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Architecture (MA)

Jack Parker

Jack is a digital artist, environmental researcher and spatial designer based in London. His work focuses on the exploration and application of ecological, biological and environmental research within the realms of spatial practice; utilising emerging tools of digital-making, animation and film.

After receiving first class honours and a RIBA Bronze Medal Nomination from the University of Brighton, Jack spent several years working at a London-based architecture practice before joining the RCA in 2021. Here, he has been taught by ADS3's Cooking Sections and this year with ADS4, spanning themes of environmental research to speculative design.

At the RCA, his work has explored instances of human interference on the natural environment and its more-than-human inhabitants, both flora and fauna; whilst considering the interconnectedness of human processes within societal structures that uphold such actions.

The Manatee; framed for a crime as a method for highlighting the agency (behavioural capabilities) they have.


Ecological traps are observed environments of spatial manipulation that result in pressures on natural species populations, as the harm they elicit is greater than the benefits the organism gains from inhabiting the environment. Ecological traps, therefore, are a new form of dangerous environmental condition that calls for the need for a greater protection of animal life in the face of human activity. The project proposes that these protections argue towards a new form of ‘legalhood’. The way to enact this ‘legalhood’ in these trap contexts is through ‘framing’. ‘Framing’ provides the narrative tool that exposes the agency, or lack thereof, of animals in their given context and, therefore, highlights the need for legal protection.

Framing as a methodology has the potential to become a multifaceted approach to considering the ways we can protect animal species from human-induced spatial manipulation. The project suggests that, through the legal lens framing provides, a new form of ‘legalhood’ could emerge. In the face of the fight to ‘know’ or ‘tell’ the truth, the project, through the utilisation of framing, argues that perhaps there is a benefit to taking the alternative side - at least in a narrative sense. The framing allows the framer to act as the prosecutor, positioning the conspiratorially-minded audience as the defence. The hope; that something far greater emerges than that of purely telling the truth. Rather than the sympathy that emerges from the harsh truth of the nature documentary, the framing within the true crime narrative calls to generate empathy.

To come full circle, these animals are now ScapeGoats; we know their innocence, but action may finally emerge from us blaming them.

Umwelt(s), Agencies and Traps

In 1908, German biologist Jakob von Uexhüll first described what he termed; the Umwelt. By this, he was referring to the sensory world of any living organism - a unique, highly detailed experience that differs from organism to organism, let alone species to species. What facilitated the Umwelt was what he termed Functional Cycles - a feedback loop of sensing and reacting to environmental cues through the sensory capabilities available to the organism. von Uexküll's Umwelts detailed this universality of sensing through the reflex arc and functional cycle which drive, as we now know, how any biological entity interacts with their environment. What the Umwelt therefore facilitates is the behavioural decision-making of an animal and, once combined with its physical capabilities, the larger agency of an animal in its contextual environment as a whole.

Whilst we have this understanding, the actions of humans are inconsiderate to the Umwelt of other species. Endangerment and extinctions are very real conditions. The primary issue resides in the fact that we are not adapting our humanistic practices, or protecting other species and environments, fast enough to illicit a response to an ecological crisis. We continue to manipulate and adapt a world outside of our perception - what we cannot sense cannot affect us. Anthropogenic activity, therefore, is not only a human problem.

In one clear scenario does the human fully attempt to align their Umwelt with that of another organism - and that is in the form of the indivdual trap. To the hunter, the successful individual trap represents a physical object designed to work as simply as possible in the ensnarement of its prey. To the prey, the successful individual trap represents nothing more than the regularity of its habitat. The trap provides no apparent visual stimulus - either due to its covert placement or due to its cognitive recognition of shape and materiality. The trap produces no sound that can be heard by the animal, at least none that is deems threatening. To the touch, the trap feels or creates responses that feel familiar - hardness, coldness, warmth. The trap may provide a resource long sought after in the habitat, it may provide a condition of safety rarely found also. The trap may act on surprise, it may act on inquisition. 

With this in mind, a concerning thread of research is continually emerging into a new forms of trap - an Ecological Trap. These traps are predicated on how more-than-human species choose and value their habitats in terms of both the habitats individual qualities and how it may compare to an alternative habitat. We are now entering an ecological era where we are trapping entire species into 'species traps' - not just individual animals.


[Evidence Submission; Theoretically broadened version of von Uexhüll's 'Functional Cycle']

Sensory spheres based on the senses of the animal surround a cat and a fox, two animals which have different experiences of life

[Evidence Submission; Diagrammatic representation of animal Umwelts]

Ecological Traps

Ecological traps perhaps provide the clearest, and one of the most critical, examples of a human ignorance to the Umwelt and behavioural capabilities, or agency, of animals. Ecological traps are resultant behavioural decisions of organisms in choosing an environment that is seen as beneficial by the cues that it elicits, but is in fact harmful through consequences hidden to the animal. These hidden consequences are the result of human interference, hence the naming of these conditions as ‘traps’. The harm these spaces elicit can either directly cause organism mortalities (in the case of South Africa’s Vulture population) or alter behavioural responses to cause a reliance on these human-made manipulations (in the case of Florida’s Manatees).

