The Feral Palace is a design intervention within a chronology of multispecies insensitive spatial planning. Curated by architect and curator Danica Sretenović and eco-social designer and inventor Gaja Mežnarić Osole, this urgent pedagogical work and design practice calls for a counter-narrative in architecture. It is indeed fundamental to produce ethical spatial transformations in response to the climate and biodiversity crisis, especially in times of green gaslighting, sustainable solutionism and the dismantling of the academic disciplines.
Graphics by Renata Šifrar - Mainly Afternoon Studio.
Our inquiry begins at Krater, a mobile production laboratory situated in a rewilded crater-resembling construction site near the city centre of Ljubljana. A group of designers, architects and ecologists proclaimed the place an ecosystem, a laboratory to experiment with on-site matter, and a practice of composting anthropocentric perceptions while cultivating the ground for difficult questions. At this rewilded urban site, a mobile paper-making workshop, mycelium lab and wood workshop perform as terraforming agents by creating a dialogue with an impoverished piece of land, abandoned after the demolition of the Austro-Hungarian artillery barracks. Fenced and forgotten for the past 28 years, the site started to evolve with the forces of nature. As none of the development plans took the root of success, a diverse community of plants, mycelium, soil-organisms and others initiated the site’s regeneration cycles. Today the site calls attention for its vibrant and highly biodiverse urban ecosystem, a botanist, landscape architect and writer Gilles Clément would categorise it as a “third” landscape.1
Fenced and forgotten for the past 28 years, the site started to evolve with the forces of nature, a diverse community of plants, mycelium, soil-organisms and others initiated the site’s regeneration cycles.
By meticulously mapping and documenting all the living bodies on the site, the collective soon came to the realisation that Krater interconnects more than 200 species and represents an irreplaceable stepping stone corridor between Ljubljana’s eastern and western forests. However, unregulated plots of urban nature are commonly perceived as a problem to be repaired, an anomaly that needs to be annulled by injecting a predefined program and regulating ownership structures. Administrative frameworks fail to recognize the site's biodiversity and soil quality improvement, while the media sees it as a threat to a fairly regulated city and a burden to its inhabitants.2
Krater interconnects more than 200 species and represents an irreplaceable stepping stone corridor between Ljubljana’s eastern and western forests.
Without operational policies or legal advocacy tools considering such sites of great value, Krater’s multispecies community is soon to be replaced with the Palace of Justice, conjoining three courts of justice and the adjacent park. Going three stories under the ground, it would excavate the whole area. Within the tendering framework of a national architectural competition, Krater’s site was evidently understood as a tabula rasa, which called its interdisciplinary community to find a meaningful way to face the inevitable gesture of erasure. Set between infrastructure activism and a form of a radical pedagogy, the Feral Palace programme was launched as a serious experiment and an honest dedication to expand the agency of human-centered planning practices by recognising the presence of more-than-human communities. To do so it was necessary to reject the current set of conditions used to classify the Krater area, determined by the size of the plot and its limits, programme demands and current planning regulations. It was also important to reframe the context by making visible Krater’s species and their interrelations, soil histories, insight into Krater’s representation in media and historical land transformations.
Krater, photos by Amadeja Smrekar.
The Feral Palace programme was launched as a serious experiment and an honest dedication to expand the agency of human-centered planning practices by recognising the presence of more-than-human communities.
Consequently, we have centred our work around the following questions: What makes regenerative, nature-led processes invisible to the planning administration? Is there enough room in this notion of (spatial) justice to include the rights of the non-humans that indisputably co-constitute our living environments? To address these multi-layered issues The Feral Palace open call reframed Krater’s site-related conflicts and speculated on multispecies inclusive Palace of Justice. To find resilient ways of cohabiting cities of the 21st century our multispecies design challenge was set to invent novel perspectives of seeing and valorising untamed urban territories.
To find resilient ways of cohabiting cities of the 21st century our multispecies design challenge was set to invent novel perspectives of seeing and valorising untamed urban territories.
While the traditional education models are often more reflective than they are capable of reacting to urgency, the action of becoming “feral” (running away from established institutional frameworks to the unpredictable ones) let us seek for modes of working, where individualised precarity is softened by multispecies alliances. The Feral Palace design urgency calls for a pedagogy which can speculate on world making projects with a community of creatives across disciplines and species. The programme recognised a non-human multitude of the Krater site not as a natural environment which needs to be protected but rather as an active agent which needs to be included when thinking about the site's transformation. By disturbing the accepted order of the power-relations between the creative subjects and mute objects, the interdisciplinary learning platform sets the conditions to design for multispecies justice. “The Feral Palace design challenge” followed the competition for The Palace of Justice by redefining the notion of ground, both figuratively and literally. It shifted the referential system of thought from outdated urban policies that address ground as an inanimate abstraction regulated by plot size, predetermined land use, and ownership to the ground inhabited by multispecies communities acting above, below, and within the Earth's crust while enabling micro- and macro-scale urban regeneration.
