Between Human and Animal
The ever-expanding metropolitan regions of North America are complex urban biomes, teeming with a diversity of animal species which often exist at the periphery of our human conscious. It is not until we are confronted by the raccoon living in our chimney or the family of ducks crossing the street, that we begin to acknowledge the synanthropic species who cohabitate alongside us.
Human interactions with animals are influenced by the intrinsically tied factors of control and perception. An individual’s perception of a species informs the degree to which they aspire to control it. Inversely, the established level of control between us and the other, influences our perception towards the animal.
Take these four scenarios for example. The bird in the backyard, separated from the human by a physical boundary, is considered a source of entertainment. If the same bird enters the house, control is lost, and it is suddenly perceived as an intruder. Once the bird is contained within a cage however, it becomes a beloved pet. What happens when the bird occupies the boundary between domestic and wild, establishing novel conditions of cohabitation?
The space of greatest tension between human and animal is the domestic territory of the house. Suburbs are therefore at the front line of the confrontation between humans and synanthropic animals. As woodlots and agrarian landscape are converted into residential communities, highly adaptive animals seek out new habitat opportunities.
Single-family houses and their surrounding domestic environments provide a wide range of opportunities for synanthropic species to nest. Migratory species who overwinter in warmer climates tend to occupy surfaces at the perimeter of the house. For example various species of birds and bats will find shelter under soffits, on ledges, in vents, and even beneath cladding. Alternatively resident species like rodents, some birds, and larger mammals who require warm, sheltered spaces to survive the winter, will seek out volumetric interfaces. Any vulnerabilities in the building enclosure such as vents and chimney openings provide these species with points of entry into heated attic spaces and wall cavities beyond. These conditions unintentionally invite species to cohabitate in unwanted and sometimes dangerous ways. What if instead we rethink the conventional components of the suburban environment to establish mutually beneficial conditions of cohabitation?
Architecture has the ability to establish new boundaries which negotiate scenarios of cohabitation between human and animal. It is an interface which defines conditions of interiority and exteriority, dividing climatic zones, territories, and inhabitable spaces.The materiality and form of walls, windows, roofs, and ornamental details could enable or restrict animals from inhabiting the periphery of the domestic realm. Joyce Hwang argues that, “[w]e must consider the wall not only as a façade, but more significantly as potentially inhabitable membrane that can sponsor the propagation of living organisms.” The fundamental elements of architecture therefore have the ability to take on new meaning beyond aesthetic, structural, and atmospheric devices and provide productive interfaces which delineate space and have the potential to establish new ecological and cultural relationships between human and non-human.
 Hwang, J. (2011, January, 28) A 10-Point Manifesto: Interventions. Presented at Storefront for Art and Architecture as part of the MANIFESTO SERIES: Infrastructural Opportunism.