Brief Overview of Proposed Project:

Ancestors of Civita illustrates the tale of three distinct class of animals as they inhabit the town of Civita di Bagnoregio in a parallel universe void of humans.  By overlaying the patterns of our animal ancestors onto the existing fabric of Civita, we will explore unique examples of adaptive reuse and sustainability through vignette collages and writings. These visionary tales of Civita, through a biocentric lens, will inspire more interest in our natural world and  how we humans can better adapt to the environments we choose to inhabit.

Full Description of Proposed Project:

Ancestors of Civita was born out of our interest in nature, architecture, and storytelling. The mystique of this isolated hilltop town and visitors’ stories of the “dying city” conjured ideas of alternate possibilities for this unique place that are indeed void of humans.  Specifically, the project delves into concepts of adaptive reuse, sustainability, and biomimicry by examining the patterns and methods of survival in non-human species. These mythic tales will explore how other species would develop this town in radically new ways specific to their evolutionary strengths. In considering all forms of life as having intrinsic value, we seek to create parallel worlds that will illustrate the value of seeing a built environment through the lens of a species that has very different considerations and values than our own.

Similar to The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins, a pilgrimage backwards through time describing animal evolutionary lineages, our study will illustrate the stories of three distinct classes of animals as we speculate and imagine their lives in Civita.  Their transport, methods of construction, food supply and social interactions serve as the inspiration for transforming the town. As we are fascinated by animal communities the employ unique methods of creating their physical environments, we were led to select the termite (Insecta), the bird (Aves), and the spider (Arachnida). Given further research, other classes may be considered or those already chosen may take on orders or families specific to Central Italy.  The following outlines characteristics and concepts that will strongly impact the developing scenes of each tale.

Tale of the Termites – tunneling (subtraction), accretion (additive), eusocial communities
Tale of the Birds – flight, nests (salvaged materials), communal roosting
Tale of the Spiders – web (tensile structures), liquidized food supply, solidarity

To investigate characteristics of the selected species, we will collect data, photos and specific examples of animal habitats that either relate to or have directly informed how we build.  Though this project involves conceptual leaps in imagining, the possibility for discoveries in biomimicry and sustainability are significant and currently informing structures today. For example, the recently completed Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe by architect Mick Pearce and engineers Arup Associates has no conventional heating or air conditioning, yet stays regulated throughout the year while using substantially less energy.  Its inspiration was taken directly from African termites and their giant self-cooling earth mounds. Similarly, our research will commence  by generating a library of examples like this one where the design has been largely impacted by other species in nature.  The research process will also involve collecting material from previous NIAUSI fellows that could strongly influence the direction of these tales. Already, we have been in contact with Dan Corson whose study of the subterranean spaces of Civita could potentially impact the Tale of the Termites.  We will begin writing and sketching each tale on the basis of how we expect the unique adaptations of each animal to transform Civita.

Once at Civita, our efforts will be focused on observing and photographically documenting overall views of the town, as well as the most compelling urban spaces to illustrate the selected tales.  At night, these photos will take on new life as we use photomontage techniques, collages, and drawings to convey novel patterns of function, material, deconstruction, and the potential of a rapidly multiplying population of another species.  These tales will take different turns based on what we learn of the existing habits of local species.  Are the pigeons in the San Donato bell tower, for example, carving out nests or salvaging nearby plant material?  A willingness to let the tales evolve based on our observations in Civita will offer the most interesting and diverse possibilities


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