Gardens hold a bounty of flora and fauna, and FIU Architecture students are building sustainable ways for humans to connect to them all. Through their yearlong graduate seminar and design studio, students in the Master of Architecture program were given the opportunity to utilize their skills to create permanent structures for The Kampong, a nine-acre landscape in Coconut Grove founded by famed botanist David Fairchild and part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
"Working on this project was very hands on and enriching," said student Daniel Gonzalez. "Getting the chance to build something at a one-to-one scale with your own hands felt personal."
Added fellow-student Tyler Oviedo: "Facing the realities of construction and deadlines is very different when you’re putting in physical labor compared to when you’re designing something on a computer. We approached the design taking into consideration the key components of the structure and realized that we’d leave room for randomness and accidents in the forms that decorate the whole structure. Overall, it was a lot of fun.”
The pair's project, titled Lumina, aims to showcase the transformation of a caterpillar into a cocoon and, finally, into a butterfly. The finished piece provides a haven for butterflies to engage with the flora growing within it.
The goal of the students, divided into eight groups, each with a distinct project, was to create sustainable pieces that would provide a means for humans to engage with by the biodiversity of the garden. They researched the plants and animals that live there and then developed structures to invite and immerse visitors in the natural environment. The designs range from benches to walk-in structures and are meant to heighten awareness of the delicate lives of nonhuman inhabitants by providing experiences of reflection, contemplation and meditation – “structures for being in the moment” as Associate Professor and Digital Design Coordinator Eric Goldemberg described the works.
The students' structures also encourage the presence of pollinators. For their project, titled Remnant, students Deepa Sampat, Jadayne Smith and Romie Valencia designed a porus basket-like structure that can hold compost. The compost attracts butterflies and bees as well as insects like ants and worms.
"Working with The Kampong on this project has been an eye-opening experience," said Sampat. "Catering to a miniature yet expansive natural world allowed our group to rethink the process of pollination and the agents involved. We sought to respect both the wonderful environment maintained by The Kampong staff while creating habitats to be taken over by pollinators and plants."
Added Smith: "Our project evolved into a relationship between responsible decay and that which remains. Creating this structure was a worthwhile opportunity to learn and expand upon our skills as designers."
Valencia agreed. "During this process, we learned new design technologies, explored fabrication techniques, studied textile crafts and experienced the challenges of producing a finished product. We truly enjoyed seeing how this project progressed and evolved into what we have today."
The student groups each chose a specific part of the garden for their inspiration, identified the animal and plant species that present there, studied their growth and behavior and the qualities of their habitats and then extrapolated those characteristics into complex three-dimensional forms with elaborate textured materials. During the process, they identified insects that can directly benefit from the structures and created designs that would allow plants to grow within and around them over time. The designs come to life through eco-friendly materials such as wood and fabrics.
"This was an extraordinary opportunity for the students to be able to understand the intense process that goes from speculative drawings to making them a built, physical reality that will encounter visitors to The Kampong and enhance their curiosity, as well as the curiosity of the natural creatures that inhabit the garden" said Goldemberg, their professor. "This design-build project is the first phase of a more-comprehensive plan that will allow the same group of students to evolve their designs into permanent structures for the garden pollinators, guided by the advice and feedback of The Kampong director Dr. Brian Sidoti and his staff."
Goldemberg noted that the very meaning of the word "kampong" in several Asian languages refers to “village,” and that is precisely what the students are collectively building. The vision is a village of art installations that will enhance the communication between humans and nonhumans.