Professor in Residence, Department of Architecture, GSD, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, USA
Livestock is the largest driver of landscape change in the world, depleting land and water resources, negatively impacting biodiversity and contributing significantly to climate change. Though the environmental impact of livestock farming has been well documented, the role of the fence in shaping the form and function of livestock production landscapes deserves more attention. The evolution of fencing technology from wooden post to barbed wire has transformed vast swaths of the American landscape, facilitating agricultural intensification at the cost of ecological fragmentation. Emerging technologies in virtual fencing offer the opportunity to subvert this paradigm by electronically corralling and moving livestock via GPS-enabled collars. This article places the application of virtual fencing technologies within design discourse and outlines untapped opportunities for design intervention. The first section comprises a survey of historical and contemporary fencing technologies, highlighting the economic drivers and ecological consequences of innovation. The second section explores the emergence of sustainable ranching systems and virtual fencing technology. Finally, a speculative design proposal considers the potential of responsive fencing technologies to reformat grazing landscapes for adaptation and ecological production.