Research News

‘Renaturing’ a former slaughterhouse to respond to a changing climate

MArch student Zach Fields makes last-minute final touches to Joyce Hwang's Hidden in Plain Sight concept models at the "Cyborg Garden, Mutant Institute of Environmental Narratives" exhibition in Matadero Madrid.


Published August 9, 2019


As part of a multi-year initiative in Madrid, UB faculty member Joyce Hwang has joined an international group of designers to explore how design can create a new discourse on climate change in the context of public space.

The project is part of a broader initiative, Matadero Mutant Action, which seeks to frame global planetary changes as a challenge that is as much cultural and political as scientific and technological. Directed by Matadero Madrid and curated by elii [architecture office], the project is part of a collective, “Cyborg Garden,” a group of projects being developed to turn the outdoor spaces of the sprawling Matadero Madrid complex – a former slaughterhouse that has been converted into an arts center -- into a laboratory for testing nature-based solutions that will culminate in a series of replicable prototypes capable of raising the resilience of this public space in Madrid.  

Hwang, associate professor of architecture, and her design team are developing concepts that make the vast open outdoor areas of the Matadero warehouse complex more habitable in the face of global climate change. Proposals will focus on shading and “renaturing” these public spaces to help the complex adapt to the extreme heat waves that plague Madrid with increasing frequency. elii will coordinate efforts to bring ideas together collaboratively for eventual installation at Matadero.

Hwang invited former UB faculty member Nerea Feliz, now on the architecture faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, to partner with her on this project. Working together under the name of Double Happiness, the two first traveled to Spain in February to tour the site, meet involved parties and conduct a series of workshops that kicked off the design process. Over the course of five days, more than 100 students from 12 design schools in Madrid collaborated with the designers to begin generating ideas for a “mutant garden.”

Sara Svisco and Zach Fields, recent graduates of UB’s Master of Architecture program, assemble a portion the model representing a caterpillar garden.

Since then, Hwang and Feliz have worked with their project team in Buffalo and Austin to develop these ideas. Their concept, Hidden in Plain Sight, is a proposal for a series of urban furnishings that aim to amplify and bring awareness to various forms of urban “life” through visual, tactile and ecological means. The project is designed to support an inclusive web of interdependent species, both human and non-human.

The exhibition team gathers before the opening earlier this summer. From left to right: Nerea Feliz, Zach Fields, Sara Svisco, Joyce Hwang.

The teams regrouped with their proposals at Matadero Madrid in June to exhibit prototypes at various scales and in various media.

Hidden in Plain Sight is part of the Cyborg Garden that, together with the Eco-visionaries exhibition, is currently on view at Matadero Madrid through Oct. 6. It is the first in a series of installations and developments over the course of several years, and reveals how artists, architects and designers grapple with complex facets of the environmental crises, including the extinction of species, deforestation, air pollution and the need to imagine new food systems.