Joanne Li

MLA I

Masters in Landscape Architecture Thesis Prize

Ovis Versatilis: Icelandic Sheep Farm as Land Art Museum and Evolution Lab

Advised by Sergio Lopez-Pineiro

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. 

Green pasture and mountain landscape with a triangular sloping land form constructed in the center.
“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.

Diagram of the slope of a land form with drawings of sheep and associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Fold.” As sheep graze, the individuals that are able to get onto a steeper slope will get a higher reward: they get to eat more species of grasses.

Diagram of slope and radiation analysis and initial planting plan.
Geometric analysis and planting palette of the landform pasture “The Fold.” The surface has continuous gradients of slopes and solar radiation, forming an unlimited array of microclimates for vegetation growth. Farmers plant more species in areas with a steeper slope.

Diagram overlaid on a rendering of a green pasture landscape with a triangular land form.
Operational steps, weight assessment, and sheep grouping on the landform pasture “The Fold.”

Graph of many lines rising slowly from left to right over an x-y axis.
This graph explains the grouping and assessment mechanism. As sheep grow, their grazing needs are monitored and analyzed, and the result is used for sorting them into the most suitable paddock.

Topographic map of a mountainous region along a river, with details about grazing throughout the calendar year.
The landform pastures are situated along the river and the road in the Icelandic valley. The farmers lead sheep onto the pastures and perform grazing management according to the schedules. The pastures vary greatly in slope and are used in different seasons, which will support a wide array of grazing needs.

Wide view of a river passing through a green pasture and mountain landscape with the sun shining brightly in the sky.
“The Flood” is one of the summer pastures. It touches the bank of the river and cuts into the earth. The river is the glacial outlet of the ice cap Hofsjökull. During the summer, when the melted glacial water overflows the river, the water floods into the cut, which appears as a geometric shape etching into the earth.

Aerial view of a green pasture landscape with a single road, a winding river, and a long narrow landform in between the two.
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.

Diagram of slope analysis and planting plan.
Geometric analysis and planting palette of the landform pasture “The Flood.” The surface has continuous gradients of slopes and solar radiation. Farmers plant more additional species of grasses in areas with a steeper slope.

Diagram of a cross section of a landscape showing a sloping trench cut into the earth with drawings of sheep and associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Flood.” Slope gradients with diverse grasses accommodate the grazing needs of all the individuals in the yellow group. Sheep that climb high and get the most grass, are more likely to possess genes for a high muscle fat ratio.

Rendering of a pasture landscape in winter covered in snow. Sheep pass along a central pathway cut through hilly landforms covered with windmills.
“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.

Diagram of a sloping landform showing drawings of sheep and their associated data.
Genetic mapping of the Icelandic sheep herd grazing on the landform pasture “The Enclosed.” As sheep graze, the individuals that can climb a steeper slope will get more rewards: they can eat more species of grasses. As sheep walk on different slopes and eat different grasses, they start to develop different muscle tones.

Drawing of a hand holding a package of meat in front of a refrigerated supermarket shelving display. The meat packages are labeled with data about the individual sheep.
Farmers sell the lamb at the farm store. As visitors pick up the packages, they will see all the details extracted from the microchip of the sheep, including the pastures the sheep experienced, the grasses the sheep ate, the growth curve, etc.