VIBRANT NATURES A PRIMER FOR INTEGRATING NATURE INTO THE CITY WITH ARCHITECTURE AS THE TOOL
ABSTRACT The agenda of Vibrant Natures is to pursue nature’s integration into the city through architecture. The disconnect between humanity and nature has reached a critical point of reflection through modernity1. Our role as architects in the 21st century must surely be to build new connections between the natural and the urban. This will require redefining environmentalism and sustainability not as a practical or technical pursuit devoid of the poetic2, but instead designing for an integrated enjoyment of nature: designing in collaboration with nature. Vibrant Natures argues for an urbanism which is interdependent on landscape, ecology and the particularities of place. Vibrant Natures is in pursuit of a city saturated with life, both human and natural. At its most ambitious, this manifesto is encouraging a complex reciprocity between, nature, city and self. The Vibrant Natures manifesto, is seen as a web of processes3 and conversations on the urban environment, rather than a strict doctrine. Acting as a primer for an emerging practice of environmental and social urban sustainability, by examining the spatial and phenomenological implications of natures integration into the city.
VIBRANT Vibrant : Derived from the New Materialist understanding of nature as a vibrant, complex web of agencies which embody human culture and nature. Jane Bennet’s Vibrant Matter4 has been a pivotal text for my worldview.
NATURES Natures : Seeing human nature and environmental nature as an entangled, interdependent process, of which neither exist in isolation. This is based on my fascination with the work of Henry Thoreau who believed that human beings need to approach the world as “nature viewing nature.”5
Vibrant Natures is speculating on new methods of thinking about the city and about the relationship between human beings and nature. How can we use architecture to change peoples understanding of nature?
asks urgent questions about the relationship between nature and the city, and the role it could have in shaping the neighbourhoods, streets, homes and rooms.
is a new form of urbanism which understands that nature is vital for human beings, and if we are to critically respond to decay of the environment, then we need to see our relationship to nature as one which is energetic, interdependent and vibrant—not from a position of doom.
proposes new models for designing pieces of city, which make visible natures processes to urban city dwellers, and triggers new experiences of nature through the design of everyday spaces. Urbanism which embodies ecology, culture, people and the particularities of place.
is a truly collaborative proposal which challenges the role of the architect, as a designer who practices interdependently with biologists, ecologists and economists to create a city which helps human beings and nature to flourish. 6
understands that there are no cities without nature, and no nature without cities. We must end the fiction this relationship is not reciprocal and embrace the complex reality that cities must grow in collaboration with nature.
is critical of sustainability devoid of the poetic and reduced to the technical or scientific. Reconnecting nature to human beings requires designing spaces which embody a holistic experience of nature, including its deeper currents and phenomena.
contests the division between economic and ecological systems: advocating for new value systems for construction which embody ecology and biodiversity into feasibility studies and remove the concept of waste.
boldly steps toward a spatial practice which is: architecture-landscape-ecology-urbanism, as an interdependent web of spatial design, connected as a process for reimagining the link between human beings and nature. 7
Modernity has created a rift between nature and humanity through urbanisation and industrialisation. We are at a critical point of reflection on the future of our cities and must seek to make positive changes to this rapidly changing environment.
If we are to design for a sustainable world and a more integrated lifestyle with nature6 – we must first look at the current crises of the world with optimism. To create a new piece of architectural culture and a new method of practicing, it is important to explore the global, urban and individual contexts in which architecture is currently being practised. This manifesto begins with a critique of global currents and architectural practice today, and progresses into synthesis, where the theoretical framework for Vibrant Natures is established. Climate change is now our primary link between nature and culture7, which have been seen in isolation for much of the industrial era. Only now are they starting to collide and make visible their entanglement8. However, we are approaching connecting nature and cities from a point of doom rather than seeing the potential vitality of the relationship. Guattari9 believes that the current crises are not only the decay of the environment but all three of the ecological registers: Environment, Culture, and Self. The divide between cultural progress and nature has been named The Metabolic Rift by Jason Moore10. Vibrant Natures is in response to the rift between nature and culture, and wishes to reconnect them through architecture and landscape design.
Modernity has distanced ourselves from nature, to the point of not only a fragmented global society, but a fractured self-understanding of the individual11. Modernity saw nature as an object to be controlled and used. It was ignorant or oblivious, both to our dependence upon it and to how nature’s ceaseless creativity can alter our climate. Humanity has secreted itself into every corner of the earth and formed the seemingly controlled environment of the city12. Nature and the contemporary city seem at odds with each other; even putting them in the same sentence feels jarring. The contemporary city makes humanity feel in control, with hermetically sealed offices and distanced extractivism13, we can control the temperature and light in a space with no effort or thought for the violence involved in the fuel’s extraction. To further abstract our view of nature, infrastructures of power and food coming into the city are made invisible, as with the cities excretion of waste to a distant land. The illusion at play in the city is that life is linear, resources come in, they are used and then they disappear as waste. In the natural world however, there is no waste: all matter exists in cycles, all matter is absorbed then transformed.
