the richness and nuance of behaviours, capabilities and preferences that characterise nonhuman lives. Interspecies stories are hard to narrate. Their characters have evolutionary backgrounds, life histories, capabilities and scales that are not intuitive to humans. Our imaging technologies span from kilometres to microns and expose histories and futures from new perspectives: high above a rainforest, deep within a tree trunk, or only visible in the infrared. These stories attempt to create a narrative world that can support multiple perspectives, including nonhuman. We believe such spaces are a foundation for fairer and more hopeful interspecies futures. Biographies The authorship of this exhibit belongs to Deep Design Lab, a creative collective. The project team includes: Stanislav Roudavski, at the University of Melbourne, researches designs for animals, plants, rivers, and rocks as well as humans. His experiments contribute to knowledge by using scientific evidence and advanced technologies in concert with cultural, political, and historical analyses. Alexander Holland, at the University of Melbourne, investigates the digital and physical characteristics and design opportunities of past and future environments. His experiments expand the reach of participatory design to include nonhuman as well as human inhabitants. Julian Rutten, at Swinburne University of Technology, studies the intersections of culture, nature, and technology. His research focuses on remote sensing and three-dimensional imaging techniques that aim to support more-than-human habitats. Together, the team has extensive design, art and architecture experience with many international exhibitions and publications to their credit. Acknowledgements Biologists: Rebecca Miller, Royal Botanic Gardens Darren Le Roux, Australian Capital Territory Parks and Conservation Service Phil Gibbons, Australian National University Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness, Tasmanian Geographic Imaging specialists: Jay Black, the University of Melbourne Anton Maksimenko, the Australian Synchrotron Image Credits The image of beetle on spathe is from Sayers, T., Steinbauer, M., Farnier, K., & Miller, R. (2020). Dung Mimicry in Typhonium (Araceae): Explaining Floral Trait and Pollinator Divergence in a Widespread Species Complex and a Rare Sister Species. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 193, 375–401. https://doi.org/10/gjkgwx All other images are by the authors.
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    More-than-human Infrastructure for Just Resilience: Learning from, Working with, and Designing for Bald Cypress Trees (Taxodium distichum) in the Mississippi River Delta
    Gordon, BJ ; Roudavski, S (White Horse Press, 2021-09-01)
    Humans design infrastructure for human needs, with limited regard for the needs of nonhumans such as animals and plants. Humans also often fail to recognise nonhuman lifeforms such as trees as fellow engineers designers, or architects, even though the contribution of trees to ecosystem services is well established and their right to justice ought to be recognised. Studies have shown that flood-control infrastructure near the Mississippi River inadvertently left Southern Louisiana more vulnerable to coastal threats. We examine this characteristic outcome and identify infrastructural injustices in multispecies communities. Based on theories in philosophy and design supported by historical analyses, we defend the proposals to extend 1) the understanding of resilience to include more-than-human communities; and 2) the notion of justice to include non-human stakeholders. The reframing in more-than-human terms is already under way in a variety of disciplines. However, these efforts rarely extend into considerations of practical design and have attracted criticism for insufficient engagement with historical processes and the accumulations of power and responsibility. To illustrate these injustices, we trace the history of bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) in the Mississippi River Delta and show how infrastructure impacted the trees. This analysis demonstrates that designs that do not consider the needs of vulnerable stakeholders can cause harm in multispecies communities. In response, we propose that humans can work to improve infrastructural resilience by including humans and nonhumans as collaborators.
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    Respect for Old Age and Dignity in Death: The Case of Urban Trees
    Roudavski, S ; Davis, A ; Hislop, K ; Lewi, H (SAHANZ, 2021-07-01)
    How can humanist principles of respect, dignity, and care inform and improve design for non-human lifeforms? This paper uses ageing and dying urban trees to understand how architectural, urban, and landscape design respond to nonhuman concerns. It draws on research in plant sciences, environmental history, ethics, environmental management, and urban design to ask: how can more-than-human ethics improve multispecies cohabitation in urban forests? The paper hypothesises that concepts of dignity and respect can underline the capabilities of nonhuman lifeforms and lead to improved designs for multispecies cohabitation. To investigate the implications of this ethical framework, we 1) indicate injustices of current management in relation to natural and cultural histories of trees; 2) outline a conceptual framework that includes large old trees as stakeholders in urban communities; and 3) use this framework in a thought experiment with urban trees in Melbourne, outlining comparative design outcomes. Our findings show that the expansion of dignity to include nonhuman life is possible and plausible. Such an extension can justify and encourage design innovation for multiple species and sites. The resulting design practices will lead to improvements by supporting communities of trees at all stages of their life-cycles, including old age, death, and rebirth. This approach requires substantial shifts in accepted thinking and practices including history, ethics, aesthetics, regulation, and education. Design can play a significant role in the necessary transitions by demonstrating tangible and positive outcomes. In this context, history emerges as an essential tool that can extend societal imagination by situating possible future places in the context of ancient and ongoing geological, evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes.
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    Intelligent Lighting Networks
    Roudavski, S ; Yu, T (Future Implied Media Architecture Biennale, event by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht University, and others. 24 June 2 July 2021, 2021)
    This project seeks to address detrimental effects of the environmental light pollution by developing intelligent lighting networks that can support nonhuman as well as human needs. The significance of this research is clear from one dramatic contradiction. On one hand, all life on the Earth has evolved to depend on darkness. Ecological evidence shows that harmful effects of light pollution are pervasive and affect all organisms, including humans. On the other hand, human societies crave more light to maximise economic activities. As a result, artificial sources of light at night are increasing by 6% every year. Codes and standards of current lighting design often fail to acknowledge the environmental impact as evident, for example, in the Australian lighting standards and local-council lighting strategies. Existing design trends do not acknowledge the needs of nonhumans or provide systems that can flexibly adapt to their behaviours. Computational analysis, simulation and interactive visualisation provide opportunities to reassess such approaches. We use these tools to ask how design can address the damaging misalignment of nonhuman needs and human preferences for light. In response, our project claims that computational analysis, simulation, and immersive digital media can combine human and nonhuman input to support better design. To test this proposition, this study 1) assesses scientific evidence on the impact of light; 2) reviews current and emerging lighting designs; 3) develops a conceptual framework for more-than-human design in application to lighting; and 4) tests this framework in a concrete design experiment that considers an intelligent lighting network for characteristic urban sites. Our results demonstrate that data-driven simulations, immersive interactive visualisations, and persistent multi-modal input systems can extend design imagination.
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    Forms of Sentience and Future Places
    Brock, D ; Roudavski, S (Urban Assemblage: The City as Architecture, Media, AI and Big Data, event by Architecture, Media, Politics, Society (APMS), University of Hertfordshire, Intellect Press and Parade. 28-30 June 2021, 2021)
    Visions of future cities differ greatly. Techno-optimists imagine greater comfort, better health, and longer lives. By contrast environmentalists foresee extinctions and the twilight of consumer civilisations. Whatever the outcome, the technological acceleration will continue to affect the lives of city dwellers, human and nonhuman. This situation calls for further research into capabilities for just resilience in the context of inclusive, more-than-human communities. The approach of this project is to review this challenge through the lens of sentience. Sentience is a contested concept that integrates ecological and technical concerns. Thus, its exploration can challenge existing anthropocentric frameworks and propose novel research directions. Existing discourse on sentience in humanities, engineering, and biological sciences is extensive but disjointed. This disunity results in the exclusion and disregard of sentient agents, existing and emerging. This is particularly apparent in the damaging anthropocentric bias of current design and engineering. In response, this project considers the roles sentience in future cities. It hypothesises that an understanding of sentience as a more-than-human, relational, and distributed phenomenon can promote interspecies justice. To test this hypothesis, we begin with an outline of biological sentience in humans, animals, and other lifeforms. We then compare biological sentience with forms technological sentience in robots and intelligent devices. The last steps of our analysis explore how these forms of sentience can combine in the context of smart cities and discuss implications for human and nonhuman stakeholders. Using project examples, we compare existing conditions, within emerging trends, and long-term forecasts. The outcomes of this review emphasise the importance of ecocentric foundation for further research into nonhuman lives and interspecies communities. Further study of interspecies communities is important as a source of learning about nonhuman subjectivity, cognition, sentience, intelligence, and knowledge that will be crucially important as contributions to the necessary design of future cities.
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    Interspecies Design
    Roudavski, S ; Parham, J (Cambridge University Press, 2021)
    Design is a distinct form of practice with a typical focus on human aspirations for products, buildings, infrastructure, urban spaces, services and land use. As such, design affects all planetary environments, societies and the capabilities of individual humans. This chapter begins by establishing design as both a force responsible for the current situation and a primary concern of the future. Next, the chapter uses cities as a characteristic example of significantly modified habitats that are simultaneously biological and cultural. The cultures within such habitats combine the behaviours and traditions of many lifeforms. Consequently, the chapter argues that design approaches to the management of future habitats – conceptualised as ‘interspecies design’ – must engage with non-human as well as human cultures. This has implications for theoretical and practical engagements with the Anthropocene, pointing to the significance of design and the need for a transformation of design practices.
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    Sentience and Place: Towards More-than-Human Cultures
    Brock, D ; Roudavski, S ; Ross, C ; Salter, C (Printemps Numérique/ISEA, 2020)
    Expectations for the future can differ greatly. Some await a technical utopia that will support harmonious and easy lives. Others predict a global ecosystem collapse that will threaten the future of humans as species. Both camps make appeals to sentience in support of their stories. Addressing this discordance, this paper combines narratives in ecology and technology to ask what roles sentience might play in future places. In response, it hypothesizes that an understanding of sentience as an inclusive, relational and distributed phenomenon can promote more-than-human cultures and contribute to the wellbeing of heterogenous stakeholders on the Earth and beyond. To test this hypothesis, the paper outlines biological understandings of sentience (as applied especially to humans, animals and other lifeforms), contrasts them with the interpretations of sentience in artificial entities (including robots and smart buildings), gives an example of attempts at sentience in architectural design and discusses how sentience relates to place. The paper’s conclusion rejects the dualism of technophilic and biophilic positions. As an alternative, the paper outlines sentience as a foundation for richly local more-than-human cultures that have intrinsic value and can help in the search for preferable futures.
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    Multispecies Cohabitation and Future Design
    Roudavski, S ; Boess, S ; Cheung, M ; Cain, R (Design Research Society, 2020)
    How should humans live with animals and other forms of life? Could responses to this question improve the health and wellbeing of the biosphere? This paper argues that design researchers ought to engage nonhuman lifeforms as collaborators: informants and co-designers, or clients and users. Inspired by recent design challenges involving birds, bats and trees, this paper positions emancipatory multispecies cohabitation as a goal that can alleviate ongoing biodiversity losses and human-wildlife conflicts, in cities and beyond. It opens an interdisciplinary conversation by translating emerging scholarship in ethics, politics, and aesthetics to a narrative about desirable more-than-human cultures. This discussion has significant implications and can help to inform regulation, instrumentation, and pedagogies of future design.