Urban Hybrids, daylighting & pigeons (not hybrid pigeons though)

Recent visits to a daylighted brook set me thinking about regeneration, architecture and nature, and recalling a paper I’d read years ago, which to be honest I didn’t really understand at the time. Strange how some writings have a habit of lying dormant in the mind, in wait for the right opportunity to resurface. This sight of pigeons roosting in the sockets that previously acted as the footings for steel joists, providing the support for an old culvert roof, brought to mind a piece of work by architect Xiang Ren on hybridisation.

Deculverting image copyright Tom Wild

Sadly, the paper can’t be found online anymore, but I found a few extracts, as follows. In his design research proposal ‘A hybrid building for place-specific resilience… blue loop hybrids’, Ren (undated) poses the question: ‘”o what extent can urban architecture evolve into a more resilient form – the potential harmony and resilience between nature and the artificial”.

Xiang Ren notes that the term ‘hybridity’ was first put forward in relation to architecture as ‘an effort to provoke thoughts towards the spatial and programmatic renewal of American cities’ (Holl, 1980), and as a typology for mixed-used buildings… and an architectural morphology. He goes on to note that an important part of urban hybridization emerged by the coupling of landscape design and city making: ‘landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism’ (Leatherbarrow, 2011).

For me when this really gets interesting is the point at which the individual structures are considered in relation to the wider network of infrastructures – including blue-green infrastructure: ‘urban artefacts… as a hybrid of artificial ecology form part of the ‘patch-corridor-matrix’ model (Forman, 1995) for resilience, spatially meshing natural process and human activities on land, and drawing on the perspective of ‘cities of evolution’ first addressed by biologist Patrick Geddes (Geddes, 1915).

In other words, what is the relation between a ‘site’ for urban wildlife, and the wider ecological network? How important is one link in the chain? Does its value depend solely on its context – i.e. the state of the rest of the network? Have we gone too far in thinking that biodiversity must be considered within these networks or catchments? Or does that just reinforce a status quo of preservation of ‘natural’ (for natural, read rural) sites as being more valuable than the urban? I like this sentiment in Ren’s paper: What new hybrid structure can evolve an ecological catalyst to activate a new type of wildlife habitat for the place-specific?  How can urban nature conservation move forwards without such catalysts?

Worth noting that Geddes was a contemporary of Abercrombie, the modernist responsible for Sheffield’s (1924) radial network of riverside parkways. Just sayin’ 😉


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