Wilderhouse: Peculiar Habitats in the Anthropocene

Calvin Feng

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Title Image 01

Historically, animals adapted to survive in our urban environments are able to exploit the abundance of anthropogenic resources in our urban landscapes. For example, the widespread infestation of cockroaches ravaged the United States between the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, exploiting the poor housing conditions and settling in hollow walls in drainage and the imperfections in building construction. Buildings that resemble native cliff habitats provide nesting substrates and shelter for pigeons while the surrounding urban streets are littered reliably with food sources. These species take advantage of the vast array of ecological opportunities found in our urban landscapes, such as the unused or underutilized domestic and urban spaces and the food resources and waste catered by human activity.

Using New Zealand's native long-tailed bat as a case study, this thesis asks, how can the built environment support the inclusion and adaptation of a threatened species?

This thesis looks at 3 planning zones, rural, suburban and urban in the Tamaki Makaurau Auckland region. The design outcomes are presented as a series of 5 design moments across these different zones.

Full Board
Collated image of the five series of design moments


The Riverhead Forest is an urban silvicultural forest where trees are grown, thinned and branches are pruned to maximise the production of timber. With the decline of indigenous forests, the exotic pine forest has become an important roosting habitat for long-tailed bats. The forest follows a silvicultural management regime, meaning that all inhabitants of the forest operate around a system of change, moving from area to area over a 25-year cycle of tree planting, growing and harvesting. This creates an evolving habitat from shrubs to lush forests to barren fields of sticks, leaves and mud.

To the long-tailed bats, tree felling is a vital human system imposed upon this landscape. They avoid dense forests and mainly inhabit along forest edges. The logging of trees opens up riparian corridors important for foraging but also forces them to search for other roosting sites in the forest.

Riverhead Forest

Tomb for the Remains of a Dying Tree

The tomb, a structure that is assembled when dead trees are spared during the harvesting period of the Riverhead Forest silviculture. As the surrounding healthy and mature trees are cut down, the foliage that once sheltered the dead tree decays. All alone, the dying tree stands as a solitary physical structure in a barren, decomposing landscape.

The tomb shelters the dead tree from the harsh predominant winds, maintaining a stable microclimate as microcavities on the tree begin to form and its barks begin to peel. The structure preserves the dead tree, allowing it to slowly hollow out the roosting sites for long-tailed bats.

The dead tree is tied together at five intersections to keep it upright as the outer skin begins to decay, erode, and then shed until, fifty years later, it fully collapses. The tomb is then quickly disassembled and reassembled for the next dying tree, leaving behind its concrete foundations for the other dwellers of the forest to discover and use.

...A year later, a new radiata pine sapling is buried in its place, awaiting the next cycle in this silvicultural forest.

New Crutches Iso 1 100
Crutches Timeline
Timeline for the construction of the tomb


In Pine, Like the Neighbours

In Pine, Like the Neighbours explores how Riverhead forest habitat can persist outside of the Riverhead forest. The design aims to blend in as a dwelling, through statutory regulations like the rest of the neighbourhood composed of the same material. The site chosen is in a future housing zone, that is likely converted into a mixed housing urban zone as a result of the NPS-UD. As such, the relevant standards for this dwelling are: H4.6.4. Building height, H4.6.5. Height in relation to boundary, H4.6.7. Yards, and also challenges H4.6.11. Landscaped area. The placement of a fridge, a fountain and a table is also crucial for the design to satisfy chapters J1 definitions for a dwelling in order to classify under H4.4.1 (A3) for residential activities up to three dwellings per site.

The project also explores the construction of microcavities inside Radiata Pine trees as an alternative method of habitat development, to look into ways that extensive management may create roosting sites for long-tailed bats. Following a cyclical timeline like the Riverhead Forest, this project delays the pruning process and proposes flush cutting to year 25 to allow the microcavities to develop inside the pruned branches. However, this process may take many years to form. As such, the row of trees is also topped to stop growth and allow the barks of the pine to peel creating short-term roosting sites while the long-term roosting sites like the microcavities develop. Finally, each individual tree inside this "dwelling" is tied from tree to tree to allow it to stand for the next seven decades...

