Highly Commended 2022


Zac Vassallo

Habi was designed for the reintroduction of contextually relevant Indigenous plant and insect species as an act of reparation.

The conceptual framework for this project explores the intersection of people and nature to promote action toward environmental consciousness. Developed through material research and exploration, Habi was created as an immersive experiential pavilion to encourage reflection on native habitat and the act of caring for country. Habi is designed to educate and motivate community participation in the reintroduction of contextually relevant Indigenous plant and insect species as an act of reparation.

Design Brief:

The urban landscape has drastically changed as a result of colonisation and subsequent human activities. Typically, design is a resource intensive, anthropocentric focused activity which fails to design for inclusivity of interspecies life. Within the urban setting, what could design look like if it reevaluates notions of hierarchy amongst flora, fauna and humans?

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Environmental and social issues underpin my design theory and practice. This project presented an opportunity to integrate inter-species design with traditional production methods. The design process was driven by research collected from cultural consultation with the Wurrundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, in depth literature reviews, input from Ecologist and Entomologist Dr Luis Mata and material research.

The project seeks to perceptually reframe human and non-human relationships through the act of caring for country in urban environments. As such, the project is formally experimental and speculative, and tested through material research and production in order to develop a fully bio-degradable composite panel.

Process driven design through iteration ultimately informed the outcome of the Habi pavilion panel. The pavilion design references the geometrical optimisation of the native “sugarbag” Tetragonula carbonaria bee hive which informs the arrangement of the hexagonal panels. A colony of sugarbag bees will build and provision each cell before the queen lays her eggs in each one. Similarly, the Habi panel acts as a cell for the germination and birth of native plant species. The surface texture was designed to encourage catchment of organic material to aid in germination process. Gold dust wattle Acacia acinacea and common tussock grass Poa labillardieri were selected as seeds to be integrated within the surface layer of each panel in order to attract a variety of insect species and increase biodiversity.

Habi is a space for contemplation and reflection that manifests the cycle of renewal and decay. Eventually, Habi’s frame is made redundant and is removed from the site, opening the potential for implementation in a new location. What remains are Indigenous plant and insect species in locations they originate from and the shared knowledge on why and how individuals may care for country.

Design Excellence

There are ways individuals can incorporate mixed modes of being and knowing within design to shift towards inclusivity for biodiversity. Habi embodies this notion as it explores the materiality of nature in opposition to the constructed environment and how the two might exist in equitable symbiosis. This project facilitates collaboration between cultures and species in an effort to maintain local biodiversity through a design outcome which can be implemented at scale.

The user experience has been considered from the perspectives of various stakeholders, both human and non-human through the strict use of natural and biodegradable materials which decay back into the landscape. Habi unifies experimental design and material research at an urban scale of intervention to reintroduce contextually relevant native species back into our built landscapes.

Design Innovation

Habi is situated on the stolen land of the Wurundjeri people, in Thomas Kidney Reserve. Processed bark from the River Red Gum Eucalyptus camdulensis tree was combined with a bioplastic based compound to form a composite panel, with surface geometry suitable for native plant growth germination. This material research and experimentation was driven by the need for the structure to decompose back into the landscape over time, rather than contribute to Australia’s growing landfill problem. Composite panels were formed using digital fabrication and experimental casting techniques, through a process which can be replicated. The use of tree bark in Habi as an aggregate material provides new insight into its potential opportunities as a valuable material in future sustainable design initiatives.

Design Impact

Developing and maintaining suitable habitats for native species within the urban environment is critical to ensuring healthy populations of plant and insect communities which are currently under threat as a result of human activity. The design outcome of Habi facilitates collaboration between species, utilised by both human and non-human lifeforms in an equitable exchange. The provision of an integrated educational platform enables Habi to disseminate information on the role individuals can play in the reintroduction of Indigenous biodiversity and insect ecology, positively affecting social awareness, and help to maintain our fragile biosphere. The needs of non-human communities can be integrated into traditional design approaches as a means of realising a holistic approach to environmentally conscious design.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The project is centred upon principles of ecologically sensitive design using circular economic principles through material research and design experimentation, which utilise compostable materials and local plant species.

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