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Living architecture

Report 013, living

Living materials in architecture; the structure is created as it grows.

The lockdown has reignited our love of nature. It will manifest in living architecture, building with living materials.

The lockdown has reignited our love of nature We can see its power, its beauty, its peace, and the opportunities that it can provide us. The opportunities are manifesting themselves in many ways.

The first I want to discuss is living architecture; living structures.

Architecture traditionally uses artificial materials, or “dead” materials, such as stone, or dead wood. But there is an opportunity to build with living materials.

How does this work? You design a structure, and use living materials to build it, so the structure is created as it grows. A great material for this is willow branches. If a branch is removed, it can be planted in the ground, and will continue to grow. They can be guided around a structure, creating a sunshade, or other functional or aesthetic form you have designed. And the structure itself will evolve over time, remaining interesting. Living architecture can also be used in conjunction with traditional building materials, e.g. allowing plants to work with existing structures, to bring more shade and interest to a building. The willow branch is a great material for this, but there are undoubtedly others – we will continue our research in this area, so watch this space!

The second opportunity is using plants as an element in a structure; living walls.

This works well with both hanging, and creeping plants, such as ivy. The movement UP and DOWN. They can grow on their own or be strung or guided with netting between existing architectural elements such as pillars or walls and become a part of the structure that is alive. This too can be used to create additional shade, and the beauty of having these walls made of living materials is that they create a distinctly less intense shadow than a stone wall, as there is always a bit of sun or light let through. It is possible to even decide how much shade is required, and select the plants based on that. Because its alive, and not static, there are more opportunities to create interest in a building throughout the year. That can be by choosing evergreens, or deciduous plants, by choosing plants that change colour over the seasons, or bloom in certain seasons. Once you see these as architectural possibilities, the opportunities are endless.

It is designing with material, like willow and bamboo by blowing up the scale – scaling furniture into architecture. A world of possibilities to create natural and diverse shapes in architecture.

Then there are opportunities to use plant materials in a different way. Traditional architecture is usually made with straight lines and geometric angles, because common materials such as wood and steel lend themselves more easily to those shapes. But there are possibilities to create other shapes, using other materials. We are all familiar with the use of rattan (basically dead willow branches), to create furniture, the typical Colonial chairs and tables often found in conservatories, or gardens. But there is an opportunity to use it on a much larger scale. In China and Japan, for example, they build entire structures out of rattan, because it is flexible, yet strong. This is a trend that hasn’t really crossed over yet, possibly in part because the woven structure makes it less rain and wind proof as exterior walls. However, with changing climates and warmer weather, this is becoming a more viable option. And of course – it can be a seasonal structure, in use during only the warm summers. We can look to countries already using these materials as inspiration.

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