Seasonally, Florida manatee populations migrate to warm water hoping to find refuge from the plummeting water temperatures. Manatee metabolism requires a certain external temperature to function; without which cold stress, frostbite and death are likely results. In a more natural world, these warm waters would have come in the form of hot springs located along the coastline, however sweeping habitat destruction to pave the way for energy production has destroyed most of these habitats. With the energy production facilities, however, came a new form of hot water - the effluent from the coal reactors of the power station. A 'salvation'. Now, manatee populations congregate at the power station outlet each year, reliant on the hot water it produces to survive. Without the power station, vast amounts of manatees - and already endangered species - would not survive. The manatees are trapped by the destructive processes of the power station.

In either case, however, these ‘trap’ environments place pressures on natural populations as the harm they elicit is greater than the benefits the organism gains from inhabiting the environment. In the case of the Florida Manatees, however, the ecological trap is not the only condition of human-animal interferences. Boat strikes, line entanglements, destruction of habitat and foraging reserves are but a few anthropogenic conditions that have placed population pressures on the manatee to the point of endangerment. What ecological traps and other human interferences, therefore, expose is a serious albeit not entirely new question; how can behavioural responses of animals to their environments be used in the ecological evaluation of human actions? And to a further point, how can this evaluation lead to significant change? To this, a new ‘legalhood’ could emerge.


[Evidence Site; The Ecological Trap -- Location; 603 Big Bend Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572]


[Evidence Submission; Narrative Devices]

Towards a new 'legalhood'

A level of capability, with regards to the legal system, correlates with a level of culpability. By this, I mean; once a theoretical threshold of capability is met, it moves criminal actions past a point to which an entity then becomes responsible for them. In a simplified sense, we see this with the juveniles legal system, as they are considered fundamentally different from adults, resultantly having less agency and, therefore, less responsibility for their actions. It is outside of even this realm where we find animal life, to which we do not even provide this level of legal standing. 

A ‘legalhood’, in loose terms, for animal life is perhaps not impossible to imagine. Historically, through Deodand and Noxal Law, an organism (among other, more inanimate, non-human objects) could be tried in a court of Law as a ‘chattel’. Despite this not being the ‘legalhood’ the project seeks to encourage, it highlights a history of animal involvement within the court and the legal system which has until recently, been fairly devoid. The Animal Welfare Bill in 2006 began to bring the legal lens back to animals, although focusing primarily on purely domesticated animals. The Bill also suggests that protection is only provided if; ‘the suffering is unnecessary’. In 2021, a major step forward occurred with the Animal Sentience Act, a piece of legislation that recognises animals as ‘sentient beings’ capable of emotions such as happiness or sadness. Resultantly, any new legislation provided by the government would have to be considerate to the fact that organisms could be emotionally affected. But how can any protection avoid the greater interest of humans? Nature and animals, when protected, are often protected legally by rights in line with the interests of humans, rather than a greater interest of the animal itself. Much like the 'environmental personhood' movement, the 'legalhood', through similar forms of advocacy and policy, would allow for protection in the animals interests, an interest derived from their Umwelt and agency.

Framing narratives

The project proposes that the method to contextualise this shift towards a ‘legalhood’ for more-than-humans (for the focus of ScapeGoats, this is animals) is through ‘framing’ in the legal sense. Framing is an important element of the methodology as it requires a shift in mentality. It requires the audience to consider two notions; that an action is plausible within its contextual environment and, more importantly, that the perpetrator is not only able to perform those actions but also behaviourally likely to do so. 

Therefore, whether the framing is believed or not, convicted or not, the factual behaviour it is based on exposes a series of behavioural responses the organism in question can elicit. What these responses essentially equate to is the agency in which an organism has within any given environment. What the methodology of framing achieves is not only exposing this understanding of an organism's agency, but also the alignment of this agency within a far broader set of legal parameters, through the submission of evidence. By doing this, we, as the audience, not only understand the agency that an animal does have within an environment but also the agency it does not have; an agency that is, as yet, withheld. The lack of agency to defend itself, both legally and environmentally.

From this ‘trap’ environment, a framing narratives emerges; 

The Manatee’s of Tampa Bay, Florida, are tried for the crime of theft, vandalism and the intent to cause harm.

