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Nature Architecture, a Saga of the Eons. A Quick Review

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It's been a bittersweet relationship with us humans and nature. Mother Nature has been patiently grooming us since we can remember and vow to continue doing so if only we don’t petulantly wriggle our hand frees out of hers. We have repeatedly eloped home, especially in the past couple of centuries; but all the same, we have always come back curling up in Mother Nature’s arms.

Recent memory has repeatedly witnessed the likes of Trump who barbarically deny the whole thing altogether, but the same record has proven that these cursory trends don’t prevail.

There’s simply no way around it actually; we all have to cave to the very same formidable force of nature that is sworn to protect us against any harm graciously.

That’s why it’s bittersweet.

As for the role of natural or nature architecture, there have been numerous approaches to integrate and set perfectly within nature and play by its rules, be inspired by it, and be aware of its demands.

Each of these rather separate adaptations for achieving a perfect “nature architecture” has flourished through sometimes vastly different architectural styles all across the history.

Iranian wind towers in Iran, Yazd

Pretty early on, by the time the first manmade shelters were erected, nature-inspired architecture and the ways to accommodate its needs were the pillars for survival. Plus, they would make their aesthetic beauty that still appeals to us today.

Some even have gone further to define beauty as what is in harmony with nature. That’s why various movements across both ancient and contemporary history have set nature as their primary source of inspiration. If you are looking for more information about ancient architecture go here right away.

Many vernacular forms that intertwine nature and architecture have been seamlessly aware of nature’s simple, yet fundamental demands.

the Parthenon in Acropolis, Athens

Greek, Roman, and Persian nature architecture concepts, as some of the first major Civilizations on earth that perfectly adhered to natural proportions, rhythms, and patterns they’d watchfully seen around them.

For instance, Parthenon as the crown jewel of the Doric period in ancient Greece embodies the Greek’s curious eye for nature and their study of human physique and mentality as an acting part in it.

According to the Roman author, Vitruvius, the architects have deliberately made some unusual refinements to defy the optical illusions of the human eye when it beholds Parthenon in front of it. A hint at the Greek’s remarkable attention to the surrounding nature.

a beehive

Just to name a few, the same inquisitive eye is seen through other nature architecture styles around the world such as Persia or Japan.

The modern take of what the ancient Greek, Japanese, Roman, or Persian did, can be seen in a multidisciplinary trend called Biomimetic architecture.

Instead of seeking solutions out of the very forms we see throughout nature, Biomimetic nature architecture tries to incorporate the governing overhead rules that build up natural forms from scratch.

You might come across the same concept under Sustainable architecture which shares some traits with Biomimetics too.

Sagrada Familia cathedral in Madrid, by Antoni Gaudi

The upshot is their effort to take shortcuts to solve complex problems and adopt natural responses that have been perfected over millions of years of evolution.

An example might be the hexagonal structure bees make to store honey. It perfectly exploits all possible space for storage, smooths out the injection and extraction of honey, and perfectly preserves the energy that is stored within the beehive against the fluctuating weather outside.

You are definitely not the first person to think to yourself, “that might actually work for our structures too!”. And you’re right!

Examples such as this can go on and on and on and keep astonishing you, but we’re here for something else! We want to figure out how to use these familiar forms for a responsive nature architecture.

Weltzheimer Johnson House by Frank Lloyd Wright

There are other trends too. Some nature architecture concept interpretations have tried to seamlessly flow by their environment instead of ruling it. Organic architecture calls for such an intriguing notion.

Maybe there’s not a better example than what Frank Lloyd Wright has made decades ago early in the 20th century. He asserts a building that is to be built about a hill, shouldn’t be built “on the hill”, but should be a part “of the hill”. This way it won’t overshadow the scene by emphasizing itself more than it needs to.

An organic nature inspired architecture should be part of a bigger natural dialogue. There has to be a seamless connection between the building and its surrounding.

There are yet other narratives on nature and architecture known as Green movements that especially rose after the oil prices lit up the market in the 60s and 70s. The buzz around Eco-Tech or Sustainable nature architecture might overlap in time with Green movements.

What they all have in common is their high regard for renewable energy sources, conserving them by employing reusable and safe material, and eliminating harmful environmental impacts on the building’s surrounding.

Reichstag dome over the German Parliament complex

After knowing our way around different approaches to nature architecture a little, it is time to put it all into context.

Here are some of the most genius projects that create a sound dialogue between nature and architecture in the recent history.

Fallingwater House - Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater House - Frank Lloyd Wright

Placed over the stream instead of sitting alongside it, as originally asked by the employer, and located in the middle of the tree covered slopes of Mill Run in Pennsylvania, Fallingwater House is Frank Lloyd Write’s genius design where he truly showcases how a nature architecture should complement its surrounding rather than dominating it.

