A speculative urban merino farm museum by Anne Galloway, Hamish McPhail & Peggy Russell
Sheep and human beings have interacted for more than ten thousand years, but sheep have rarely been, as Donna Haraway would say, “brought into the open with their people.”
Kotahitanga is the Maori word for “oneness” and embodies values of unity, reciprocity and respect. Our speculative farm design strives to bring animals and people, rural and urban, past and future, physical and digital together in such a way. In addition to raising awareness about merino farming and wool production, Kotahitanga Farm reconfigures the distance between producers and consumers, and enables new interactions between people and livestock. Ultimately, our design seeks to evoke past and present farm life and provoke public discussion on the future of agriculture.
The farm comprises one thousand acres of tussock grassland, stretching from the mountains to a city by the sea. A flock of five hundred merino sheep graze the high country year-round, and urban dwellers can see the animals in the distance or take guided walks through the pasture land throughout the year. Most notably, our flock is seasonally mustered into town by working dogs and shepherds on horseback, for shearing, processing and further public interaction in and around the wool shed.
Historically, the wool shed has played a pivotal role in high-country sheep station life, serving as a shearing shed, the place where wool is sorted, pressed and stored, and a hub for social activities. Our wool shed design draws on New Zealand’s vernacular architecture, updated for public use in an urban context. Using familiar materials, an exposed steel structure is juxtaposed with native timber, showing the suspension of the ramp and movement up into the building.
Conjuring a folding together of humans, animals and materials, the sheep enter one end of the building and people the other, meeting in a buffer zone that blurs distinctions amongst all three. Walking into the building, people arrive in a gallery space. On one side is a wall of reclaimed historical wool shed timber, marked with the graffiti of dozens of shearers. Visitors can run their hands over these traces of past people, places and activities, while peering through view shafts cut into the wall that allow glimpses of the shearing board, and offer initial close-up views of shearing and wool processing.
The past runs parallel with the future, as the other gallery wall comprises a large display for interactive, real-time digital mapping. Each sheep in our flock is equipped with an RFID tag, GPS device and environmental sensors. People are able to adopt individual sheep, and locate their animal on the farm map, while also learning about local temperature, humidity, wind and air quality conditions. Individual animal profiles provide information on a sheep’s lineage, vital statistics, veterinary treatments and wool quality. A memorial pays tribute to the animals that have died on the farm.
People and animals truly come together in the gallery space, as the walkway winds into the shearing board and wool processing areas. Recalling the communal function of the wool shed, visitors are able to engage in lively debate with shearers, wool handlers and other animal caregivers.
From the gallery mezzanine level, people are able to more clearly see the sheep in their catching pens, being caught and shorn, and finally put down the portholes to go back to the yards. This area also provides a slightly separate space for more quiet observation, reflection and conversation.
The circulation of sheep and people inside the building supports multiple directions of movement and forms of interaction. People and animals are able to come together and move apart, while the shearing board space can be easily repurposed to accommodate seasonal agricultural processes including docking, crutching, foot-rotting, and even lambing if greater shelter and warmth are required.
Visitors are also able to spend time in the outside yards where veterinary processes like drenching can be observed and discussed, and animals can be more closely approached.
Moving away from the wool shed, and into the urban fabric, some of our merino sheep can be seen grazing in parks and other public spaces.
And finally, looking at the wool shed from the city allows people to see the extent of Kotahitanga Farm and how it blurs traditional boundaries between people and animals, urban and rural space.
We welcome feedback on all our research and design. Please contact us with any questions or comments.