We are excited to share some field notes from the initial stages of a collaborative tactical landscape intervention we are calling The Metropoliz Future Forest, developed in an ongoing creative partnership between Commonstudio (Kim Karlsrud and Daniel Phillips) and Flash Atölye (Firat Erdim and Olivia Valentine), with support from the American Academy in Rome.
We refer to this project as “a case study in collaborative ecology”, exploring the use of weeds to transform a post-industrial site into a productive, novel ecosystem.
Located in the periphery of Rome on the site of a former industrial slaughterhouse, Metropoliz contains ecological and human health challenges that typify informal settlements like these-ranging from heat islands to polluted soil.
Engaging with the complex social context of the site (which is now home to over 200 inhabitants) was the first hurdle--it’s many languages, cultures, and agendas are incredibly varied and often at odds, and the intricacies of these socio-cultural frictions are currently being studied by local ethnographers. In our early conversations with these various stakeholders, it became obvious that we couldn’t propose a conventional landscape intervention.
It was at this time that we began to engage in a kind of post-industrial botanical survey. Like many other abandoned peripheral urban neighborhoods globally, Metropoliz exists in a simultaneous state of ruination and rebirth-informally occupied and transformed by a range of human and botanical constituents.
Rather than impose “corrective” ecologies or erase these established ecologies (which of course would require a large initial investment and long term maintenance) we began to ask an entirely different question: What would it mean to understand, celebrate, and accelerate the existing ecologies of the site that are already thriving? Rather than a narrative of loss and ruination, what if we imagined this space as a successional forest in the early stages of transformation into an entirely new kind of landscape?
We conducted a baseline field survey to understand distribution and intensity across the larger territory of the site, identifying at least 34 species of shrubs and grasses, 4 species of trees (along with many other species of pollinating insects, birds, and reptiles). Like any other form of “weed” these vegetal interlopers (in the parlance of Richard Mabey) weren’t intentionally cultivated by anyone, but rather have arisen spontaneously in the decades after the closing of the factory, in response to the localized disturbances and opportunities.
It was precisely this idea of “disturbance” that became a central inspiration. By employing a subtractive formal vocabulary of cracks, channels, and perforations, the intervention was based on strategically excavating a series of designed disturbances in the already deteriorating concrete slabs of the site. By providing conditions for attracting and germinating wind-borne seeds, these new ecological niches are intended to support, extend and connect the disparate vegetal ecologies of the site over time. In September of 2015, we will begin a process of assisted migration of the existing species with seeds that were collected on-site this summer.
The intervention comprises an area of approximately 1 acre, and is situated strategically in a highly foot trafficked area of the larger site. Quasi-official environmental signage provides a critical lens through which to view the space with a newfound sense of wonder, possibility and reverence.
Rather than a completed project, we think of the Metropoliz Future Forest as an actively unfolding and open-ended case study that will be periodically assessed as it continues to unfold. Specific metrics we intend to track include comparative and temporal assessments of biodiversity, percentage and morphology of vegetated territory, hydrology, soil health, and other vital ecosystem service values.
We envision this project as both a practical and symbolic contribution to a growing discourse on how post-industrial sites like Metropoliz might be viewed as assets rather than liabilities in the fight for greater urban ecosystem health and resiliency.