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01.15.21 – Daniels students win top honours in the LA+ Creature competition

The LA+ Creature competition presented entrants with an unusual design prompt: pick a nonhuman animal as a "client," and then use design methods to create something that might improve that animal's life.

Ambika Pharma, who graduated from the Daniels Faculty's Master of Landscape Architecture program in 2020, and Niko Dellic, who is now completing his Master of Architecture thesis, took one of the competition's top prizes. Their winning design? An aquatic swingers' club for horseshoe crabs.

Their project, titled "Moonlight Orgies," is a modified barge that would float off the coast of Sagar Island, in India. The structure would contain an artificial habitat designed specifically to encourage mating by mangrove horseshoe crabs. Pharma and Dellic chose to focus on horseshoe crabs because of their importance to the medical industry. The crabs' blood contains a rare chemical that is essential for the production of certain kinds of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Niko and Ambika

Ambika Pharma and Niko Dellic.

The project was one of five winning designs. Another recent Daniels graduate, Hillary DeWildt (MLA 2020), had her submission chosen for an honourable mention. The competition had a total of 258 entries.

"It's a relief when something like 'Moonlight Orgies' wins," Pharma says. "The project deals with a serious topic, but the design is peculiar. Our win means there's room for humour within ecology and design."

Rendering of Moonlight Orgies.

Pharma and Dellic's design is intended to create a space for mangrove horseshoe crabs to live and breed away from predators. The barge also corrals the crabs, keeping them within reach of humans, so that their blood can be harvested for pharmaceuticals. Allowing the crabs to be exploited by humans is, paradoxically enough, a way to keep them safe.

"Prior to their blood being discovered for medical use, their numbers were dwindling for the first time since the Jurassic period," Dellic says. "Suddenly, once they were discovered to have value from a human standpoint, their numbers started to go back up."

The reason horseshoe crab populations can benefit from human exploitation is that harvesting horseshoe crab blood doesn't always kill the animal. In most cases, a blood draw leaves the crab alive, but lethargic. "There's a two-week period where they're disoriented," Dellic says.

The barge is intended to act as a "crab paradise," where horseshoe crabs whose blood has recently been drained can relax in incubated wading pools. The pools are equipped with artificial lighting designed to emulate the precise kind of moonlight that is most conducive to horseshoe crab mating rituals. Once the crabs have recovered their strength, they can easily find partners and reproduce, benefitting both themselves and their human stewards.

The dark, moody style of the Moonlight Orgies project's renderings was intended to capture some of the moral ambiguity of this exchange of blood for species preservation. "It's not the most cheerful looking aesthetic," Pharma says. "I had some personal reservations about the trade-off we're proposing, between using a species as a resource and providing it with a habitat."

To find out more about the winners of LA+ Creature, visit the competition's website.