The house keeps a perfect visual harmony with the foliage of trees around it, through its cantilevered concrete set of horizontal terraces and vertical stone-clad pillars and chimney.

The tallest vertical line that rises above the central fireplace, plays the heart for this rather live building that opens up and creates a stable co-living of nature and architecture.

The Organic blend between the house and its natural environment runs both through its form and material.

Beijing National Aquatics Center - PTW Architects

Beijing National Aquatics Center - PTW Architects

It’s easy to see what has been the primary source of inspiration for this fine nature architecture. An arbitrary bubble form shapes all the faces of the cube that houses an aquatic competition venue, originally purposed for the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

The outer dual-ETFE coat that fills the bubble-shaped frames of the complex can adjust to the varying daylight and control the interior’s natural illumination. Also, as a giant greenhouse, the building absorbs and retains energy and saves it to the concrete base at the bottom of the building where the pools are set.

The natural form of the center collects rainwater, harvests natural light, elevates the amount of thermal gain, and decreases the use of water. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been up to today’s energy and environment-wary standards.

Selgas Cano Architecture Office - Iwan Baan / Selgas Cano

Selgas Cano Architecture Office - Iwan Baan / Selgas Cano

Selgas Cano is a Spanish architecture practice.

They have masterfully showcased their aspiration for a perfect blend of nature and architecture in the design of their own office.

With its floor to ceiling glass envelope, the office seamlessly invites the green forest outside in and connects the two as if there’s merely nothing in between.

This genius iconic cube develops a modern nature architecture concept and builds this bold message that nature and architecture can perfectly co-live.

Beijing National Stadium - Herzog & de Meuron

Beijing National Stadium - Herzog & de Meuron

Bird’s nest they call it; quite well-put. Pretty obvious actually.

The nature architecture concept of this stadium that sits next to the Beijing National Aquatics Center for the 2008 Olympic Games, adopts the arbitrary but robust form of a bird’s twig-made nest.

Due to its fractal form that’s abundantly seen in nature, it resists seismic forces well. Plus, it offers an eye-catching display that’s naturally beautiful and appealing.

An age-proven form throughout nature has been the source of inspiration for this nature architecture that hauled the symbol for the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

30 St Mary Axe - Foster and Partners

30 St Mary Axe - Foster and Partners

One of the first ecological high rises in London is Foster’s 30 St Mary Axe. It has become an iconic part of the city’s skyline.

This nature architecture resembles a cucumber. It widens from the bottom up, giving more space to the urban plaza at the street level and halfway through, sharpens slenderer all the way to the top where it hones into a small cap, giving a better view of the urban scenery in the background to the neighboring viewers.

The tower’s nature inspired architecture is enveloped with a diagonal outer structure, covered with a transparent glazing round façade. It frees up the whole floor inside from obtrusive columns that usually get in the way in office spaces.

A series of spiral atria vertically connect the 41 floors together, creating effective natural ventilation through the high-rise, saving an immense amount of energy, and creating social interaction spaces across the building.

Openings across the outer glazing of the tower suck the air in and create a natural ventilation current up toward the top loop-shaped opening.

All these features add up to the embodiment of a nature architecture concept in its fullest grandest scale.

Apple Campus 2 in Silicon Valley - Foster and Partners

Apple Campus 2 in Silicon Valley - Foster and Partners

There’s not a single straight piece of glass in this building; not even the iPhones in the employees’ pockets! But that’s not the only lavish feature about Apple Park.

Steve Jobs envisioned the tech-giant’s aspirations in a ring-shaped campus with four floors.

But it is what tops it all off that makes the building a true nature architecture. Photovoltaic panels free Apple Park from the need to connect to the city’s power grid.

Each floor is highlighted by a white canopy that has jutted out all round across. Aside from protecting the employees against the sun-kissed Californian town of Cupertino, these canopies have built-in ventilation ducts that let natural air flow in and out of the building.

They both help with a more efficient passive conditioning inside and also create a closer dialogue among nature and architecture.

The ring form of the campus is both approached by a foliage of trees. So, the fully glazed exterior of the building creates an immersive visual connection with the natural scenery outside.

What other genius nature architectures have you seen for yourself? Share an amazing experience in the comments section below.

Mitchel Sardy
Author: Mitchel Sardy
I am a Computer Engineer and an architecture enthusiast, graduated on both majors up to the master's degree from the University of Washington; I'm an advisor to early-stage architecture startups all around the globe; the ones using computer-based solutions to design in architecture.

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