I work in an avian-centric home and cohabitate with a combination of distinct individuals. Sharing a home and garden with birds is anchored in a relationship of respect. Each bird is an independent adult who has their own ideas of friendship, hobbies and food preferences; and while some birds stand on my head while I am writing, others would rather spend time with other birds, doing birdy things. It is a privilege to share my life with them.
I am in the last year of my PhD in the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland (UQ). My introduction to architecture was unexpected; my undergraduate degree was in linguistics at Michigan State University (MSU). During my MSU in elective classes I found myself mesmerised by how architecture intersects complex issues not limited to political, social and ecological concerns.
After finishing my linguistics degree and working for a few years, I began a Master of Architecture program at the State University of New York at Buffalo. It was here that my love of architectural history and critical theory ripened. I was fortunate to spend one year studying in Denmark at the Aarhus School of Architecture, where I worked closely with digital and analogue fabrication technologies. While in Denmark, I entered a design competition that may have been my first involvement with human-built architecture for animals. My project Hønsegård (chicken coop) for Chickens didn’t win the competition, which was more interested in interior furnishings, but the project brought a lot of questions to me. Why do we build for birds? And how do we use these structures?
Intersecting ideas about how architecture is used in cross-species power struggles stuck with me. When I moved to Australia to work as a graduate architect, I was somewhat surprised by how little the wild animals were considered in the projects I was working on. I decided to send an email out into the dark in a hope to start doing higher research, and as luck would have it Sandra Kaji-O’Grady at the University of Queensland was looking to supervise research that intersects human-animal studies with architecture. Sandra, now an emeritus professor, is currently working in architectural practice with a focus on environmental responsibility in Byron Bay.
With Sandra’s guidance, I am pleased to be working between architecture and human-animal studies as my PhD works to reveal the histories of architecture built for birds. I hope that in exploring these histories we can better understand the present. In 2019 I presented, ‘Battle Birds’ at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. This design exercise explored how roosters are situated as avatars in cockfighting, and analysed the constructs of power that are present within the architecture of the cockfighting arena, including the gendered space of cockfighting and chicken husbandry. I hope in the coming months and years to continue contributing to human-animal studies that examine the role of architecture and architectural theory within current and historic modes of building for birds.
Bio: Natalie Lis is completing her PhD at the University of Queensland (UQ), exploring the influence of human-built structures, including chicken coops, cockfighting arenas, observation hides, sky burial sites and penguinariums s, positioning architecture as a social, cultural and material intermediary in bird and human relationships. Natalie tutors at UQ in architectural design, theory and history. Weaving Warble has more information. Natalie edits Australasian Animal Studies Association (AASA)’s fortnightly members’ newsletter.