Harrison Atelier

Forest Creature

Forest creature


There was an island so dense with wild hickory, oak and chestnut trees, that it was called Nut Island. Its dark rich forests nourished an amazing spectrum of wildlife: from wild boar to herons to otters. That was Governor’s Island in 1530.

Forest Creature is a pavilion that conjures the enchanted landscape of Governor’s Island’s ecological heritage. Today the island remains a refuge for diverse bird-life, and with the residency of the NYS Audobon at Nolan House, the South Parade ground as the intended site for this pavilion becomes a vital hub for public education and ecological awareness.

The form of the pavilion begins with the form of rudimentary shelter – the outline of a house—yet curves around itself, recalling a creature curled at the foot of a large tree. Its materiality—reuse of invasive species of reeds such as bamboo and phragmites—achieves a net zero construction. These materials also point to humans’ status as the most successful invasive species, and recall the ecological responsibilities we bear as such for preserving other species in our habitats. Forest Creature seeks to provide a space of contemplation for the fragility of our ecological heritage.



Total Project Area: approx. 215 sq.ft  // Stage - 150 sq.ft  // Back of stage : 45 sq.ft  // Children’s hiding place: 20 sq.ft  // Rainproof reed-roofed space: 35 sq.ft  // Shaded space: 254.3 sq.ft

Monument to Governors' Islands ecological heritage // Nature observation and education space // Performance space // Children's activity space with areas for sitting, hiding and crawling though low arches // Materiality encourages contact with and rethinking of uses for invasive reeds and bamboo

Team // Ariane Harrison, Seth Harrison, Spring Wu, Eileen Xu, Victoria Ereskina, Daniel Salvador.

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When a new and aggressive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it might not have any natural predators or controls.  It can breed and spread quickly, taking over an area. Native wildlife may not have evolved defenses against the invader or they cannot compete with a species that has no predators; in both cases the native wildlife declines. This definition from the National Wildlife Federation could refer to humans, as well as to the numerous flora and fauna currently listed as invasive species in North America.

The Forest Creature Pavilion is built from invasive species (bamboo and phragmites) for an invasive species (humans) specifically to highlight the tensions that underlie species co-existence in today’s Anthropocene period. The non-native form of the reed Phragmites australis displaces native plants and lowers local biodiversity, yet it also provides nesting sites for many wetland birds as well as nesting material for numerous pollinators. Similarly, golden bamboo can form dense monocultural thickets that displace native species, yet it’s a versatile and sustainable material for scaffolding and light construction, and can also provide inhabitation for tube-dwelling pollinating insects.

In using two types of invasive plants as our primary building material, we find a second life for these bio-materials that require repeat cutting in order to exhaust their hearty root systems. The excess plant material generated by invasive species management for these reeds becomes our building material. Following the dismantling of the pavilion, we locate a third life in these materials: cutting and mulching the phragmites to sizes suitable for nurturing other species. Both Governors’ Islands’ Black-crowned Night-Heron and Glossy Ibis use reeds in building nests, and tube-dwelling native solitary bees make nests in the center of the reed stalk. Similarly, when cut into smaller units, the bamboo can serve as nest material for solitary bees.


The argument for building with invasive species is three-parts:  

Aesthetic: that the form and figure of these invasive reeds encourages an environmental consciousness regarding humans’ own heavy footprint on the earth’s ecosystems.

Material: that we may transform the excess biomass from invasive species management into habitation for pollinators.

Programmatic: that the dense packing of reeds to form shelter from rain and sun embeds the memory of Governors Island ecological heritage – its onetime dense forests- into the form of the pavilion.

All three of these aspects: aesthetic, material and programmatic contribute to the public’s awareness of the fragile ecological niche we occupy today.