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9

Parasite 2.0

Who’s the better architect


The human habitat

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. 10

Antonio Averlino, image from his Treatise on Architecture

In the same manner as in the meme discussed above, a sort of primordial meme created by the Renaissance master Antonio Averlino, better known as Filarete, in his Treatise on Architecture has resulted in a series of reflections on the project through the juxtaposition of two images. In the first drawing, a naked man stands on a floating rock. He seems shocked as he holds his hands over his head to protect himself from a storm. In the second drawing, we find a primitive architecture of logs and branches. Filarete represents the moment that Adam, banished from Paradise, confronts the violence of nature and gestures toward the creation of shelter – attributing the realisation of the primitive hut to the First Man. The drawings underline how architecture, expressed as the realisation of shelter, is at the base of Western ideas of humanity. It is primordial and primary in the eternal struggle between man and nature; it is the human artefact that gave birth to the violent distinction between what is natural and what is artificial. But the idea of nature itself is a human artifice. Western culture has a particular meaning for it, one that is completely different from other cosmologies. McKenzie Wark writes that “any history of the concept of nature would be a history of western civilisation itself.” It is complex: it can mean “the quality inherent in a thing” or “the force that directs the world. Or the world itself.” It is imprecise: it can “include or exclude the human.”11 The idea of nature exists when difference exists, in the moment that shelter is realised. There is no natural without the artificial. In Western thought, the concept of nature itself is created to build difference – it places man at the center, but outside of nature, with architecture as his pedestal, his castle. But who exactly is this man? Is his anthropocentrism for all humans?
The modalities we have used so far to shape our habitat reflect this anthropocentrism, perfectly expressed in Le Corbusier’s Modulor or in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. The “ideal normative body" becomes the only dogmatic element with which we shape the world12. The man that this formulation of the world is based on, however, is not only Western but is also distanced from “others.” It excludes any form of life “outside” of him, that is, animals, plants, and most living beings: women, children, and anyone who doesn’t ascribe to gender norms altogether. Today, it has become a necessity to rethink the human habitat and overtake the standards impressed on the contemporary world. What is the new Modulor? Do we really need it at all? How can we rethink new non-anthropocentric standards or the human habitat as not just for humans? Challenging the hierarchy of natural and artificial allows us to reevaluate other Western-centric actions, ideas, and hierarchies – between human bodies, between humans and other living creatures, but also between humans and their habitats.

Over the centuries human culture, and in particular its affirmation through architecture, has imposed a sharp split with nature, or with what this concept represents. In the same way that the concept of the East was created in order to differentiate from the concept of the West, man literally created the concept of nature through a proper method of division: everything that did not belong to the human sphere, or that did not exist in function or on its behalf, was considered nature. Man, by colonising and shaping the entire planet, by imposing himself on his fellow beings and on other living species, by leading to the extinction of many of them, gave life to his personal habitat according to precise norms and standards: what today we can easily define as the habitat of a society prepared to consume any product. In this sense, would looking at the animal and its habitat, mean denying the supremacy of the standard and the norm, revising the concept of anthropocentrism and relocating the human being within the "natural things"?

The animal as a product

More young people are watching Planet Earth 2 than The X Factor. Sir David Attenborough thinks children are learning that their future is linked to that of the environment.13


Cover of movie Nanook of the North by Robert J. Flaherty

On September 4, 2006, Stephen Robert Irwin, better known as The Crocodile Hunter, died in front of his cameraman's lens after being hit by a stingray in the heart. Irwin was busy filming Ocean's Deadliest. The Crocodile Hunter had achieved international fame through the eponymous television series which began airing in 1996. The series became an archetype of the ‘Wildlife Documentary’ genre which recounts stories "about animals, plants, or other non-human living creatures, usually concentrating on films taken in their natural habitat but also often including footage of trained and captive animals". Despite the first examples dating back to 1922 with the film Nanook of the North by Robert J. Flaherty14, in recent years a great proliferation of the genre can be witnessed, with the iconic Planet Earth II, taking one of the top spots within the list of most viewed programs in England in 2017. Wild Discovery, Predators, or The Life of Mammals are just some of the latest TV Shows dedicated to a natural environment and its animals that appear ever more distant. Although the genre was born with an educational profile, in many cases we can recognise a desire to anthropomorphise the subject. Just perhaps the distance built has led us to this form of perverse fetishism for a wild, violent nature, which perhaps in some cases no longer exists.

