UK / 2018
From Sparrow Speculations
Sparrow Speculations consists of a prototype intervention in pursuit of the amplification of birdsong.
Anyone engaged in contemporary ecological & environmental discourse will know that human pollution causes a lot of problems for other non-humans existing on this planet. Chemicals in the air and in the water consistently make other living creatures sick and in many cases kills them. Urban sprawl leaves fewer and fewer places for them to live and now, apparently it seems, even the noise we humans create causes animals to suffer in previously unknown ways. Wouter Halfwerk, a behavioural ecologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands and his colleagues have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences demonstrating that some birds find themselves forced to change their mating songs as they compete with noise pollution. This results, in some cases, in the male birds being cheated on by their supposed mates. Further to this, several other biologists report that anthropological noise pollution leaves chicks malnourished, as their parents cannot hear them begging for food. Many birds are also struggling to hear predatory alarm calls, warning them of imminent danger and therefore leading to higher deaths from predation. This is not shocking or unusual, but utterly typical of a society that poisons the air we breathe, has extinguished the stars with artificial light, and builds parking lots on paradise every day of the week. It demonstrates how deaf we are to the beauty of nature: that we will sacrifice birdsong (proven to enhance our emotional wellbeing) rather than find alternatives to noisy, polluting transportation. It reveals just how intolerant we are of urban nature.
Sparrow Speculations, an architectural prosthetic, is a speculative design piece that responds to reports from biologists & ornithologists such as those mentioned previously. The cone acts as an ‘amplification tool’, allowing birds to have agency and control over the volume of their calls. Over time, perhaps the birds would adapt to use the cones as an evolutionary tool, aiding them in mitigating the unstoppable effects of urbanisation.
According to the UK’s 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird or to take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. Sparrow Speculations in the present time would likely not comply with the Wildlife & Countryside Act, highlighting the often unseen tensions between the built environment and wildlife habitat loss. Beyond these legal restrictions, political, ethical and ideological considerations are in play too. It is the work’s aim to approach this grey zone and question how far our interventions in nature should or must go, in order to protect those species that are most at risk. Is it the responsibility of the designer, the architect or the city planner to integrate wildlife into these spaces
HYPHEN 2017 Sparrow Speculations exhibited at The Old Truman Brewery, Shoreditch, London. Part of the Goldsmiths BA Design degree show, Summer 2017.
Lund University, Sweden
University of Shefflied, UK
Goldsmiths University of London