While the traditional education models are often more reflective than they are capable of reacting to urgency, the action of becoming “feral” let us seek for modes of working, where individualised precarity is softened by multispecies alliances.
This new conceptual framework was introduced in public lectures, where the invited thinkers presented their post-humanist perspectives and novel practices in the fields of governing and spatial planning. Klaas Kuitenbrower, a researcher and artist based at Het Nieuwe Instituut presented the Zoöp project, a novel governance model enabling organisations to represent the interests of non-human life. Debra Solomon, a curator of the Dutch pavilion at the 2021 Venice Biennial “Who is we?”, introduced the concept of multispecies urbanism through the Urbaniahoeve food forest project, while Rok Kranjc discussed how to govern more-than-human transformations.
After the public warm-up in April, the vibrant learning environment and events unfolded from May until June 2022. They connected ecologists, lawyers, designers, biologists, architects and landscape architects from 9 countries to speculate on scenarios that envision leading multispecies-sensitive spatial transformations on Krater. The initiative brought forth otherwise non-existent imaginaries and sparked a transdisciplinary debate around the rights of untamed cityscapes, living soil-archives, evacuation of ecosystems, feral mediation, etc. The proposals created by the interdisciplinary teams of researchers, students and practitioners expanded the single future of Krater’s site represented by the winning architectural proposal. They created a disruptive ground for an alternative, multispecies-sensitive engagement with the urban ecosystem, the first to highlight the (spatial) rights of multispecies communities in Slovenia.
The Feral Palace programme concluded its first stage at the Feral Place Conference on 28th and 29th of September. The launch of the programme's outcomes has been staged as a forum, consisting of local administration, the winning proposal architects, lawyers, scientists and advocates of this dedicated initiative. To stage a polemical scene between the new thinking and existing policies, the participants were asked to use their proposals as tools for advocacy and present their conclusions to a group of local stakeholders.
Watch online the Feral Palace Conference and the "Practices of Care" roundtable.
Krater, photos by Amadeja Smrekar.
Curators of the programme: Gaja Mežnarić Osole and Danica Sretenović
Multispecies thinking mentors: Debra Solomon, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Rok Kranjc
The Feral Palacers: Gaja Pegan Nahtigal (SI), Aja Golob (SI), Zala Metlika (SI), Tatjana Kotnik (SI), Jana Vukšić (CRO, NL), Filipa Valenčić (CRO), Iskra Vukšić (CRO, NL), Lotte van der Woude (NL), Urška Škerl (SI), Zuzana Jančovičová (SK, NL), Justyna Chmielewska (PL, NL), Jane Pirone (US), Barbara Adams (US), Hala Abdel Malak (US), Zsuzsanna Szegedi (US), Jana Stankić (SI), Zoltan Puzsár (HU), Benedek Lits (HU), Angelo Renna (IT), Katherine Boles (US), Xavier Acarin (SP), Ola Korbańska (DE), Iwo Borkowicz (DE), Lara Jana Gabriel (SI), Lidija Pranjić (SI), Ajda Biček (SI), Sieta van Horck (NL), Andreja Benedejčič (SI), Rens Spanjaard (NL), Tina Božak (SI).
Co-production: Trajna Association and Centre of Creativity at Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana
Photos: Amadeja Smrekar
Visual identity: Renata Šifrar, Studio Mainly Afternoon
Danica Sretenović focuses on critical reading of contemporary spatial production and the role of theoretical concepts, modes of presentation, and media in the construction of space. Her works have been exhibited in Barcelona, Chicago, London, Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. She has taught at the Faculty of Architecture (Theory and History of Architecture, 2015–2020), served as curator at the Museum of Architecture and Design (edu.arh Practices in Architectural Education, 2021), and published with Nonuments (untamed places).
Gaja Mežnarić Osole works across the fields of design, ecology and participation. She has been co-leading NGO Trajna since 2017. After proposing creative local applications of the biomass of invasive plants, Trajna contributed to the municipal project Applause, initiated to develop new circular economies. Currently, she is actively involved in running the invasive paper brand Notweed Paper and co-produces the creative laboratory Krater, which sits in an abandoned construction pit in Ljubljana.
1 Gilles Clément, “Manifesto of the Third Landscape,” Trans Europe Halles, accessed September 30, 2022, https://urlis.net/exnfb
2 Darja Valenčič, “Bežigrajski krater – od države in ljudi pozabljena gradbena jama,” Dnevnik, July 11, 2017, shorturl.at/evQ02