“Science can “make us masters and possessors of nature.” – René Descartes14
“Nature must be tortured for her secrets.” – Francis Bacon15
“The idea of nature as external has worked so effectively because capital must constantly locate natures external to it. Because these natures are historical and therefore finite, the exhaustion of one historical nature quickly prompts the “discovery” of new natures that deliver yet untapped sources of unpaid work.” – Jason Moore16
Culture The city is the embodiment of culture. Our economy, politics, social structures and ethics are all globalised. The culture in which we live is still trapped in an anthropocentric arrogance, and nature, most notably through climate change, is starting to suffer irreparable damage. In the building of our cities we squeezed rivers and concreted over floodplains to build densely, we removed nature and created monocultured farms and we erected glass towers reliant upon fossil fuels. In Peter Buchanan’s Big Rethink18 he labels this age as the ‘Petro-chemical era’ of urbanism. Here, cities are both founded and dependent upon an abundance of oil, rendering them inherently fragile. The dominantly economic vision of the city is limited to practicalities and aesthetics. The feasibility of building a tower in the city is a question of capital practicality and investment: the glass tower seem like an obvious choice. If we were however to measure the feasibility of the structure with an ecological value system, where the materials were measured by their damage to ecosystems and the number of years it took to create the fuel consumed for those materials, we would start to see a very different feasibility. 12
“The city gives a definite direction to nature.” – Martin Heidegger17
Late Modern Worldview
Fig. 1 - Richard Tarnas - Cosmic and Psyche These diagrams are representing the ontological shift from being Diagram derived from Richard Tarnas “Cosmos and Psyche” connected to nature to being separate from nature. In part due to urbanization and industrialisation.
Compare with Tony Fry “Becoming Human by Design”. For tens of millennia we lived as Nomads with the world as our home. Then we sePled and created a home within the world. But modernity created the psycho-‐cultural condi$on of homelessness (as well as leaving many homeless) which now threatens to leave all of us homeless, with neither places we feel at home nor our planetary home. Self
Late Modern Worldview
Ecological Postmodern Worldview
Vibrant Natures Worldview
Fig. 2 - Vibrant Natures We need to progress beyond the idea that nature and human beings are separate and understand that cities and culture are interdependent with nature. Through integrating biodiversity into the city we can begin to reconcile the self and nature. s
Self The understanding of the individual is changing, Brian Swimme believes “our consciousness is shifting from valuing individualism to embracing interdependence on a vast scale”19. In the hope to remove the distinction between humans(us) and nature(other), the New Materialist movement takes interdependence even further. Jane Bennett20 suggests that there is no individual self only an interconnected web of vibrant matter, both human and non-human. The transition from individual self to interdependent self will challenge our view of nature, and how we design with and for it. Modernity understood nature as the object to be viewed and controlled. Ecological postmodernism being defined by New materialists and Ecological philosophy see human beings as ‘of’ and ‘in’ nature. This strand of thought can be traced back to Henry Thoreau’s concept that human beings need to understand the world as ‘nature viewing nature’.21 The title of the manifesto has grown out of an ontology which sees human beings as ‘nature viewing nature’. Equally, as the materialist Bennett suggests, we must not divide the world into “dull matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, beings) [as these] quarantines of matter and life encourage us to ignore the vitality of matter”22. I hope that by altering the lens through which I view the city and nature, I will be able to create a cultural product which enjoys the complexities and contingencies which taking place when collaborating with nature. Vibrant Natures is founded on interdependence and entanglement, between city and nature, and between human beings and nature. 14
NATURE VIEWING NATURE
Fig. 3 - Paul Klee - Ancient Sounds In this abstract painting Klee is showing the relationship between the soil and the flower, but also between nature and ourselves. Klee states that “the artist is a man, himself nature and part of nature in natural space...But the ways that this man pursues both in his production and in the related study of nature may vary, both in number and in kind, according to his view of his own position in the natural space.” Could we design cities in the way Klee has represented the ecology of soil unfolding into a flower?
Architectural Praxis To shift from the general issues of modernity and the decaying ecologies of environment, culture and self, how do these affect the architectural profession? Architecture is currently being practiced in an era of doctrinal self-belief. As the architectural profession is seeing modernism and postmodernism maturing, through the Starchitect we see an unapologetic pursuit of style and identity. Their individual ideas and styles are often acontextual or ambivalent to the damage done to the nature of the site. The particularities of a place mean than building need to be designed as pieces of city, no longer just objects. Modernism and Postmodernism have categorised architecture into separate subjects, splitting the masterplan, the landscape, the building and the interior. In the same way as the Ford assembly line divided large complex tasks into smaller controlled tasks, architecture today is practiced as an assemblage of individuals. In Buchanan’s terms, this has not only distanced architecture from nature but created a crises of the imagination. Architects are struggling 16
to address the needs of sustainability, with the drive of capitalist market economies and the needs of clients—how then can they create a building which is culturally relevant on top of these issues? As mentioned previously, our value system is shifting from the individual to the interdependent community. Brian Eno recently labelled this shift from “genius to scenius”, as we move away from the “solitary genius towards a community of individuals each inspired by the other”. In Open Source Architecture, Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel23 define a new role of the Choral Architect, whose job is less a polymath but rather a strategist who can put the right profession in the right place within a project.
