How architecture can integrate with the natural world

Creating constructions that are one with the landscape is not a new concept. From the secluded mountain temples of the Buddhists carved into cliff-sides and shrouded by trees, to the Egyptian pyramids built from manmade stone resembling natural rock, architects have often sought to match structures to surroundings.

Designs influenced by our world’s natural weather cycle are often driven by necessity. Architecture crafted to insulate us from freezing temperatures or keep us cool in extreme heat can be as vital to our survival as buildings built low to the ground to withstand seismic activity like earthquakes.

The continuing quest for renewable energy usage to secure our future is a critical issue on the international agenda. Architects of conscience who are designing new homes and structures must take this into account. Through considering our planet and appreciating all it has to offer, we are afforded the opportunity to live in harmony with it and reap the rewards of a healthy and happy living space.


Organic architecture

A term conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright, “organic architecture” is an architectural philosophy that aims to create harmony between our natural world and the human habitats we construct. Through design with an eye for integration and sympathy to its surroundings, employing organic architecture, a structure becomes unified with the environment it inhabits.

Every element in the architectural design should be considered with this approach, from locally sourced materials to geometry that echoes the natural edifices nearby. In a reflection of the symbiosis of nature, each individual component of the architectural design should relate to each other and to the whole.

In 1935, Wright designed the “Fallingwater” weekend home for Edgar J. Kaufman Senior and his family in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. An ideal example of organic architecture, the house was built in part over a creek and waterfall using pale ochre-coloured concrete that integrates with the natural rocky outcrops and woodland in which it nestles.

Inside Fallingwater, the fireplace hearth uses boulder rock from the ledge where the house is built and is constructed to emulate the creek below. Frameless, the windows merge interior and exterior and a natural spring flows in and out of the building. The sound of rushing water can be heard throughout the house and many of the rooms are small to encourage inhabitants outdoors to join with nature.

The rules of organic design

Founder of the UK’s Ecological Design Association, David Pearson is also the co-founder of a forward-looking group Gaia International, comprised of ecologically inspired and responsible architects.

An architect and planner in his own right, Pearson explains the group’s perspective:

“Far from expensive technological dreams, we need a down to earth vision — a future home integrated into a sustainable lifestyle for all of us. Whether old or new, future housing will need to employ life-supporting systems. Materials, and spatial designs that meet the health, conservation and spiritual criteria.”

Pearson outlined a list of potential rules to be relied on when designing organic architecture in the group’s Gaia Charter. Designs should find inspiration in nature and emulate it through diversity, sustainability and conservation and take these into consideration when constructing in a location. They should “grow out of the site” and be original following natural flows present while remaining adaptable and flexible. Structures should satisfy spiritual needs as well as physical and social requirements and celebrate positive qualities of life, such as youth and play.

Elemental architecture

Constructing buildings that not only suit the aesthetics of their surrounds but the climate they inhabit is an important design consideration for architects. In 2015, architecture firm BIG’s exhibition entitled Hot to Cold was held at the iconic National Building Museum in Washington, USA. Colour coded models from red to blue were suspended from the museum ceiling displaying a versatile selection of climate coordinated architectural designs.

Founded by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, BIG’s ambition is to create intriguing designs which are both sustainable and work well with the natural world. Different extremes of climate drive design, with Ingels commenting:

“Across the planet, people have found ways to work with the locally available material and techniques to respond to the local landscape and climate in ways that optimise human living conditions.”

Giving examples, Ingles cited the whitewashed Cubist homes found in the Greek islands. Painted white to reflect the days heat, the flat styled roofing of these abodes makes for an ideal evening retreat, that is both cool and breezy.

On the other temperature extreme, igloos dominate the architecture of the arctic. In terms of volume these structures present a minimal surface area which in turn minimises the heat lost from within.

Environmental considerations

Green design solutions are an ever-growing element of architectural design. The importance of creating living spaces and premises that have less negative impact on the natural world has never been more important than it is today.

Passive solar structures use the movement of the sun to absorb its heat to warm the people living within during winter. Designed with an overhanging shade, they are also ably kept cool in summer. This simple architectural design can cut cooling and heating costs by up to 85%.

The Passivhaus is another eco-friendly design where thermal comfort is created via post cooling or post heating fresh air flow.

Renewable energy sources are fast becoming more affordable and therefore more common in architectural designs. From solar panels to biomass boilers, this renewable technology is now being used effectively in homes.

Architecture that integrates with our world allows us to not only preserve its natural splendour, but also enables the homes and buildings we live our lives within to become a part of this beauty.

We are as much a part of this natural world as the trees and stone we make our homes alongside. The heat and light from the sun is as essential to us as are the life-giving waters of our lakes and streams. It seems mutually beneficial to fully consider our environment in our architectural designs for our personal wellbeing and the Earth’s too.

Architecture that integrates with the natural world is not just building homes, but a future for those who live in them.

Posted by Mark
August 29, 2019

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