Design Collaboration and Exaptation in a Habitat Restoration Project

Mitchell Whitelaw*, Joyce Hwang, Darren Le Roux

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper reports on a collaborative, practice-based design research project focused on habitat restoration. An architect, a conservation biologist, and a digital designer worked together to develop an artificial habitat structure for an urban nature reserve in Canberra, Australia. Through a process of reflective analysis, we characterize this collaboration as a productive alliance of diverse skills and divergent perspectives that required responsiveness, improvisation, and a willingness to work outside disciplinary norms. We observe the importance of divergent but overlapping frames within the collaboration and design outcomes, which appropriated resources across contexts to serve multiple functions. In response, we propose a conceptual frame that draws on the concept of exaptation—an evolutionary process in which existing forms acquire new adaptive functions—to account for this tendency. We argue that an exaptive perspective has value beyond this case study, offering a useful way to reframe contemporary design expertise and authorship while also enabling us to better address a more-than-human world.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)223-241
    Number of pages19
    JournalShe Ji
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


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