SHIFTING AWAY FROM INDIVIDUALISM
Current Architectural Practice Genius Hierarchical
Emerging Architectural Practice Scenius Holarchical
Fig. 4 - Individual to communal The role of the designer is becoming increasingly interdependent. The boundaries between disciplines are shifting and the platforms are there for collaboration to take place. Practice is becoming a complex web of agencies.
“Solitary genius to a Scenius: a community of individuals each inspired by one another.” – Brian Eno
Sustainable Practice The environmentalist movement as we know it today began in the 1970s. Yet rather than presenting nature as something with the capacity to improve human wellbeing and to enjoy, the same rhetoric of nature as enemy remains. The environmentalism movement is returning to mainstream discussion out of fear for the environment destabilising our ‘controlled’ cities. It is has taken Climate Change for us to realise that we are a part of nature and now it is ‘scaring’ us into action. Environmentalism, when born out of fear will always have a negative and reactionary lens. This is in part why in architecture, sustainability principles have been reduced to a technical process. Michael Braungart and William McDonough propose Cradle to Cradle24 as an alternative which “goes beyond the environmental chorus saying that growth is wrong and that it is virtuous to prune the pleasures we take in things like cars or shoes until there is no pleasure left.”. “The problem25” with architecture currently, Cedric Price argues is that “architecture lacks an authentic connection to nature.” While the problem is deeply complex and has taken generations of abstraction and objectivity, the solution states Price, is simple: “We must bring 18
nature back into architecture, we are made of nature in nature. We miss rhythms, we miss hot and cold, the lack of isolation from fossil fuels, the human beings need that. Just like it needs smell and taste.” Price is asking for a more authentic sustainability, which takes into account the poetic and romantic aspects of nature. He asks that architects pursue the subjective, experiential and phenomenal relationships between architecture and nature. I too tread the line between a technical and romantic interest in nature. I believe that for sustainability to be elevated beyond a stale technical issue, it must be infused with richness. If architects are to build public appreciation of nature and integrate it into the city, they cannot be mere technocrats but phenomenological urbanists who seek to integrate ecology, materialism and lyrical narrative into their work.
IS ENVIRONMENTALISM THE ANSWER? Ecology + Equity + Economy
Sustainability as technical pursuit Objective Technical Functional Nature as object
Emerging Ecological Practice Subjective Experiential Phenomenological Nature as subject
Fig. 5 - Experiential Sustainability Architects and Urban designers need to find new ways to make sustainability more enjoyable. We need to bring in the emotions, the senses and the meaning back into the way we design environmentally restorative architecture.
“Environmentalism still makes it difficult for a public convened by labelling, animals, vegetables, plants and minerals as a passive environment for humans to alter, rather than a vital materiality which at once human and non-human collaboration. – Jane Bennett26 “Sustainability is about making people happy so they consume less” – Gary Lawrence
“Cradle to cradle goes beyond the environmental chorus saying that growth is wrong and that it is virtuous to prune the pleasures we take in things like cars or shoes until there is no pleasure left.” – Michael Braungart, William McDonough27 19
Fig. 6 - Cradle to Cradle This diagram shows the levels of ecological success in design often it is hard to achieve the middle: socio-ecologiceconomic. A design form which Vibrant Natures aims for.
Fig. 7 - Ecological Postmodernism chart Created by Charlene Spretnak, this graph speculated on the characteristics of the past cultural era and what might be next. Many designers are still trapped in Modernist or Postmodern ideologies.
Through exploring the context of today’s practices at various scales it is clear there are crises looming of the environment, city and self, but also the ways in the architectural profession iself. How might a more propositional model, such as Vibrant Natures, create an emerging form of urban practice?
VIBRANT NATURES Agenda The purpose of Vibrant Natures is to make ecology and sustainability an embodied experience which creates happiness. Architecture and landscape are triggers for experiences, and Vibrant Natures attempts to construct is a new interconnectedness between humanity and nature in the city. Developers, clients and planners which are giving direction to the growth of cities need to examine their relationship to nature and determine their aspirations for the city. They must look critically at why human culture has abstracted nature to this point. This is a call for imaginative urbanism which works with the vitality and disorder of nature and the city to give shape to new typologies and experiences. I am arguing that instead of an architectural practice, architects to need be become think tanks, using spatial and urban understanding to further the growth of cities. Vibrant Natures will become a Transition Think Tank which uses architecture as a tool, to integrate nature into the city, as well as publish papers, work with policy makers and ecologists to affect change in much broader ways. I believe that the more architects resist interdependence and working with natures processes, the more they will be marginalised. The Vibrant Natures Transition Tank is pursuing sustainability of enjoyment not doom.