The circus is the emblem of this desire. Wild animals, considered "exotic", belonging to habitats thousands of miles away and not anthropised, are transferred and tamed to become objects of pleasure for man: elephants doing acrobatics on two legs, bears on bicycles, lions and tigers. Surely also zoos are no lesser if we talk about the commoditisation of animals, and not only. Noteworthy is an episode which occurred at the Bronx Zoo in 1906, in which Ota Benga, a Congolese man from the Pygmy populations of Mbuti, was exposed in a cage together with monkeys. In that case, it was not only the animals which were presented as an attraction, obviously locked up behind iron bars to avoid their escape and direct interaction with "men", but a human being was "exposed" as well, simply because he was considered different and coming from a habitat alien to that of the so-called "civilised man".


Naked and Afraid tv show

Completely opposite examples can also be found, which also deal with the commercialisation and the spectacular nature of the different: reality shows in which man is catapulted into environments which while completely natural, are extremely hostile to him or her. The most emblematic and extreme case of these reality shows is ‘Naked and Afraid’ broadcast for the first time on the Discovery Channel in March 2017. The programme consists of a couple, a man and a woman, perhaps referencing Adam and Eve, which are are abandoned naked and without any tools in a wild natural environment where they must manage to survive for 21 days. 

Their journey starts from the construction of a shelter. The show is full of clichés and preconceptions inherited from the idea that Western man has built on the relationship between educated man/wilderness over the years, and the baggage of knowledge with which we deal with emergencies, where a whole series of elements, instruments and tools that are necessary for our life are now missing. Here, nature and the presences that live in it, correspond to a subject that no longer has to be shared with man. An idealised enemy who tests the human species and its survival. An environment that must be anthropised at all costs, on pain of death. This is a warning, transmitted in televisions around the world, to the dangers of nature herself, where the solution can only be the use of the tools that the human species has developed precisely to combat and conquer nature.
This attitude is clearly identifiable in the shipwreck par excellence, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. In the version filmed in 1954 by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel, one of the greatest exponents of the surrealist movement, some aspects of the story were emphasised in extreme ways, while others were completely missing: i.e. focusing only on the events following the shipwreck. With very different intentions from the English Enlightenment ideals of the fable’s creator Defoe, Buñuel seems to focus on the emphasis on the violent characters of history, highlighting how Robinson Crusoe reproduces the structures of Western man even in emergency conditions. We find the first critical points brought to light by the director precisely in the manner in which he builds his refuge, placing attention on the architecture of the shipwreck. The same themes can also be found in ‘Intolerance: Simon of the Desert’, also from Buñuel, in which the hermit saint is placed on a column in the middle of a desert, as if to witness the ruin of the emblem of Western democratic society, with its trilithic system. The refuge of Bunuel’s Crusoe shows a series of features more extreme than other representations, due to its nature as a fortress. The fence being very high is a testament to the total detachment from the rest of the island, which for Crusoe is necessary only to provide him with what he needs in order to survive. He has no relationship with his fauna except to distract himself, so as to have the company of his faithful domesticated animals. In the film Crusoe literally claims that "the most urgent of my problems was to protect myself from animals and savages", while building his large enclosure.

