Co.Design

An Architect Imagines The Galapagos Islands As A Robot Zoo

In a new installation, Liam Young creates a replica of the Galapagos Islands populated by mechanical animals to ask whether such managed landscapes are still worth preserving.

It’s no secret that the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most zealously guarded nature preserves: they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a national park, and occupy the second largest biological marine reserve on the planet, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But after 400 years of colonization, the islands are as carefully managed an ecosystem as New York City’s Central Park, as eradication programs compete with preservation initiatives, species are introduced to kill off others, while the world waits for a mate for Lonesome George.

As a cautionary tale, the architect Liam Young has built a miniature replica of the Galapagos Islands inside the Nevada Museum of Art using mounted window screen mesh to create an island topography and covered it with moss. Then, Young populated the installation with an imaginary mechanical species that he calls “Specimens of Unnatural History” -- biotechnological robot drones made from repurposed toy parts, embedded with webcams, or fitted with helicopter propellers, designed to protect Darwin's Galapagos from invasive species. Half animal and half machine, Young's creatures are invented and assembled -- not evolved. In the process, Young asks some provocative questions: Are managed landscapes still natural? And, if not, are they still worth preserving?

The installation is currently on view as part of the “Landscape Futures” exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, and curated by Geoff Manaugh. Young will also be speaking at Studio-X in New York on Thursday evening discussing his field trip to the Galapagos as well as recent excursions to Chernobyl and the gold mines of western Australia. RSVP information here.

Images courtesy of photographer Jamie Kingham.

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