Obscure Design Typologies: Gorilla Enclosures

The Gorilla Enclosure as design typology presents a concentrated version of architecture as a total design project: design not of discrete objects but as the design of environment.

One could think of the enclosure as a kind of imaginary world, an island contained within cage, glass, fence or wall. Inside, they operate both as a habitat, and as a representation of habitat. Sometimes deploy environmental scenography in attempts to mimic authentic gorilla habitat. In others, the environment is more abstract where, say a space frame operates both as structural enclosure and as a technological iteration of tree top canopy.

In them we see the tension inherent in our contemporary relationship to issues of environment and nature. On one hand an idealised vision, on the other the necessarily synthetic nature of this idealised vision. And while these are exceptional conditions – wild animals held, most often, within the heart of the civilised urban – they are also revealing about the design of habitat in general terms. ‘Environment’ is figured both as a image – a cultural condition – and as a landscape into which are embedded the possibilities of occupation (here that might be swinging on a rope, climbing a tree – but also think of the ways the possibilities and limitations of occupation are designed into our everyday landscapes). That they often seek to naturalise their artificial nature also serves as a neat précis of the way all design makes the imaginary seem an inevitable part of our environment.

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