The anthropomorphisation process

Defoe's literary work is just one of countless contemporary artistic expressions that have investigated the relationship between man and nature. Going back in time, this time by millennia, amongst the first forms of art we encounter in human history, are the rupestrian graffiti inside caves. On these walls made of rock, animals and their relationship with humans are the main focus of these drawings. In a synthesis of extreme symbolism, the cave artists tell of the  hysicality of these living beings with whom they found themselves sharing the world. John Berger begins his journey in the evolution of the animal-man relationship, precisely by referring to cave graffiti in "Why do we watch animals?" The intent of the author in this short essay does not seem so much to explore the animal world, but to rediscover man himself by observing his relationship with the animal. The focus of the analysis is the relationship between man and nature. An essential aspect of this is the construction of a surrogate of the natural world and of the animals within it, where “[o]wning domestic animals, which we keep amongst us independently of their usefulness, is part of the recollection of human beings around the fireplace, the withdrawal in the family unit, decorated and furnished with fetishised relics of the outside world. [D]omesticated animals fall into this category. "The hearth, a central element of the human shelter, is a primordial architecture and becomes the container of these fetishes. These talismans of the external world are shaped in our image and likeness. The animal presence becomes an obsession with its disappearance from the life of man, but this time it comes in the trained version, tamed and normed, or from the fierce spectacle of a big screen which seems to come from another planet. Images that are sourced a great distance away from our reality, and in some cases are presented with humanlike features like in manga and cartoons. And it is precisely in this context that another process also takes place: anthropomorphism. One of the most renowned examples of this process takes place in August 1948, when Walt Disney went on vacation to Alaska with his daughter. Struck by the beauty of Alaskan nature, Disney decided to develop a series of documentaries by requesting the assistance of Alfred G. Milotte and Elma Milotte, two documentary film-makers of the time. From that point on, every Disney movie released was accompanied by the production of a nature documentary. 
The collaboration’s product, the ’True-Life Adventures’ series resulted very successful and won several awards.

Disney's interest in nature most likely had several implications in the work of his animation production house. If, as mentioned earlier, the documentary format leads to a kind of anthropisation of nature, Disney takes the next step: anthropomorphising other species by bringing them closer to ours. All his cartoons, which have become mainstream or cult hits in the world of animation, brings the nature of animals closer to that of humans, therefore the "presumed" feelings of other species, guide to human-like actions. By 1928, the ‘father’ of all animated characters is a mouse. Mickey Mouse was inspired by a real mouse found by Disney in his own home; and as the animation giant exclaimed “I grew particularly fond of one brown house mouse”. For him that mouse had become a pet, it had been domesticated. This process is ever-present and plays a fundamental role especially in the creation of products for children. We use the images of other species by moulding them to our image and likeness for our purposes. Anthropocentrism leads to anthropomorphism; from the way we represent the animal world, to the objects or architectures dedicated to the domesticated animal.

Cover of a Disney comics

In an article published in ‘Not’, when referencing Berger, Matteo De Giuli asks "what happens when anthropomorphism becomes the only narration that we apply to the animal world?"15 The author tells a story of a regular day, in which he came across the storefront of a butcher, and he realised that the mascot is a pig dressed as a butcher slicing a piece of ham. A pig is given the appearance, and made to perform actions characteristic of man, while his equal has been granted the role of being a piece of ham. De Giuli returns to Berger and his reflections on the world of Disney, by bringing forward a conversation extracted from a comic book, in which one of the nephews suggests to uncle Donald Duck to go for a walk and go watch the birds, creating a situation on the edge of the paradox, in which "a duck-human who, in order to alleviate the wear and tear of modern life, the bills, the work, the deadlines, goes for a ride around nature to watch the wild duck-ducks which fly away."


Kim Kardashian on her snapchat profile

This approach has been abused also for gaining popularity. In one of the millions of selfies shared by Kim Kardashian on social media platforms, the queen of contemporary celebrities frames herself enveloping her dog in her arms which is wearing a dress. In a second selfie we find the same dynamic present, but the roles have been reversed. This time Kim shows off some fantastic virtual dog ears thanks to the use of one of the latest face recognition apps. This logical short-circuit can reach extremely high levels, to the point that the dress worn by your dog may have been produced by the ‘Posh Puppies’ dog boutique, where dogs can also adhere to the "master" lifestyle instead of the regular subordinate role they have. The boutique’s website offers apparel, beds, collars and toys for various occasions and styles: from birthday dresses to casual, from bathing to cheerleader suits. The website’s slogan is "for the distinguished doggie". If the domesticated animal is forced to wear the clothes of man, sometimes man takes the role of the animal as well (as it is shown by the case of Snapchat filters). Perhaps even more emblematic is the case presented by Pornhub, which in addition to offering a category where we can find cartoon sex between animal-like humans, or filmed footage of humans dressed as animals having sexual relations, has launched a campaign to help pandas reproduce on National Panda Day.The initiative titled “Panda Style”16 consists in the donation of $100 to associations dealing with the protection of pandas, for every uploaded video of sexual intercourse while wearing a panda costume. The videos were then to be used to increase the sexual desire of real pandas that are not very inclined to mate. If the two worlds continually intertwine by adopting elements of one another, this coming together actually shows an increase in distance, through a process that simply seems to anthropomorphise the world around us.

