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Open Access

Interspecies Cultures and Future Design


This article introduces the notion of interspecies cultures and highlights its consequences for the ethics and practice of design. This discussion is critical because anthropogenic activities reduce the abundance, richness, and diversity of human and nonhuman cultures. Design that aims to address these issues will depend on interspecies cultures that support the flourishing of all organisms. Combining research in architecture and urban ecology, we focus on the design of urban habitat-structures. Design of such structures presents practical, theoretical, and ethical challenges. In response, we seek to align design to advancing knowledge of nonhuman cultures and more-than-human justice. We present interspecies design as an approach that incorporates human and nonhuman cultural knowledge in the management of future habitats. We ask: what is an ethically justifiable and practically plausible theoretical framework for interspecies design? Our central hypothesis is that the capabilities approach to justice can establish goals and evaluative practices for interspecies design. To test this hypothesis, we refer to an ongoing research project that aims to help the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) thrive in Australian cities. To establish possible goals for future interspecies design, we discuss powerful-owl capabilities in past, present, and possible future situations. We then consider the broader relevance of the capabilities approach by examining human-owl cultures in other settings, globally. Our case-study indicates that: 1) owl capabilities offer a useful baseline for future design; 2) cities diminish many owl capabilities but present opportunities for new cultural expressions; and 3) more ambitious design aspirations can support owl wellbeing in cities. The results demonstrate the capabilities approach can inform interspecies design processes, establish more equitable design goals, and set clearer criteria for success. These findings have important implications for researchers and built-environment practitioners who share the goal of supporting multispecies cohabitation in cities.