One of Washington, DC’s fastest-growing hot spots may be a recreational and culinary boon to DC’s human inhabitants, but it’s a shame for its winged, especially the reclusive American bittern, a native bird that makes its home along the Anacostia.
So when undergraduate architecture student Valeria Lopez conceived a proposed residential enclave for Navy Yard, the Southeast DC neighborhood known for Nationals Park, she considered both district residents and dockside-visiting waterfowl. Her plan, featuring a staggered cluster of mixed-use buildings, buffers the waterfront view with expansive green space and a robust landscaped wetland, transitioning from an urban to an organic atmosphere.
It’s exactly what architecture teacher Sarah Bolivar had in mind for “Animal Occupation,” a new summer studio course that explored the coexistence of humans and wildlife at the intersection of built and natural environments. Using five different ecosystems along the US East Coast, students were asked to design for dense, densely populated areas — from Miami Beach to Maine — each with a special focus on a native species most affected by human activity.
“These coastal areas are prime real estate and often highly developed,” says Bolivar, a landscape architect. “I wanted to challenge students to think about how animals, which have called these places their home long before humans, fit into this new urban ecology. How do we encourage more hybrid spaces despite these limitations?”
Students spent the beginning of the nine-week summer course researching their sites and the animals they wanted to protect, along with both architectural and landscape precedents. They then sketched and experimented with physical models to test ideas that both connect and separate wild and urban areas with design interventions such as strategic placement of communal spaces and passageways that guide human movement.
In Myrtle Beach, SC, students considered the loggerhead turtle, an essential player in the marine ecosystem whose migration from dune nests to the sea is often fraught.
“Baby turtles are easily distracted and particularly vulnerable to human activity,” said Xuan Vo ’24, who elevated her proposed hotel 3.3 meters, creating both a safe place for turtle nests and a captivating observation area for guests. “One of the biggest challenges for them is artificial lighting, which sends them inland instead of out to sea.”
A proposal for Sunset Park on New York City’s coast replaced an old Brooklyn pier with five elevated “public education” docks. The docks featured pedestrian walkways and green space built atop a marine animal education and monitoring center, with direct sightlines to secure roosting areas for horseshoe crabs below. A design for Portland, Maine, would reposition a popular path across the ocean and create an intertidal area that closely links Maine’s outdoor population to its lobster habitats.