The animal architectures

How can these discourses be brought back to the context of habitat, architecture or any type of artefact creation? If we go back to John Berger we are offered an interesting reading key where the parallels between man and animal touch on aspects related to the formation of space. The author explains that the zoo, with its cages and its subdivisions by species, can be read as a symbol of total exclusion, which also affects mankind. The logic of isolation within zoos is reproduced, or perhaps anticipated, by the logic of subdivision of the normed urban space, with ghettos, slums or with prisons and mental hospitals. This process is preceded but at the same time is present before what he calls disneyfication. It is generated by a proper industry that provides substitutes for the natural world.

But what happens when while he is anthropising nature, man is forced to deal with other species? On the island of Alicudi, part of the Aeolian archipelago off the Sicilian coast there are no asphalted roads and electricity has been in common use only since the 1990s. The small population of the island, which rarely exceeds the one hundred mark as a temporary number linked to summer tourism, lives in very few houses located in the steep slopes of the island of volcanic origin. The configuration of the island and its light forms of anthropisation, make the life of its inhabitants extremely tied and dependent to an animal: the mule. The mule, widely used in mountainous areas in the Mediterranean area, is a cross between donkey and mare. This mix makes it the perfect animal for traveling on steep slopes and gravel paths, while transporting various kinds of materials. When one arrives in Alicudi, even if they are just a first-time tourist, only with the assistance a mule can their suitcases and food supplies be transported to the house where their holidays are planned. Life in the island habitat and in the methods of anthropisation that have characterized it, is dependent on the use of this animal; meanwhile the very survival of this animal, or better, of this cross between different animals, is dependent on its use in such conditions. The characteristics of a place, its modes of anthropisation, and the survival of specific animal species are often extremely linked and interconnected. While walking through the paths composed of steps (the only infrastructure of the island) we soon realise that the proportions of the steps, more than calibrated on human measurements, are based instead on the donkey’s gait. The habitat is shaped for the animal. Cohabitation in this case leads away from speciesism, and survival becomes an issue of symbiosis, to the point where we can even modify our tendency to anthropomorphise.
In some cases it is just the opposite, as presented in the book Darwin comes to town. How the urban jungle drives evolution. The author Menno Schilthuizen analyses how some species have undergone physical and biological changes as a result of their need to adapt to the city, in an attempt to adapt to life in the anthropised space of the metropolis. This leads them to face new stages of evolution, arriving in some cases to new species, creating a different lineage from the predecessors that still reside in their original habitats.
One of the examples is the blackbird. Typical of the woods, the animal began to spend winters in the city, until it lengthened its stay in the spring, and then began to reproduce and inhabit the city permanently. Some specimens turned into proper urban birds. A series of studies conducted by biologists have recognised significant changes in the urban version of the bird, so much so as to hypothesise the existence of a new species evolving from Turdus Merula to Turdus Urbanus.17 Urban life has altered a series of physical parameters of the bird, particularly in the beak, which is shorter and stockier than the forest specimen. This change seems to be due to the ease with which the bird can get food in the city, without having to pierce and dig out with its beak. The second noteworthy parameter is the variation in the bird’s song and chirping. The noises of the city have made the frequency and the tone of the bird, different from the specimens that live in the woods.18 The urban habitat and its various needs have therefore led the animal to change and alter its biological essence, until it eventually becomes a new species. The city, with its new ecologies composed of an infinity of different elements, artificial and natural, from the atmospheric, visual, or acoustic pollution, have completely altered the habits and evolutionary paths of animals. If this process has been able to bring about fundamental changes in urban animals; then also man, by modifying his habitat and imagining new solutions that reevaluate the relationship between him and what we call nature, will be able to arrive at new stages of evolution as a species.