Urgent questions driving Vibrant Natures: How can we design cities and streets which embolden the human experience of nature? Could nature’s integration into spatial practices be a tool for reimagining the divide between society and form? What could the urban environment become if it was constructed to connect people to each other and nature? How can architecture reimagine nature in the city, and create public appreciation for ecological cycles? How can we use a forensic understanding of place to build an ecological value system which can convince clients to integrate nature into their design briefs? How can we challenge the relationship between ecological architecture and biomorphic form? How can we transcend the idea that human structures last forever and instead design pieces of city in which there is no waste. Can we come to appreciate construction as fascinating as deconstruction? Can architecture become an ecological process rather than a linear practice?
PRINCIPLES Towards vibrant cities: The Vibrant Natures manifesto is not a doctrine or rule-book to follow, rather a working method of processes which are in pursuit of creating the richest possible context from which architecture can be created. The following are some of the working processes which Vibrant Natures pursues:
•New Materialism – Embracing the entanglement between humans and nature •Interdependence – Between nature and city and of architecture among a community •Processual practice – Non-linear practice: deconstruction is as fascinating as construction •Plurality – A spatial language which accepts a multiplicity of things •The particular—in context – Forensic understanding of place •Ecological inventory – Working with the natural and cultural processes in a region •Beyond a building—a piece of city – Shifting from individual building to vibrant fabric •Experiential urbanism – Phenomena and lyrical narrative in creating pieces of city •Nature giving direction to the city – Reinterpreting Heidegger’s notion of the city •Delight and beauty – Shifting the rhetoric of sustainability as a way of enjoying the earth •Architecture as another nature – Integrating landscape and ecology into spatial design •Contingency – Designing in collaboration with nature must embrace the unforeseen •Entanglement and BIM – Responsive systems which enable adaptability and interdependence •Stewardship – Architecture is a cyclical process, and we must be a steward of the structure •Advocacy – Going beyond the traditional model of an architect 25
NEW MATERIALISM New Materialism offers a vigilant critique of modernity and the rational worldview which has caused such an unsustainable ecosystem. New Materialism follows feminist and ecological philosophy theories which shift attention away from individualism and towards the complex relationships between human beings and nature. It sees nature and human beings as vibrant matter, which is lively, vital and cyclical. For Vibrant Natures, New Materialism is seen as an exciting alternative to current modes of environmentalist and ecological theory, allowing us to understand the potential of the poetic and subjective processes being integrated into how human beings respond to nature.30
Fig. 8 - Cornelia Parker - New Materialist Through taking ‘dull matter’ and exposing it in new unforeseen ways, Cornelia Parker is demonstrating the poetic consequences of practicing New Materialism. Through seeing matter as vibrant and lively it unlocks the potential of an object and creates an emotional experience. This tactic could allow us to find new ways of enjoying the city.
INTERDEPENDENCE Karen Barad31 describes interdependence as intraaction. Intra-action is a process from which new agencies emerge from collaboration which could not have existed from any individual. Intra-action is taking place in architecture though BIM and Revit which sees the entanglement of a community of specialists integrating their designs into one model, this is no new idea but it is fundamental for achieving a more ecologically intelligent city. Vibrant Natures requires the design to emerge out of complex web of specialists. It’s success rests on working collaboratively with nature in such a way that the professional boundaries blur into a transdisciplinary approach.
Fig. 9 - Vibrant Natures Think Tank This structure is communal and interdependent, and sees the collaborative practice which architecture is becoming. I want to change the way we perceive nature in the city. This will be achieved through a range of methods, from design to urbanism to policy making.
VIBRANT NATURES THINK TANK
T ALL A INST
URE NAT N A URB
IC BL PU
E AC SP
SYST EMIC NDARDS SPACE STA CHA NGE LOBBYING EQUIT Y ECOLOGICAL VA LUE SYSTEMS
IES Y STRATEG
UCTION ECONSTR FOSTER D
EN VIR MAT ON ME NT AL OD DIT IES
INVE NTO RY
UR BA ND ES IGN
L AN DSC APE
ION CAT EDU
ON VATI O N L IN ERIA
FLO RA +
TICS EC OLO GIC AL URBAN NARRATIVES URB AN RE U ISM T EC THE T I H C OR AR Y E WRITING IV T A R O T RES CRITIC AL RE FLECT ION ARCHITECT URAL THEO RY
STEWARDSHIP COMM UNIT Y PARTI CIPAT ION FO ST ER NE W NA TU RE S
K LOOPS FEEDBAC O CR CRADLE T
PROCESSUAL PRACTICE Ecological design is the study of living processes. In these systems there is no waste, only living cycles. Processual practice sees through the ecological lens, where the design and construction of a building is not the end of the process; instead the architecture is equally concerned with construction and de-construction.32 Architects who wish to practice this way require humility and must submit to the idea that no manmade structure lasts forever. Processual practice is to appreciate that there is no such thing as waste in nature’s ecosystem. When cities are designed as a complex web of interdependent processes, the emerging architecture will be transformed.
