2021 Thesis Prize in Landscape Architecture: Joanne Li’s “Ovis Versatilis: Icelandic Sheep Farm as Land Art Museum and Evolution Lab”

Rendering of evolution farm

“The Fold” is one of the spring landform pastures. It has two folds for the sheep to graze on, one facing the sun and the other below the ground. As the visitors observe the pasture from the west, the sunlight from the south accentuates the shadow. The geometric shape forms a stark contrast with the mountain at the back.

by Joanne Li (MLA ’21) — Recipient of the Thesis Prize in Landscape Architecture

This thesis explores the role of evolutionary biology in landscape architecture, examining designed landscapes as potential drivers for species evolution. It argues that any landscape design makes direct and immediate impacts on the fitness level of the inhabiting species. Therefore, landscape designs need to consider evolutionary consequences at longer time scales. The proposal focuses on the evolution of Icelandic sheep (Ovis aries) and designs a sheep farm network that serves as a land art museum and evolution lab in a northern Icelandic valley. The farm consists of an assemblage of land art works with farming and lab infrastructures designed for sustainable sheep farming, ecological restoration, and sublime visiting experience. The purpose is to create resilient sheep herds (Ovis versatilis, the fictional Latin name for the new sheep species) and revive the sheep farming industry, while generating an iconic cultural landscape that celebrates the cultural, economic, and ecological sheep farming traditions of Iceland. 

Visit the 2021 Virtual Commencement Exhibition to see more from this and other prize-winning projects.

Aerial view of the landform pasture "The Flood."
An aerial view of the landform pasture “The Flood” during flooding in summer. The shape of the pasture forms a stark contrast with the naturalistic river.
Perspective at sunset of sheep moving towards "the Enclosed" winter pasture.
“The Enclosed” is a winter landform pasture. It is located near the base of the three farms so farmers can manage the sheep without traveling far in the cold winter. As farmers lead the sheep into the pasture, the early winter sun aligns with the entrance pathway, which allows appreciation of the last sun rays before the long winter starts.