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July 1, 2021

Living amongst pigs – designing for people and animals

When Esmeralda Dunnewind took her sleeping bag and camping mat over to her horse and pig to live with the animals for a while, it was the pig that was the most enthusiastic. The horse was more circumspect, cautious, whereas the pig rushed over to her. For her graduation project on the Interior Architecture bachelor course, Esmeralda designed a completely original and innovative living space, amongst and with animals and nature.

“Ever since I was a child, I've always spent most of my time outdoors, that's where I feel most at home." That might sound strange for an Interior Architecture student – does outdoors count as interior? – but for Esmeralda it's logical. "To me, what counts as interior is about how you feel. An interior is a place or space where you can live and where you can perform daily actions without feeling uncomfortable there. And if that interior happens to be open, then it's open. It could perfectly well be outdoors."

Itching for more

Esmeralda first did the MBO (intermediate vocational) Colour & Interior Adviser course at Cibap in Zwolle. "After that, I wanted to do a follow-up course to broaden my knowledge. So I moved to ArtEZ, where I gained my Interior Design Associate Degree. But Esmeralda wasn't done yet. “I was itching to learn more, so after two years I switched to the third year of the bachelor course. There was a bit more freedom there, which was exactly what I was looking for."

Working with your hands

Given that freedom, Esmeralda quickly discovered that there was a connecting thread in her choice of subjects: “All my projects are linked to animals and nature. Last semester, I asked myself what it would be like to see and move like a pig. So I designed objects you can wear that make you see what a pig sees, with limited movement and field of vision." She was able to do exactly what she wanted to: work with materials and forms in the workshop, try everything out and above all work with her hands.

No boundaries between indoors and outdoors

For her final she wanted to design a living space in which she would always be connected to animals and nature, something she has loved since childhood. Esmeralda tackled the project seriously, which meant thoroughly researching the target group – animals. "So I tried out all the residential functions of the house with the animals. I chose two farmyard animals, a pig and a horse, and moved in with them." Literally. I took my sleeping bag with me and blew up my camping mat. And then I slept, ate, showered with the animals – everything. “A pig doesn't have a daytime and night-time routine, they're always on the go. A horse is much quieter at night." She discovered that – despite the sense of freedom – boundaries are very important. "In my design there are almost no boundaries between indoors and outdoors or between me and the animals. But there does need to be a minimum boundary, because otherwise I wouldn't feel comfortable performing certain actions. Going to the toilet, for example."

#ArtEZfinals 2021 Interieurarchitectuur, Esmeralda Dunnewind 

Creating boundaries

Esmeralda investigated where that boundary might lie and how she could use the house and the interaction with the animals to create it. “I had brought all kinds of stuff with me, wooden posts, planks, metal rods. So if the animals got too close, I built something between us. That way, I set boundaries." Using different forms and materials, she explored what worked to keep the animals at a distance. “The pig would often rush over to me, which made me feel uncomfortable; I wanted to have some space. So I set up a rail and explored how high it needed to be so the pig could not get under or over it." That way I created distance in order to be able to be as close as possible to the animals.

Alienated from each other

Esmeralda believes that the modern relationship between humans and animals is alarming. “We are descended from animals, but we are completely alienated from each other. We have an instrumental relationship with pigs. We never see them and the animals are hidden away in huge sheds. That relationship is distant, whereas we are much more intimate with our pets. We even allow them into our beds. What’s going on there? That's what I wanted to investigate."

The result is a design method that she would like to develop further and a house which Esmeralda would ideally like to live in permanently. She made a model full of movable beams, rotating planks and rolling metal rods that represent boundaries. “That little grey plank is my bedroom, I lie in a kind of cocoon. The animals can sleep underneath it, so that I benefit from their warmth. At the front is my kitchen. Because I didn't like having an animal standing behind me, I made the worktop so I could turn it around. That way, I could prepare my food in peace."

Accepted for a pre-master

For now, living like this remains a dream. First, Esmeralda is going to continue with her studies. She has been accepted for the Urbanism & Landscape Architecture pre-master at the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. Like most of her classmates, she doesn’t plan to join an architecture practice. "Most of my classmates are going to work elsewhere, one of them is planning to start her own ceramics business. Our training is broad and free, which means you can take it in all kinds of different directions." A number of other students are going to continue studying, like Esmeralda. 

More understanding for animals

“I hope that my design can bring people closer to animals and nature. That could also have an influence on bigger things, such as climate change. The way in which we treat animals is part of the problem. If we had more understanding for animals, it wouldn't have got to this point." So shut down your browser and go outside! Esmeralda is already there.  

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