Fig. 10 - Team 10 - The Smithsons The Smithsons had a fascinating view of the city. Poetic moments of the everyday defined their urbanism. The photo is often more powerful than mapping events.
Fig. 11. - AAA architects- R-Urban AAA map speculative urban projects, which look at economic, social, ecological and cultural experiences of a site and propose, additions which architecture or light tough urbanism could affect. They not only design their work, but build them and stay involved as long term stewards of the projects. They see architecture as a web of processes, not just built forms.
PLURALITY In order to transcend the architect as an individual in pursuit of a style, Vibrant Natures looks to Materialism and ecology. Plurality in architecture is born out of an understanding of nature’s core principles: collaboration, cooperation and competition. Submitting personal style to a community of styles which all see nature as model and mentor.
Fig. 12. - Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, personal home The architecture here is subjective, personal and accepts a diverse array of styles and materials. This house is testing the urban implications of the private house, with a tower and a wall of sandbags. It is an architecture of multiplicity.
THE PARTICULAR-IN CONTEXT If we are to create an urbanism which integrates nature and ecology into the city, we will need to design buildings and pieces of city which are deeply attuned to their locality. Taking the building as a mere object doesn’t grasp the context. The setting. The scene. The unseen. Ecology in practice is a forensic understanding of the site and its context: observing the living processes, both human and natural. To survey the human and natural ecology requires architects to study the site objectively and subjectively. It requires examination the experience of the site on the senses and any poetic narratives which may become apparent. Designing with the details in mind allows the architecture to open up the site and make visible the deeper currents of a place. Vibrant Natures hopes to add to the biodiversity and eco-systems of the sites which it builds on.
Fig. 13 - Diller, Scofidio + Renfro and James Corner The High Line started as a community asset, with a fan group of local in New York. With advocacy and press it grew into a real piece of city. The design took careful attention of the site, the particular seeds and weeds which cut up through the tracks became integral to the design. This project is completely contextual and particular to this site in ecology and materiality.
ECOLOGICAL INVENTORY When investigating a site, we must explore the human and natural processes taking place. To build an ecological inventory, you need to understand the movement of wind, air, water, pollen, animals and the flows of humans and culture of a place, only then, with this information at our fingertips can a vibrant architecture be intuited. The ecological inventory is to further the coexistence of human beings and nature, and create a diversity of junctions between the two. Ultimately it builds a value system which can be taken to the client and planners as a means of integrating ecology into the site. Reconnecting the city with the nutrients which it feeds off.
“The Ecological Society of America defines ecology as, "the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment." Ecology is very much the study of the place we call home, wherever home may be.” – Kristina Hill, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies33
Fig. 14 - James Corner - Measuring America James Corner has mapped ecologies across America and now has the inventory to create landscape and gardens across the country. Through an understanding of the patterns of wind, rain, seeds and seasons,Corner has the tools to build resilient landscapes. Architects need the same level of understanding as landscape architects and farmers have used for centuries.
BEYOND A BUILDING. A PIECE OF CITY Vibrant Natures proposes blurring the boundaries of architecture—landscape—urbanism and ecology. This this requires the architect to resist the urge to neglect public realm and larger urban processes. Cities are too complex to design buildings as isolated objects. Vibrant architecture must integrate into the complex web of human and natural agencies, infusing the piece of city with life and richness. Humans and nature complete the urbanity of the architecture.
EXPERIENTIAL URBANISM Ecological design in the city must achieve a complete embodied experience of nature; it must form poetic and technical responses to the environment. The integration of phenomenology could contribute to a increasingly vibrant and saturated urban design which is full of vitality. Dalibor Vesely describes phenomenology as a “less calculated response to a situation” which “reveals and explicates the world to us, to unite us with the unseen or unforeseen forces which may alter our perception”.34 Phenomenological urbanism understands architecture as a trigger for experiences and emotions but also as a way of making visible the unseen process of nature. How can we design pieces of the city which make visible the deeper currents and processes of site and create opportunities for people to derive meaning and satisfaction from the city? Can we use phenomenology to alter people’s perception of nature in the city?
NATURE GIVING DIRECTION TO THE CITY The growth of cities through modernity followed Heidegger’s assertion that “the city gives a definite direction to nature”. Vibrant Natures reverses this assertion and states that nature gives a definite direction to the city. This simple shift in rhetoric makes sure that when designing the urban environment, we are working in fruitful collaboration with nature. How would wind patterns, soil types and even pollination guide the formation of urban blocks and even the surfaces of the structures. If we incorporate nature into the design of cities, we could encourage more intelligent and attentive engagements with human and natural processes.
