The Haynes Inlet Portal
David Paul Bayles The Haynes Inlet Portal

From façade systems that support microhabitats to infrastructure projects that tackle resilience, housing, and biodiversity in one fell swoop, are some examples of how architects, designers, and researchers are bringing rewilding to the fore.

Ryan Walker

Port Lands Flood Protection Project
Flood protection meets rewilding meets housing in Toronto’s Port Lands project, billed as one of the city’s largest-ever infrastructure initiatives. The scheme—overseen by government agency Waterfront Toronto and reflecting the design vision of Massachusetts-based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates—aims to reroute a river in the city’s industrial Port Lands district to minimize flooding in the event of a major storm. Just as important, it also entails the creation of parks with walking and cycling trails, habitats for animals, and (later) a residential neighborhood that includes affordable units. With the first park set to debut in 2024, the project is on track to be a remarkable transformation for a previously underutilized, polluted area—and a promising model for achieving resilience, biodiversity, and housing goals in a single site.

courtesy CookFox

Bird and Bee Façade
Aiming to marry high-performance ceramics with habitat creation, the Minneapolis- and New York–based studio CookFox Architects and engineers from the international firm Buro Happold turned to terra cotta, developing a product that, according to a CookFox description, accommodates microhabitats for birds, bees, and plants. “The team was inspired to push the boundaries of architectural terra cotta by creating a biophilic screen wall with the goal to support, and educate about, the diverse native ecosystems that thrive in our urban environments,” CookFox senior associate Spencer Lapp, AIA, tells ARCHITECT over email. The modular façade comprises a series of low-fired terra cotta pods inserted into a high-fired ceramic base. Each pod was developed to support a specific life-form: A bee pod contains a collection of 4mm to 8mm tubes perfect for housing stingless bees; a bird pod offers feathered friends a vented, low-fired ceramic nesting chamber; and a planter pod nestles a terra cotta planter within a bottom-watering reservoir. The system’s design is fully customizable, allowing for any arrangement of pods, and aims to “provide a framework for microhabitats that is less prescriptive and more adaptive,” Lapp explains. “For example, seeds may blow in on the wind and start growing in the module’s grooves. Or perhaps eusocial bumblebees take over a bird pod.” After developing the concept as part of the 2020 Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop—a yearly research program to investigate innovative terra cotta applications—CookFox and Buro Happold constructed a full-scale mockup of the system in 2021, with the modular elements produced in Kansas City, Mo. One day, the firms hope, the system will find its way into a built project.

courtesy Zoological Society of London

Rewilding our Cities
Urban rewilding projects can be formidable players in the fight against climate change. So says the Zoological Society of London, a conservation organization focused on restoring wildlife in the U.K. and beyond. According to ZSL’s “Rewilding Our Cities” report, published in September 2022, rewilding “not only provides new ways to engage urbanites with nature … but could improve climate change mitigation and adaptation, reduce disaster risk and pollution levels, and slow down or even help reverse biodiversity loss.” While lead author Nathalie Pettorelli cautions that large-scale projects should be overseen by experts to avoid unintended consequences such as exacerbating unequal access to green space and the spread of disease, she is optimistic about the approach overall. “This is the first report of its kind to lay out a roadmap for rewilding our cities and we believe this is a high-impact solution to jointly address the climate and biodiversity-loss crises in a low-cost, hands-off way,” Pettorelli said in a press release.

The Haynes Inlet Portal
David Paul Bayles The Haynes Inlet Portal

Haynes Inlet
Completed in 2019 as part of a project series called Portals, from Float Architecture Research and Design in Eugene, Ore., the Haynes Inlet is a shelter for multiple species along the shoreline in North Bend, Ore. The installation—one of three such portals—sits in protest along the proposed path of the Pacific Connector Pipeline, a 235-mile gas transmission structure that would impact a cascade of surrounding ecosystems. Although plans for the development were abandoned in 2021, the Float portal remains, a reminder of threats to biodiversity. Appropriating the form of a pipeline, the portal is a tall, tubular pavilion loosely thatched with local rush and tule. One side offers some shelter from rainwater and the other catches rainwater, debris, and nutrients for nonhuman species. “It’s clear that if you put something near land and water, an edge condition with exposure to water and light and shelter, there’s going to be a lot of biodiversity and you don’t have to know what it’s going to be,” explains Float founder Erin Moore, AIA. “You’re just making space for it.” Although a narrow bench sits along the side repelling rainwater—offering expansive views of the surrounding bay—the structure is “very specifically meant to be not just for humans,” Moore says. “[The portal is] meant to shake the way people perceive a place.”

An opossum shelter by Jorge Diego Etienne
John Daniel Powers An opossum shelter by Jorge Diego Etienne

Furnishing Utopia
How can designers expand their practices through care, empathy, and generosity? That was a question underpinning the latest from exhibitor Furnishing Utopia at the 2023 NYCxDesign festival. Now in its fifth cycle, the installation—dubbed “Public Access”—included works from 37 designers spread across 12 countries, all drawing upon “communal values of the Shakers as well as the counter-cultural DIY movement of the 60s and 70s,” according to a description from Furnishing Utopia. Some of this year’s works extend design hospitality to the nonhuman realm, including a geometric shelter for opossums presented by Mexican industrial designer Jorge Diego Etienne and “Bee Eaters,” a decorative habitat for mason bees developed by Grain, a studio in Bainbridge Island, Wash.

This article first appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of ARCHITECT.