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MESO-COSM is a multimedia exhibition examining how mesocosm experiments measure the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Through the construction of speculative mesocosm prototypes, field research, and case study documentation, the project explores the relationship between design and ecological care in the context of environmental loss. A mesocosm, or “medium world,”  is an infrastructure for long-term outdoor ecological experimentation. According to the systems ecologist Eugene P. Odum, mesocosms are situated between the microcosm of the laboratory and the macrocosm of the planet, enabling observations of real-world conditions. Filling the gap between these scalar extremes, mesocosms are critical research infrastructures for studying the effects of anthropogenic climate change. They are typically organized into arrays of self-similar environmental “patches” in which variables such as temperature or atmospheric composition are adjusted to simulate changes in an ecosystem. The mesocosms are designed to be breathable, operable, and adjustable, suggesting new ways to reimagine architecture’s relationship to the land and its cycles. The open-endedness of the mesocosm offers a way to reorient environmental thinking toward a less controlled and increasingly entangled spatial practice.  

Alongside the construction of a 1:1 scale mesocosm in the gallery as well as case study research of experiments from around the world, MESO-COSM proposes four architectural prototypes that test this open-ended tectonic through calibrated enclosures and environmental systems. Typical architectural assemblies reject the exterior, hermetically enclosing the interior to remove any possibility of climatic mixing. Instead, is there an alternative way to design the envelope, to reclaim architecture as a planetary assemblage? Like mesocosms, we imagine that these prototypes are both lively machines and living experiments: full of inclement weathers, pollinated winds, and creaturely communities. Multi-layered roof filters, facade shading enclosures, as well as water and energy capture infrastructures encourage environmental adjustments at the scale of the building. These systems create thermal gradients and ventilation currents, enabling a more sensuous open-air interior. Situated in the uneasy space between technical mediation and environmental encounter, these “meso-types” suggest architectures that participate in the frictions and mediums of our changing climates.

MESO-COSM is the recipient of the 2024 ACSA Faculty Design Award. 


Project Leads: Daniel Jacobs, Brittany Utting

Design & Research Team: Anna Brancaccio, Nino Chen, Maximilien Chong Lee Shin, Harish Krishnamoorthy, Jane Van Velden

Installation Photographs: Sean Fleming /

Location: Mashburn Gallery, University of Houston, TX, September - October 2023. 

MESO-COSM is sponsored by the Hines Scholar as Design/Design as Scholar (HdSd) Program of the Undergraduate Architecture Program at the Hines College of Architecture and Design, University of Houston. The exhibition is also funded by the Diluvial Houston Initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-supported project, and Rice Architecture.

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