A row of evidence photograph

[Evidence Site; The 'Crime Scene' -- Location; Apollo Beach, Tampa, FL]

The framer's canvas. The epicentral stage for the acting out of the framing narrative. The 'crime scene' is a carefully tailored space that must epitomise the situational conditions of the 'framed'. The crime scene must provide enough evidence to make a strong enough case against the 'framed', whilst being considerate to their behavioural capabilities, or agency - encapsulating a narrative of 'means', 'motive', 'likelihood' and 'ability'

A suburban street in Tampa Bay, a manatee mailbox is surrounded by police tape - a crime scene of societal perceptions
A row of evidence photograph

[Evidence Site; Hyde Park Residential District -- Location; 601-699 S Willow Ave, Tampa, FL 33606, USA]

Zoomorphic representations are a subtle, yet common, component of the humanisation of animal life and their misunderstood agency, subtly influencing the way society perceives animal interactions. The manatee, often called the 'sea cow', 'floaty potato' or 'chunky mermaid', are commonly anthropomorphised as caricaturist 'Manatee Mailboxes'. Dressed in human clothes, or holding items such as fishing rods, these animals misunderstood behaviours are projected into the societal lens, fuelling perceptions.

An investigator stands on the bow of a boat looking at the manatees congregating at the power plant and its hot water outlet
A row of evidence photograph

[Evidence Site; Big Bend Power Station Effluent Outlet -- Location; 603 Big Bend Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572]

In order to consider a method of un-setting the Ecological Traps the ScapeGoats find themselves in, their lack of agency within these environments must be exposed alongside the larger framing narrative. The Ecological Trap becomes pivotal to the framer. The trap exposes the manatees agency in habitat selection through preservation - the manatee requires hot water, especially in altering climates, to survive wintering months. It just so happens that the Power Plant is the only choice.

The Manatee Viewing Centre, where nature (manatees) meet technology (the power station)
A row of evidence photographs

[Evidence Site; The Manatee Viewing Centre -- Location; 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572, United States]

Not only is the 'trap' one of ecology, but also one of human perception. In the shadows of the Big Bend Power Station is the Manatee Viewing Centre, a 'nature reserve' where visitors can see and interact with the manatees searching for survival. To the visitor, the Power Station facilitates the survival. To the Power Station, they are able to greenwash their own agency. The understanding of the human perception, therefore, becomes a powerful tool to the framer in building a successful framing narrative.

True Crime Meets Nature Documentary

What the project, inadvertently, aims to achieve is also the creation of a conspiratorial mindset; one in which the audience to the framing narrative is instinctively invited to immediately question what they are told. In part, this is perhaps afforded by the societal view of the legal system as a ‘calibrator ’ of truth. It manifests as an environment where truth should ‘prevail’, and allows all, in part, to play the role of judge and juror. This has been seen most prevalently with the explosion of true crime documentaries on platforms such as Netflix. The project looks to utilise the ways in which this form of media is able to disseminate factual information alongside unconventional narrative tools. This approach opposes the perhaps expected approach one might turn to to visually represent the information of an ecological trap; a nature documentary. The nature documentary sets out to tell the unquestionable truth, or at the very least to expose the audience to the facts of the natural world they may not have been aware of. The use of the true crime documentary instead, over this approach, seeks to promote a critical mindset with regards to information on the natural environment and to question authority and its legal institutions and systems. The framing allows the framer to act as the prosecutor, positioning the conspiratorially-minded audience as the defence. The hope; that something far greater emerges than that of purely telling the truth. Rather than the sympathy that emerges from the harsh truth of the nature documentary, the framing within the true crime narrative calls to generate empathy.

To come full circle, these animals are now ScapeGoats; we know their innocence, but action may finally emerge from us blaming them..


[ScapeGoats; Ep.1 - The Sea Cow]

Scapegoats; A Netflix True Crime Series

The concept of an ecological trap is not unique to the manatee and its reliance on the power stations of Florida. The misunderstanding of more-than-human umwelt and agencies with regards to spatial manipulation of the natural environment is placing increasing numbers of species under anthropogenic threats. With widening knowledge of the sensory capacities of animals, we are beginning to expose more of these hidden traps - although often when they are already trapped. Therefore, ScapeGoats is a series that tracks species in the midst of ecological traps, a trend that, without a method of correction, will continue to expand. 'Episode 2 - The Scavenger' looks into the Cape Vultures of South Africa, a vital bird species with regards to disease prevention and ecological sustainability, pushed to the brink of extinction by an increasing reliance on, and expansion of, South Africa's energy infrastructure. Electrocutions are now one of the leading causes of Vulture death in South Africa.

However, the Vultures of South Africa are tried for murder, theft, breaking and entry, trespassing and damages worth £10000. Check back for more..


[Evidence Site; Multiple -- Location; Magaliesburg, South Africa]


[ScapeGoats; Ep.2 - The Scavenger (Preview)]