Multispecies Neighbourhoods: Agriculture, architecture, and more-than-human settlement. 

The present biodiversity crisis is often framed as a struggle to preserve untouched nature. Yet researchers have recently shown that as much as three quarters of the earth’s terrestrial surfaces have been occupied and shaped by humans for more than 12000 years. Humans are not ‘separate to’ but ‘part of’ nature. We have, until very recently, lived in ways that were neither urban, nor rural, natural nor cultural, but in a diverse set of ecosystems that included human and non-humans in symbiosis. 

In this installation the architect and researcher Matthew Dalziel explores the close histories of agriculture and architecture and the possible near futures where our neighbourhoods and our human ecosystems at large, are much more radically integrated with nature and other species than we currently envision them. The installation explores the neighbourhood as this kind of symbiosis.

A seed structure made of local straw and clay represents a kind of proto-architecture. Inside a forest of edible and beneficial species is growing. A thriving man-made multispecies neighbourhood that suggests a very different and very old way of thinking about how we live and who we live with. 

What makes a ‘good’ neighbourhood? Is it the lively performance of relations between residence? The ever-evolving negotiation of practices, objects, expressions, and responses – a feeling of belonging and solidarity? Is it a place that engenders feelings of pride and generosity, and a desire to engage in practices of care? If so, how might we equip ourselves to better imagine and realise such places? 

Despite our long-cultivated divide between nature and culture we seem to do well when we look to nature for lessons. Indeed, the balance and reciprocity of ecosystems has much to tell us about complex assemblages and sites of lively cohabitation – but these wild ecologies have no place in the city. For the urban planner the wilderness ethic does not offer much for the drawing board, and we cannot simply rewild our cities. 

As the social sustainability of our cities and ecological sustainability of our plant continue to reveal themselves as deeply entangled, we find ourselves in need of new imaginative tools for urban design. Since the earliest citadels of civilisation, the garden has been the place of negotiation between nature and culture – and the gardener its careful steward. In this installation for OAT22 the courtyard at the old Munch Museum explores the garden, and the gardener not simply as resources for greening our cities or providing respite from the concrete jungle, but as places and practice of knowledge that have much wider application for human life-ways than vocational gardening. 

The developer as gardener, the planner as gardener, the architect as gardener, and of course the citizen as gardener are all fruitful characters to imagine. These characters, one imagines, could provide local knowledge and site-specific care, could increase diversity, and celebrate symbiotic and sympathetic relationships, could engender the frugal and resourceful tendencies of circularity, nurturing a multiplicity of life-ways through a constant cycle growth and decay. This type of urban actor might manage complexity without seeking to control it, might allow for chance and celebrate the unexpected. Through these tendencies the urban gardener has much to offer in answer to the call of mission neighbourhood and the wider challenges of human settlement and sustainability. 

After life: 

All the materials used in the exhibition are bioregional sourced and biologically based. Clay, Lime, sand, gravel, hemp, straw, soil, compost, woodchip, and plants. The Oso Architecture Triennale is now closed, and the forest has gone into hibernation. In the spring all 30 species of plants will be moved to a new food forest project in eastern Oslo tended by Atelier Dalziel @opposalmatskug. The trees will be planted in this garden and all materials from the structure composted and fed to the trees. 

Designed by: Atelier Dalziel 
Built by: Matthew Dalziel and Ask Holmen 
Plants by: Efferus 
Photography by: Are Carlsen
previously published on dezeen