Evolving the ways that we learn

Nov 03, 2016

SALA students borrow from nature to solve the problems of civilization.

Mason bees nesting homes

They’re learning about the birds and the bees in Design Media III. These essential pollinators are facing extinction due to massive habitat destruction, resulting from rapid growth of urban environments. Because birds and bees haven’t adapted to their new built habitat, some students in the class are designing houses for these pollinators.

But the class isn’t only about nature. The main focus is technology. Students have the opportunity “to do applied research in material production, digital media, and advanced tool application,” says Professor Blair Satterfield, empowering students are to “explore advanced avenues of making, programming, and fabrication in their own research.” Students are encouraged to adapt current software and hardware products to find new applications for the technology. Much like how an organism will adapt to their new environment, given enough time.

Wax study for bee houses

(Wax study for bee houses.)

The course offers students the opportunity to work on a project that is realistically achievable and of significant value to the community. “These small animals, birds, and insects are critical to our environment and overall well-being,” says Blair. In partnership with the City of Vancouver’s CityStudio, the class will place the pollinator homes in a pop-up park on the corner of 5th Avenue and Pine Street. In addition, the class is collaborating with the SEEDS Sustainability Program at UBC by installing pollinator homes around campus.

There’s an artful blending and playful irony with the course’s focus on technology in response to a natural crisis. The students borrow from the biological process of evolution by adapting technology for new applications, which presents solutions for pollinators who are struggling to adapt. But once equipped with their new homes, these pollinators will have the technology that they need to adapt, ironically enabled by the very biology that has failed them.

As urban designers, the students are in a unique position to address the problems facing pollinators and offer creative solutions to their habitat issues. The solutions exist in looking at the resources available in new ways, and evolving the current structures to accommodate their impending demands. This flexibility drives innovation in both technology and biology. And the course harnesses the power of each.

The students are focusing on a variety of pollinators, including various bee species, bats, birds, and butterflies. According to Blair, the projects are currently “in midflight.” Projects will move forward with construction and installation in the spring term, culminating in a presentation at the Mayor’s Office in April.