Hidden in Plain Sight: Multi-species Infrastructures in Dense Urban City Centers

Double Happiness

Hidden in Plain Sight is a proposal for a series of urban furnishings doubling as multi-species infrastructures in dense urban city centers. The prototypes are designed by Double Happiness, a collaboration between Nerea Feliz, the author of this paper, (Nerea Feliz Studio) and Joyce Hwang (Ants of the Prairie). As a team, we bring together interests in exploring design as a proactive participant in the environment and as a reflection of socio-cultural values through material expression. Our creative practice focuses on research and design at multiple scales, with interests in the intersections of interior design, architecture, urbanism, and ecology.

In the context of urban space, from our anthropocentric perspective, the notion of “city life” typically signifies the vitality of human life, but rarely does it evoke the idea of “life” more holistically, as a web of diverse and interdependent species. Exhaustive urbanization drastically decreases biodiversity in cities by eliminating the habitats of most native species. The environmental damage of urbanization takes a significantly longer time to recover from than that of agriculture. While we often think of cities as human territory, the reality is that they are home to a multiplicity of life forms. Among the most plentiful and diverse living populations in cities are insects and arthropods. They constitute over 80% of the world’s species population but often elude visible recognition. According to a number of recent studies (Carrington, 2019), 40% of insect species are in danger of extinction in the coming decades. This is eight times faster than the rate of extinction of other species. Butterflies and moths are among the most endangered. Intensive agriculture, specifically the extensive use of pesticides, is the main cause of the decline of this population; however, climate change and urbanization also play an important role.

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A longer version of this essay originally appeared in: Feliz, Nerea. “Urban Interiority in the Athropocene”, Interiority Vol 3, no. 1 (January 2020): 83-96.

* Ecology Consultants:
Rafael Ruiz López de la Cova: Departamento de Cambio Climático, D.G. Sostenibilidad y Control Ambiental, Área de Medio Ambiente y Movilidad, Ayuntamiento de Madrid.
Francisco Jose Cabrero: Biodiversidad, Ecología y Evolución, Facultad de Biología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Dr. José I. Aguirre: Biodiversidad, Ecología y Evolución, Facultad de Biología, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
José Luis Yela García: Profesor Titular de Zoología y Conservación Biológica, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha.

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Hwang, J. (2013). Living among pests: Designing the biosynthetic city. Next Nature, 35. Retrieved from https://nextnature.net/2013/09/living-among-pests-designing-the-biosynthetic-city
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Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, & Ron Milo (2018). The Biomass Distribution on Earth. Edited by Paul G. Falkowski, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ, and approved April 13, 2018. Inside Carrington,D. (2018, May 21). Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study