For the last six years, Japanese artist Aki Inomata has been designing architecture for an unlikely client: hermit crabs. Using a CT scanner, she creates detailed scans of seashells and then transforms them into new shapes based on human landscapes–the New York City skyline, a Thai temple, or, in her latest work, Western-style wedding chapels in Japan.
Born without shells, hermit crabs are on a lifelong hunt for new real estate as they grow. For Inomata, the project is a way to think about how people migrate and borders shift.
“This work is all about conjuring thoughts and images of national borders, nationality, immigration, and refugees, from the hermit crab,” she explains. “What are national borders? Can we choose where to live our own lives? These are some of the questions I am posing.”
In the latest iteration of the project, Inomata made tiny crustacean wedding chapels, which are modeled on the chapels that are popular in Japan even though only 1% of the population identifies as Christian. “I ask myself, ‘Are we Japanese living in a mimicry of the Western world?'” she says.
As Inomata 3-D prints the new plastic homes, the hermit crabs aren’t always fans. “In many cases they did not like it, and had been thrown into the water bowl by the next morning,” she says. “There were occasional hermit crabs that became interested, measuring the entrance sizes and circling round carefully checking the “homes” that I’d created for them. When they decided they liked it, they moved in rather quickly.”
Inomata’s project isn’t the only attempting to 3-D printing homes for hermit crabs; Makerbot project attempted to crowdsource designs for actual beaches. In some parts of the world, as overzealous beachcombers take too many shells from beaches, hermit crabs are facing a housing shortage.