Staring at Goats III: Biophilia and Archetypes

[a small fraction of the interactions we have seen and engaged in at the fenced edges of our 2 acre lot @ SE 10th and Belmont Ave, Portland OR]

Biophilia: ‘love of life or living systems,’  the theory of an ‘instinctive bond between human beings and animals‘.

We’re not sure about the accuracy of the biophilia hypothesis and we haven’t deeply concerned ourselves with it as we tend to avoid broad generalizations such as that.  We often encounter both people who are intrinsically and undeniably drawn to animals and/or plants and others who are ambivalent towards towards nature, or find it boring.

But what we have seen and experienced over the last 8 days during our goat-driven maintenance experiment thus far is noteworthy:  hundreds of people getting out of their cars to watch the goats and take pictures.  Folks aggressively pulling weeds out of the cracks in the sidewalk to feed them to the goats (or in a generous, yet potentially problematic gesture, offering their dinner leftovers). Many people have asked, and some have nearly begged, to be allowed into the fenced enclosure.  We seemed to have inadvertently cross-programmed into a cognitively dissonant petting zoo where we offer the frustration of not being allowed in.  Regenerative landscape maintenance as semi-public amenity.  Also of interest, many people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to over the last week said they didn’t notice or see this vacant two acre lot until the goats were there…psychologically it was a giant void that didn’t exist.

Similar to biophilia, it has also been empirically argued that humans seem to intuitively prefer open savanna-like landscapes, or clearings at the edges of forests – a persistent evolutionary or Jungian archetype dating back to our early hunter-gatherer and herding lifestyles. Landscapes that might look a bit like this:

Part of the attraction is surely, and more immediately based on the contrast to the adjacent inner city industrial context:

Like everyone we have photographed here, we are very drawn to this space and have been for years.  We like its wildness, its doing its own thingness in relative obscurity.  Interesting because the whole landscape is constructed, or rather built upon the ruins of construction (all the buildings on the site burned down in 2002.  Everything growing has spontaneously generated over the last 8 years); a natural ecological response to human alterations.  Depends a lot on how you see it.


  1. super interesting, perhaps more so because the people can’t get in there, at least not yet. Like JB Jackson always said, unrequited goat-love is a powerful attractor in the urban landscape.

    It truly is interesting. I wonder if you feel it calls for something around the edges- perhaps some CCA-style pop up benches? Or nothing. And is there any pattern to the goat wanderings? Do they go for plants of a certain species or certain heights first? And what do people do when they see you are some caretaker in there?

  2. Glad you inquired about the patterns of goat wanderings, grazing preferences, and caretaker responses. There is definitely interesting specificity there. Hope to post on this very soon (dependent on time away from the goats).

  3. I don’t really have anything to say, other than that there is nothing not awesome about this project.

    Rather than having paper architecture, you’ve created an architectural concept through something (goat-herding) that’s as old as cities.

  4. looking forward to more!

    and it needs to be said, great use of the saucy double-negative by uarbchitect. He also alludes to a great point- encouraging more theory/practice initiatives of this type from young academics practitioners as opposed to relying on the design competition as a means of experimental agency. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but not necessarily more than wiling away in a studio on the weekends producing paper architecture destined for a website and the dust-bin.

    Not that competitions are bad, but more stuff like this should happen. great that your posting the details, so we/I can see that it is not the result of some mysterious and esoteric process.

  5. I LOVE this project. I walk past this lot to get to work every day, and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see all the goats in that lot. There are always about 10 other people there in the evening when I’m there, adults and kids alike. Thanks so much for doing this – it’s just such a joy.

    Do the goats stay there all night? And can you tell me how long the project will run? I’d like to let my friends with kids know that they’re there.

  6. Thanks, fasla. It’s called litotes, and it’s not the worst rhetorical trick in my book.

  7. Thanks all – much appreciated. Its been a great experience thus far.
    Valarie: we intend for the goats to be out there until the vegetation largely isn’t. Exactly when that will be is a bit of guess work given the size of the lot, goat preferences, etc. I think we are more than half way there.

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