In order to reexamine the human habitat through a critical reading, in 1977 the architect Bernard Rudofsky, also began to look at animal architecture in The Prodigious Builders. The goal was to take a critical stance on aspects of the human habitat, therefore to provocatively affirm the opposite of the meme from which we started: that the animal is a better architect than man. If in Architecture Without Architects Rudofsky begins to react to the reasons and the usefulness behind the design of modernism, in this text the author goes even further. If in his days the reactions to modernism were trying to rediscover the classical order, Rudofsky went so far as to question the need for an architect, and the reason for his existence in the world. He does this by focusing first on animals and then on the vernacular, which as in the shelter of a mountain bird, seems to come from the rocks themselves. The author opens the text with a provocative quote from Seneca:  "That was a happy age, before the days of architects, before the days of builders". Within the book Rudofsky gathers a collection of images ranging from bird nests and bee hives, alongside vernacular architectures such as those of Dale Dogon Cliffs or Pakistan; stating that "whereas man is unable to shape a tool or build a house without previous experience, most animals have an innate sense of construction.” Irene Cheng has followed the traces of the bibliographic references of the text discovering a great variety of discourses that revolve around animals’ architecture— from William Paley to Charles Darwin to William James. According to the author, at the center of this discourse we find a series of question marks: "Why do animals build? Was it instinct or intelligence that propelled spiders, birds, bees, and beavers to construct their wonderful creations? The answer of course, had everything to do with that other burning question of the nineteenth century: What distinguishes animals from humans? The debates about animal architecture and consciousness were thus also disputes over the nature of the human mind.”19

Beaver tale

But if we go back and have a look at pet architecture, we see once again the human desire to anthropomorphise the animal. The dog lives in the doghouse, which emulates the shape of a human house. The animal sleeps and rests inside an object which exactly follows the archetype of the human shelter, with a trilithic system and a pitched roof— the Primitive Hut depicted by Abbot Laugier. On the other hand, there is also an example of an architecture from the animal world which has been adapted from man: the beaver and its dams. In The American Beaver and His Work20 by L.H. Morgan, part of the bibliographic references of Rudofsky which were further researched by Irene Chang, the author analyzed some physical characteristics of the animal which are extremely correlated with his capacities and constructive needs. For example, the two large incisors were compared to chisels by the author, and the tail to a trowel which allowed the beaver to compact the mud. Therefore it is in the anatomical structure of the animal that we see its ability to give form to architectures— a case in which "form follows anatomy". All the aforementioned cases show an exchange between two worlds erroneously considered to be separated, in which anthropocentrism leads to an incomplete view of the relationship between man and all other living beings— a view which manifests itself explicitly in the way we shape the spaces and objects we inhabit. As evidenced often, anthropocentrism becomes anthropomorphism (from doghouses to disneyfication), reflecting back our ability to look at the world, at things and at spatial hierarchies only through the eye of man, his norms, and his standards. This aspect is further explored in the image archive created specifically for Comrade Animal.21 The vast majority of the photos in the archive are in fact nothing other than objects or architectures which imitate animals in an extremely simplified, humanised form, reminiscent of the use of animals in the world of cartoons or comics. Through the texts and works created by different artists for this project, our goal was to try to understand how by examining animals, or by attempting to look through their eyes (thus shifting our point of view), we can adapt and review the way we anthropise the planet. We can then build relationships between the different spatial beings than inhabit this planet, then those of any other kind. This means moving from our preferential point of view to learn and coexist in the same space with other species. We believe it is time to take a step forward in evolution. A process where anthropocentrism is certainly the first element in line to be reformed.


[10] Damian Carrington, Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals, Mon 21 May [11] McKenzie Wark, “Bruno Latour: Occupy Earth,” Verso, October 5, 2017.[12] Architectural Theories /// The Modernist Ideology of a Normative Body,” The Funambulist blog.
[13] Christopher Hooton, Thursday 1 December 2016, www.theindependent.co.uk
[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_documentary [15] https://not.neroeditions.com/nostro-sguardo-sugli-animali/
[16] https://it.pornhub.com/video/search?search=panda+style
[17] https://www.nature.com/news/swallows-may-be-evolving-to-dodge-traffic-1.12614
[18] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982206023815
[19] http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/23/cheng.php 
[20] https://archive.org/details/americanbeaverhi68morg
[21] https://www.instagram.com/comradeanimal/

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