Fig.15 - Mycorrhizal networks - Bernstein35 This is a genetic map of soil and root systems and demonstrates the intelligence of nature’s ecosystem. This map is the ‘soils’ internet: a complex network of genetics and information. Could we design cities with these networks in mind? Could our masterplans aid these networks in their transfer of information?
DELIGHT AND BEAUTY Vibrant Natures core principle is to change people’s relationship to nature and use architecture to trigger experiences of natural phenomena which have been removed from urban life. To build public awareness and appreciation of nature in the city it must be beautiful. We must use imagination to return to culture, symbol and meaning. We need lyrical narrative which uncovers new ways of seeing and develops a context which reconnects urban dwellers with nature. Vibrant Natures aims to use beauty,narrative and poetics to create the strange combination of delight and disturbance felt when you experience a space which effects your emotions. How can these architectural interventions allow users to reinterpret and experience landscape in previously unimagined ways?
ARCHITECTURE AS ANOTHER NATURE “Landscape should not be separated from our conception of spatial and temporal phenomena at large.” - Laura Allen and Yeoryia Manolopoulou36 Before fossil fuels, architecture understood natural processes. It had to adapt to the climate and the land. The idea of a sealed building, separated from it’s context with a controlled interior environment is a dangerous and unsustainable method. Vibrant Natures aims to learn from vernacular structures of the past and understand how they worked with the particularities of a place. The new buildings which emerge will help to add to and cultivate existing nature of a place. As well as the new, these pieces of city must also offer points of reference for the memory of the site before. Sim van der Ryn states that “integration with nature’s processes can be applied at all levels of scale, creating revolutionary forms of buildings, landscapes, cities, and technologies”.37
ENTANGLEMENT AND BIM Entanglement is taking place in practice today, Building Information Modelling is a framework to standardise collaboration across disciplines. It is the connective web which allows information to be shared and developed in a life cycle which feeds back into new projects. BIM is relevant to Vibrant Natures in that it focuses on deconstruction, as well as construction. It sees the built fabric as a life cycle of information and matter. As a profession, we are heading into BIM level 2, which is integrated, interoperable building design. Vibrant Natures is fascinated by the evolution to the third category which sees the integration of the building into ecology, wind dynamics and soil. BIM has the potential to create architecture which is not only fully integrated into nature but also has a constant data stream which can be used to improve the building, bringing back the concepts of processual practice and an ecological inventory. Imagine the outcome if ecological data could be plugged into Revit?
Fig. 16 - Bew-Richards BIM genesis diagram To some Architects BIM is a scary word, it signifies information flying in and out of the studio and asks for increasingly collaborative and thorough practices. There is a reason to be excited...Level 3 BIM will be truly fascinating. The design will be produced in complete life-cycles with deconstruction as part of the package leading to an architecture without waste. Level 3 could also possibly integrate with ecologists and biologists to integrate natures life-cycles into the architectural model.
CONTINGENCY “The general architectural tendency, that of ridding the world of contingency so as to better manipulate that world into (a semblance of) order.” – Jeremy Till39 “In the end what I am criticising is not really architecture, but a fiction of it — a fiction that is so powerful that we would all wish to believe it, but a fiction nonetheless. This pure stuff is not architecture, because architecture is to the core contingent.” – Jeremy Till39 Till argues here that architects must stop deluding themselves with purity and objectivity and allow the ambiguous forces of reality to penetrate their work. This same ‘fiction’ Till describes relates the contemporary city which sees the forces of nature abstracted into rectangular plant pots and rationally planned gardens. Nature is a creative force and will challenge and compete with any man-made structure. We need to rid ourselves of the any semblance of order and embrace a complex web of nature and the city, embracing the contingent and the unforeseen.
STEWARDSHIP “The core value of this emerging economy is stewardship, rather than extraction.” – John Thackara40 Vibrant Natures rejects the linear process of passing on of a product when construction ends. With the advent of BIM and integrated modes of designing, the role of Architects can involve stewardship. If the architect is to become a steward of the building then they must be as fascinated by not only the formation of the building as its deformation, in the words of Cradle to Cradle, we need to “eliminate the concept of waste”. Currently stewardship is practised in post-occupancy studies and inhabitant surveys, but it must become a more enjoyable and integral part of design processes. Stewardship needs to be actively fostered through design, but also in our institutions which have not developed the legal and financial frameworks for this to take place.
