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Nature and  Architecture

We have overdeveloped and overpopulated our planet, leaving very little room for our mother nature to thrive and give us her best. We build on habitats, forestry, and even coasts. If you live in a city, new developments consisting of rapidly constructed high-rises to deal with housing shortages are a common sight.  

However, in this new age of environmental awareness and desperation to halt the consequences of climate change, the word ‘eco’ has become frequent within our discourse. As we develop and continue to progress in a technology focused society, there has been pressure to move forward in an environmentally friendly manner. