Q+A WITH RICHARD WELLER, LA+ CREATURE JURY CHAIR (NON-VOTING)
Q: What led to the LA+ CREATURE theme?
A: The catalyst for the call could be said to be the deepening need for connectivity with the more-than-human world on the occasion of its extinction. More prosaically, ideas competitions—such as LA+ likes to conduct—require themes that are relevant to the zeitgeist and to the design disciplines, and which are also inspirational for participants.
Q: Why the term CREATURE?
A: There were two reasons we favored the term “creature” over something seemingly similar, like “animals.” First, creature encompasses the entire heterotrophic nonhuman world—insects, arachnids, birds, sea creatures, reptiles, and animals in every form and at every time—so it really helps to express the broad scope of this competition. And secondly, creature comes from the Latin creare—to create—which is, of course, particularly apt for a design competition.
Q: The competition brief excludes plant-life as clients – why?
A: Creatures are already more than enough to work with and we felt that adding plants would complicate things from the point of view of judging the competition. Plus, we need to save some things for future competitions!
Q: Why is it important to think about nonhuman creatures within the built environment?
A: I think of urbanization as an emerging, more or less ubiquitous planetary ecology and its one that is murderous for most animals and quite possibly suicidal for us. So to answer the question, the incorporation of the non-human in urbanization means to make urbanization more ecological which is a significant evolutionary development for life on earth.
Q: With the habitat range of creatures differing greatly in scale, how would you approach siting an intervention for your client?
A: It would depend on the chosen client’s needs but I might locate a specific point in time and space within the client’s habitat range, or perhaps take on the whole range and even its future range as the “site.” I think it’s important to not just see the creature in isolation with its own specific geography – all animals are enmeshed in chains of ecological relationships and networks of power so the designer needs, through research, to decide where in those networks is the optimal point to intervene. Also, it’s worth mentioning that not every design response will require a site. I might, for example, design a product to help humans understand the needs of animals better, in which case the site would be irrelevant.
Q: What nonhuman creature would you design for?
A: I’ve always admired the flying foxes (fruit bats) that swoop over Sydney every evening, and the fact that they are perceived negatively and can’t establish their colonies in parks, which are primarily for humans and their dogs, suggests a project to me. Alternatively, I might look at animals caught up in institutional and economic environments such as zoos, abattoirs, or labs. But you might look closer to home, at the humble, the small, the uncharismatic. Every animal has an extraordinary story to tell, if only we would listen.
Q: What role can landscape architects play in breaking down the perceived binary of decimation or protection of nonhuman creatures?
A: Theoretically and actually, landscape architecture occupies the borderlands between the human and the nonhuman and its role in relation to this competition is twofold: on the one hand, by questioning the ways in which humans establish their identity through the delineation of boundaries; and on the other, by purposefully transgressing and reconfiguring these boundaries. However, this competition seeks more than just landscape architectural responses – there is no disciplinary limit to either entrants or the design response, it could be a product or a process or a building or really anything that meets the aims of the brief.
Q: What do you see as the biggest barriers to a more symbiotic relationship between humans and nonhuman creatures?
A: Philosophically, the biggest barrier is the fact that most dominant worldviews (other than animism) still reinforce human exceptionalism. More practically, the problem is that we have so resolutely created a world that is exclusively for humans and, truth be told (if you’ll excuse the pun), humans cry crocodile tears for animals. Most animals are really only tolerated from a safe distance, when they behave on our terms or when they are nearing extinction so designers have to be clever if they are to mediate in viable ways. Paradisical imagery in photoshop just won’t cut it.
Q: The brief calls for entrants to increase empathy towards their creature’s existence; what do you see as the role of empathy in crafting relations between humans and nonhumans?
A: Empathy, in this case, is like a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. Its unreliable, but when it’s all you’ve got you hang on for dear life.