MAS Context Fall Talks 2022

Conor O’Shea: Designing Urban Biodiversity

September 13, 2022 at 6PM

Online talk by Conor O’Shea about the recent projects by his landscape architecture practice, Hinterlands.


Designing Urban Biodiversity: Landscape Strategies for Multispecies Design

In this lecture Conor O’Shea discussed recent projects by his landscape architecture practice, Hinterlands, that exemplify the firm’s commitment to radically rethinking the contemporary urban realm through the medium of landscape.

Against the backdrop of climate change and biodiversity loss–what many now refer to as the sixth great mass extinction–Conor revealed how Hinterlands is designing novel landscape strategies that reimagine our urban areas to be teeming with plants, insects, and other non-human species, from cicadas to monarch caterpillars to bison.

Conor discussed projects at a range of scales, including award-winning competition entries such as the Springdale Veterans Memorial and Cicada Code, and small-scale built work like the Storefront Pollinator Planters, made from diverse native plant mixes that support insect life on city streets.

Through a behind-the-scenes look at the Hinterlands methodology, Conor detailed how the evolving Hinterlands design process, which relies heavily on design experimentation, iteration, and emerging representational techniques, plays a critical role in the firm’s design work.

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Cicada Code is a set of proposed changes to Chicago’s landscape ordinance that anticipates the arrival of the 17-year cicada in 2024. Cicada Code, by Hinterlands, 2020. © Hinterlands.

Suggested readings

Duquette, Jared, Lauren Mathias, and Conor O’Shea. “Bridging the Gap: Integrating Landscape Architects in Wildlife Conservation,” The Wildlife Professional vol. 3 (2021): 51-54.

Hunter, MaryCarol. “Using Ecological Theory to Guide Urban Planting Design: An Adaptation Strategy for Climate Change,” Landscape Journal vol. 30 (2011): 2-11,

Lewis, Abigail Derby et al. “Does Nature Need Cities? Pollinators Reveal a Role for Cities in Wildlife Conservation,” Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7 (2019),

Milman, Oliver. The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires that Run the World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022.

Tallamy, Douglas W. Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2019.

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Continuum celebrates Silicon Valley’s culture of reinvention. Continuum, by Hinterlands, feat. Chicago Design Office, 2020. © Hinterlands.

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Conceived and installed through a collaborative and interdisciplinary process, this highly visible courtyard garden celebrates Mather High School students, teachers, and staff. Mather Celebration Garden, by Hinterlands, 2018. © Hinterlands.

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These locally-sourced native plant combinations create valuable pollinator habitat. Storefront Pollinator Planters, by Hinterlands, 2022. © Hinterlands.

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Springdale Veterans Memorial Park is a seven-acre destination honoring military veterans that provides a range of opportunities for contemplation and commemoration. Springdale Veterans Memorial Park, by Hinterlands, 2020. © Hinterlands.