ADVOCACY Integrating nature into the city is not just about design, but also about upscaling our appreciation of nature as a society. It can begin with architecture and landscape as a means to build relationship and junctions between human beings and nature, but that is not enough. To effect change at the scale of a city requires a systemic approach to caring for our fragile environment, which embodies advocating for new policies and value systems. Vibrant Natures aims to create replicable systems and educate designers in how to work with nature, thus highlighting the importance of exploring ecology in the urban environment. Advocacy also integrates entrepreneurship, where crowdfunding and campaigns are allowing communities to become their own clients, as in the case of New York’s Highline or the new Peckham Coal-line.
Fig. 17 - Studio Octopi - Thames Baths Studio Octopi used entrepreneurship, advocacy and crowdfunding to create a project as client and designer. They refused to be marginalised and realised their own project.
Who is designing like this already? Which architects or designers have embraced ecological postmodernism and the wider processes of integrating nature into the city. The following chapter documents my inspiration for Vibrant Natures, scaling from grassroots activism to countrywide masterplans.
Fig. 18 -The De-Pavers Portland This activist group has had enough of concrete and tarmac in their city. They volunteer to tear up car-parks and playgrounds and re-wild the city. This may seem small but it has the potential to revitalise the soils ecosystem in the city and encourage the return of local flora and fauna. Though small in scale, their inspiring work is filled with hope.
Fig.19 - The Serpentine Pavilion by Peter Zumthor and Piet Oudolf I wish this pavilion had been permanently in Hyde Park. It was multi-sensorial and used materiality and circulation to achieve a real emotional impact. The structure made nature the subject, it framed it and complimented it. Oudolf is a master of wild flowers and ecologies and understood the plants which could make a small courtyard vibrant and bright. The effortless way in which this building triggered new experiences of nature is Vibrant Natures aspiration.
Fig. 20 - Saynatsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto Aalto reimagines nature through symbolism and metaphor and creates new experiences of the Finnish landscape through folding it into his architecture. This town hall has civic steps on one side and forest steps on another welcoming the forest into the core of the building. It embraces the balance between human beings and nature. Aalto has a delicate attentiveness to the topography of a site and responds in the architectural moves to highlight the nature which existed before the building.
Fig. 21 - Bateson Building by Sim Van Der Ryn The Bateson Building was one of the earliest ecological and environmentally sustainable designs in the United States. Sim Van Der Ryn has been at the frontier of ecological architecture since the 1970’s. The Bateson building mixed rational concrete grids with trees, canopies and awnings which make the building energetic and in a process of change.
Fig. 22 - East Architects - London Masterplans East Architects have been instrumental in creating ecologically focused public spaces in London. Their urban design is pursuing ecological and social diversity and is often created with subtle insertions into the urban fabric. The Dalston Curve garden awakens you to a possibility of wildnerness in the city.
Fig. 23 - Netherlands Government - Mecanno’s masterplan The Netherlands has always been in careful balance between urbanisation and water, therefore ecology has always been integral to their urban development. The country is in pursuit of a complete zero emission cities by 2030 and has employed strategies which fully integrate the seasons, ecological maps and tidal heights into their growing cities. London will need to adjust quickly if it is to respond to climate change and can learn from the hundreds of policies which the Netherlands are testing today.
We have explored the global context of cities and architectural practice. We have covered Vibrant Natures principles and precedents. Now we must synthesize them into a speculation on an emerging practice of urbanism fully integrated with nature.
The role of the architect Although I see Vibrant Natures as becoming an emerging spatial practice which embodies a transdisciplinary approach, here I must speculate on the role of the architect within the Vibrant Natures Think Tank. The crises of today are so complex that the architectural profession cannot work in isolation. The role of the architect is to orchestrate the various specialists and contributors to the built environment. The advent of BIM is seeing profession become increasingly collaborative and thus defining the architect in a more compositional role, than sole genius. The architect is to use imagination and lyrical narrative to give form to a vibrant relationship between architecture and nature. The agenda of the architect is intuiting and investigating the processes of emergence in nature and using that to design pieces of city. The architecture itself must demonstrate the inseparability of nature and human beings and always aims to lift people’s spirits. The role of the architect is to create neighbourhoods which are saturated with life. To understand human and the natural processes the architect must collaborate with psychologists and ecologists to explore the deeper currents of a given context. We must not disparage at marginalisation and climate change, but go toward a new practice of architecture, one which is vibrant and saturated with life. 60
Conclusion so far The task of redesigning acres of living cities for a greater compatibility with biodiversity may seem daunting; however the benefits are profound. If we can erode the abstracted view of nature and integrate it into the city, we have a chance to transition out of the doom and gloom of climate change towards an emerging co-existence with nature. To put it simply, my purpose as an architect is to change the way we think about natural and urban life. I am optimistic about the next generation of cities and want to design new ways of living alongside truly vibrant nature.