Axo Final
Flush Cut Diagram 1 5
Diagram of the construction of microcavities in pine branches using flush cuts as a method for pruning

D28 Riverhead Forest Expansion Overlay

This project is an extension to the Overlays chapter in the Auckland Unitary Plan. The Riverhead Forest Expansion Overlay is a linear line that connects the long-tailed bats which currently reside in the Riverhead Forest, to our Auckland CBD. The location of the overlay is determined by three factors: The linear movement of long-tailed bats during foraging, the avoidance of motorways and areas with high human traffic and finally connecting the many fragmented green suburban spaces including significant ecological areas.

The standards in this chapter include: D28.6.1. Tree spacing and arrangement; D28.6.2. Tree species; D28.6.3. Tree trimming or alteration; D28.6.4. Landscaped area; and D28.6.5. Building height. These standards aim to establish a corridor of known roosts and tree stands and mitigate any adverse human activities within this tree corridor.

The outcome of this overlay chapter is to pave a path of opportunities for long-tailed bats, expand their currently limited habitat, and to potentially discover suburban or even urban landscapes with potentially the right conditions for them to thrive.

Overlay Render
Ovverlay Chapters
Pages inside of the Riverhead Forest Exansion Overlay chapter

House for a Naturalist

The House for a Naturalist follows NZS 3604 timber construction and building regulations inside the Building Code to establish a human-oriented space with moments of cohabitation with outside "vermin" (word for non-human species specified inside the Building Code).

H1 Energy Efficiency under the Building Code informed the enclosed and exposed spaces inside the house, while all remaining functions of the house are located on a flexible and open secondary space within an outer envelope. This excludes services like the tap which cannot be moved.

The laws around E2 External Moisture are split between the outer and inner envelope, where laws around weather tightness are restricted to the outer shell, and vermin-proofing is restricted inside the inner dwelling. Sections G3.3.1 about vermin proofing kitchens are made redundant by an outdoor BBQ as there are currently no specific nationwide laws governing BBQs inside homes.

House Title
House Plans
Left: axonometric of interior of the house. Right: plans of the house


Trickle Down Park

The trickle down park is an urban garden designed to emphasise the importance of human activity on biodiversity. Like all other parks, it’s a utopia for people wanting a taste of something out in the wilderness, but of course, with precautions set in place to make this experience safe and accessible for all.

The picnic table. An instrument that encourages humans to sit, converse, rest and eat. The scraps of some human child's messily eaten lunch drop onto the surface. With one big unintentional sweep, the scraps fall between the gaps of the rod-slatted table top.

Picnic Table 2 With New Borders 01

The fruit tree provides shade during the day for humans who decide instead, to sit on the grassy lawn. Looking deeper past the foliage of leaves, the fruit tree is also home to a variety of bugs and critters. Different kinds of fruit trees flourish in trickle down parks, producing apples, lemons, plums and oranges during different seasons throughout the year.

The plums and apples, still attached to the branches, are ravaged by beetles at the beginning of summer through to spring, while the oranges and lemons are picked off one by one throughout winter and autumn. The unpicked fruits fall onto the park floor and begin to decompose. Its half-liquid and fleshy state becomes unpalatable to the human taste but attracts locals, like the common fly and moth.

Fruit Tree 01

On a hill above the canopy of fruit trees, a tall cast iron water fountain stands above an elongated pool, its presence a peculiar imitation of a small meandering stream, giving visual comfort to its passing human occupants. The imitation river, like the real thing, provides more reliable, safe drinking water for all park dwellers every hour, day and season of the year.

Fountain v2 01

Next to the fountain are gridded rows of flowers, their arrangement and colour pleasant to the human eye. The flowerbed blossoms only a few times during the year, and several different species of varying shapes and colours are dug out and replanted seasonally by local human gardeners. The flowerbeds are a popular space for nectar-eating insects like butterflies, moths and bees.

Flowers 01

At night, a tall and slender lamp punctures through the fruit tree branches several metres above the canopy. Every day when the sun sets, its sensors inform them that they are ready to light up. From a flicker to a warm dim glow, the light from the top of these posts bewitches nearby flying insects like flies, moths and lacewings.

Lamp 02

...The park, now dark, peaceful and still, is almost completely absent of any human-scaled interference.

Lamp 01

Out in the distance, sounds of fluttering wings begin to approach the park. The long-tailed bats, awakened from their slumber, begin to forage and zip through the trickle down park. With the help of the different instruments in the park, the insects become preoccupied with the leftover food beneath the picnic table, the nectar from the flowerbeds, the decomposing apple left forgotten on the park floor, and the warm dim light emanating from the lamppost.