Almost 30 years after the nuclear power plant blew up at Chernobyl, the uninhabited surroundings prove a point: Scary mutations notwithstanding, nature can thrive without people around. Former parking lots and public square have turned into thick forests.
The site was one of the inspirations behind a concept for a new type of national park. If nature does best when people stay away, what if a park only allowed digital visits?
In the design, a park in northern Sweden would allow drone access–but humans who want to explore the area would have to go online. The concept was the winner in the recent Hello Nature competition. The contest asked for a solution that would bring people closer to the wild, but the designers saw a paradox in the prompt.
“Everyone agrees that our mental detachment from nature can lead to a loss of consideration for the ecosphere,” says Nicolay Boyadjiev, who worked on the concept with fellow designer Don Toromanoff. “But what is equally apparent time and again is that our physical detachment from it almost universally has a positive impact on its health and survival.”
The designers decided to use drones to connect the park with the outside world. “Conservation drones could act as non-invasive machine surrogates for human intervention–coupling preservation efforts with a broadcasting of nature from breathtaking, GoPro-like vantage points,” Boyadjiev explains.
Of course, it’s hard to get the well-documented psychological benefits of nature without actually being present in it. But the designers wanted to point out the fact that, in the modern world, we already see nature as a separate commodity. “In this sense, whether we are physically immersed in nature or experiencing it by proxy, perhaps we’ve already missed out on its benefits,” Boyadjiev says.
And maybe, since we live so much of our lives online anyway, digital parks aren’t so much of a stretch. “As a generation raised at least partially over digital networks, we … have no difficulty establishing relationships or partaking in communities with people thousands of miles away,” he says. “Perhaps the hope is that as a by-product of this condition, whatever closeness with nature has been lost during the industrial age could be re-claimed through different means during the post-industrial age.”
While the drones fly around the park gathering photos for distant tourists, they could also help researchers study the area–a cheap alternative to sending scientists into the field. The designers also envision the area as a testing ground for new drone technology, gathering data that could be sold to drone developers, with the profits reinvested in conservation.
Although the design is a concept, the designers say it’s not a far stretch from current conservation drones or projects like Omnipresenz, which lets people visit distant cities through real-life avatars. It’s something that’s technically feasible. The question is whether this is what we want.
“As architects we believe our role is to be part of the debate rather than to provide an answer, but regardless, we are optimistic to the extent that we believe projects such as this one can steer the conversation in the right direction,” says Boyadjiev.
If something like this is implemented, here’s one suggestion for a location: Antartica, where tourists are slowly but surely overrunning one of the last truly wild places.