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ENDNOTES 1.Buchanan, P. (2014) The big rethink revisited: Becoming earthlings. Available at: http://www. architectural-review.com/archive/campaigns/ the-big-rethink/the-big-rethink-revisitedbecoming-earthlings/8671956.article 2.Gray, M. (2014) The problem with architecture today (and the solution). Available at: http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-gray/theproblem-with-architec_b_4869707.html 3.Definition of new materialism Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 4.Definition of new materialism Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 5. Nature viewing nature quotes: Slovic, S. (1992) Seeking awareness in American nature writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard .. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/king awareness in American nature writing: Thoreau 6.Van der Ryn, S. and Cowan, S. (2007) Ecological design, tenth anniversary edition. 10th edn. United States: Island Press. 7.Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 8.Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 9.Guattari, F., Pindar, I. and Sutton, P. (2000) The three ecologies. New Brunswick, NJ: Distributed in the United States by Transaction Publishers. 10.Moore, J.W. (2011) ‘Transcending the metabolic rift: A theory of crises in the capitalist worldecology’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(1), pp. 1–46. doi: 10.1080/03066150.2010.538579. 11.Buchanan, P. (2014) The big rethink revisited: Becoming earthlings. Available at: http://www. architectural-review.com/archive/campaigns/ the-big-rethink/the-big-rethink-revisitedbecoming-earthlings/8671956.article
12.Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 13.Klein, N. (2014) This changes everything: Capitalism vs. The climate. London, England: Penguin Books. 14. Rene Descartes: For early modern materialism, the point was not only to interpret the world but to control it: “to make ourselves as it were the masters and possessors of nature” (Descartes, 2006, 51). It was a powerful vision, one so powerful that that even today, many students of global environmental change have internalized the early modern view of nature, in which space is flat, time is linear, and nature ontologically external to human activity (e.g., Steffen et al., 2011). – Jason Moore, pg 288, The End of Cheap Nature. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about “The” Environment and Love the Crisis of Capitalism 15. Francis Bacon quotes: https://en.wikiquote. org/wiki/Talk:Francis_Bacon 16.Moore, J.W. (2013) Crisis:ecological or worldecological? 2012. Available at: http://www. jasonwmoore.com/uploads/Moore__Crisis__ Ecological_or_World-Ecological__2012.pdf 17. Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, J., Robinson, E., Carmen, T. and Carman, T. (2008) Being and time. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 18.Buchanan, P. (2013) Form follows worldview. Available at: http://www.architecturalreview.com/archive/reviews/form-followsworldview/8654753.article 19.Swimme, B. (1991) The universe is a green dragon:A cosmic creation storyThackara, J. (2015) How to thrive in the next economy: Designing tomorrow’s world today. 20. Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 21. Slovic, S. (1992) Seeking awareness in American nature writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard .. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/ king awareness in American nature writing: 22. Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 23. Ratti, C. and Claudel, M. (2015) Open source architecture. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.
24.McDonough, W., Braungart, M. and Mcdonough, W. (2002) Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. United States: Turtleback Books. 25.Gray, M. (2014) The problem with architecture today (and the solution). Available at: http:// www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-gray/theproblem-with-architec_b_4869707.html 26. Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 27..McDonough, W., Braungart, M. and Mcdonough, W. (2002) Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. United States: Turtleback Books. 28.McDonough, W., Braungart, M. and Mcdonough, W. (2002) Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. United States: Turtleback Books. 29.Spretnak, C. (1999) The resurgence of the real: Body, nature and place in a Hypermodern world. New York: Routledge. 30. Bennett, J. and Bennett, R.J. (2010) Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press. 31.Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. 2nd edn. Durham: Duke University Press. 32.Spretnak, C. (1999) The resurgence of the real: Body, nature and place in a Hypermodern world. New York: Routledge. 33.Hill, K. (2016) Ecology and designing future cities. Available at: http://www.caryinstitute. org/discover-ecology/podcasts/ecology-anddesigning-future-cities 34.Veseley, D. (2009) Veseley, Dalibor on the relevance of phenomenology.Available at: https://cpfourthosis.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/ veseleydalibor_on-the-relevance -of-phenomenology.pdf 35.Bernstein, M. (2010) Mycorrhizal networks. Available at: http://botanyphoto. botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/2010/03/mycorrhizal_ networks.php 36.Architectural review - Bartlett edition 37. Jencks, C. and Kropf, K. (1997) Theories and Manifestoes of contemporary architecture. London: Academy Press.
38.Bew-Richards BIM graph: https://www. google.co.uk/search?q=bew+richards+graph&cli ent=firefox-b-ab&tbm=isch&imgil=PiW0ixvFffn tkM%253A%253BJbpklN6muoUkDM%253Bhttp% 25253A%25252F%25252Fdebunkthebim.blogspot. com%25252F2013%25252F07%25252Fis-it-me-or-isthis-total-nonsense. 39. Till, J. (2008) Architecture and Contingency. Available at: http://www.field-journal.org/ uploads/file/2007_Volume_1/ j%20till.pdf 40. Thackara, J. (2015) How to thrive in the next economy: Designing tomorrow’s world today. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.