Sa(l)vaging the Forest
We have constantly been changing the landscape around us. We turn nature into an asset, and alienate the most commercially valuable resource from its ecosystem. Our concentration of wealth was created through making both the human and nonhuman into resources for investment. When nature becomes an asset, everything else becomes waste.
It’s a matsutake mushroom. One of the most valuable mushrooms in the world. The rarity of appropriate forest and terrain makes them extremely difficult to find, and the symbiotic relationship with those host trees are too sophisticated for humans to control, hence uncultivatable.
Yunnan Province, Southwest China, the nation’s most biologically and culturally diverse area, and yet one of the most undeveloped regions. However, from the early 60s through the 90s, large expanses of NW Yunnan’s old-growth were cleared by state logging companies to fuel China’s national development. Logging kept happening in an outrageous speed until 1998, when China witnessed the most severe flooding in 30 years, known as the Yangtze River Flood. Over 4000 lost their lives and 180 million were affected. Soil erosion caused by deforestation was blamed as the fundamental cause of disaster. A logging ban on commercial logging was eventually published, only after the landscape was relentlessly destroyed.
When the controlled world we thought we created had failed, can we find hope in the uncontrolled world?
“When Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, it is said, the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom.”
- Mushroom At the End of the World, Anna Tsing
In the uncontrolled world, matsutake emerged.
Here, in the blasted landscape in Jidi Village, a Tibetan town in Southwest China, matsutake appeared through collaborative living - the forest, the animals, and the people. The abandoned forest has given the young pines sufficient sunlight to flourish, without much competition for nutrition. Animals eat the shrubs and forest litter, keep the forest healthy; people cut the trees, keep the forest thin; host trees grow better, keep the matsutake happy; matsutake supplies nutrition back to the trees, keeps the forest alive. Collaborative survival between all these living organisms is based on disturbance, both human and nonhuman. By collaborative survival, matsutake rebels against the human-led colonial world. In their world, humans do not dominate the process. Humans are only part of it.
If human disturbance must exist, what kind of disturbance can we all live with?
The project aims to invest how the matsutake mushroom, through its collaborative survival, can shape a new landscape within its existing context.
The project proposes a forest management system through 7 foraging centres, where villagers are put into 7 groups who will pick simultaneously around the allocated site. Every 2 weeks, they swap to the next site. This eases the land conflicts caused by historically vague forest boundaries and avoids over-harvesting and competitive picking. Foraging centres provide facilities to weigh, clean and package the matsutake straight after picking, ready to be transported. Habitable units are also provided for villagers who traditionally had to walk for 20km each way for mushroom foraging; by inhabiting these, they gain their ownership back.
By using thin trunks from young pines in matsutake forests as building materials, the architecture encourages strategic logging through the building process. Annual logging will happen before the matsutake season starts, when villages construct the self-built structures using logs. Once the matsutake season finishes, those temporary foraging centres will function as animal sheds, Tibetan barley drying racks, or completely disappear, depending their locations. The dismantled logs will then be recycled as firewood for each household, ready for the upcoming winter.
School of Architecture
MA Architecture, 2018
+44 (0) 7557098789
- BA Architecture, University of Sheffield, 2011