Architecture students in Design III were recently tasked with designing an artificial habitat to meet the needs of specific insects, such as the alfalfa butterfly, hoverfly, leafcutting bee, firefly and green lacewing. To accomplish this, students needed to research their insect and become familiar with its form, biological needs, and movement patterns.

The students also analyzed the relationship of their insect to its environment, paying special attention to “how the spatial characteristics of the insect’s habitat reflect the form, movement patterns, and needs of the insect.” Once these investigations were complete, the students could begin designing a new habitat for their insect.

Professor Anthony Cricchio says, “The project is a good way for students to think about spaces beyond their normal prejudices of a human dwelling and think how spaces are actually used.”

Second year students discuss their experience with the project.

Enriching the Student Experience

The students certainly appreciated the experience: Ashley Darden and Peter Gomez noted that they and their fellow students were surprised and initially confused by the project, but soon discovered that the process of designing a functional dwelling for a given insect greatly sharpened their skills. “They brought us all these dead little insects pinned on little boards and we were like ‘Ok, what does–what does this have to do with architecture?’ and they were like, ‘You’ll find out, keep waiting.’” remembered Darden.

They did indeed find out. Gomez noted that after “working with an insect and working with the wings and the morphology and things like that, you kind of understand that architecture’s present in everyday things, even insects.” Darden and Gomez both noted that they and their classmates were surprised by the amount of time it took to “get from something that was just a bug, and just a habitat” to their final designs.

Students had to develop a functional habitat–Darden’s design, for example, includes a mechanism that heats rotten meat to attract her insect—yet balance that functionality with artistic representations of each insects, its needs, and its movements. Gomez shared, “I really liked that aspect—turning a real thing [functional habitat] into a work of art.”

One stage of the project required students to incorporate discarded objects in to their design, whether by drawing inspiration from them or by including them in the final, to-scale model. Both Darden and Gomez felt that this approach was unusual, but that it had positive effects on their design and design process.

Emphasizing Resourcefulness

“As a designer, as an architecture student, you’re always looking for inspiration everywhere, so it was interesting to turn trash, something that has been thrown away, into something bigger than itself,” said Gomez. This emphasis on resourcefulness is characteristic of the Gibbs College of Architecture and The American School of design that developed at OU in the 1950s and 60s.

The assignment, titled “Tectonic Entomological Investigations,” is an innovative way to challenge students to develop their skills by considering the form and function of unconventional users and designing dwellings to both serve and represent those users. The student were challenged to be resourceful and take inspiration from unusual sources to serve the needs of an insect with whom they were previously unfamiliar.

Visiting professor Francesco Cianfarani reflected that the value of the project rested in the “opportunity to share with students an idea of design that arises from observation and the understanding of the physical and perceptive needs of a very peculiar final user, an insect.” The students certainly rose to the challenge.

Featured drawings and models from the project can be found in the photo gallery below, and additional models are currently on display in Gould Hall.

Photographs by Jacob Cullum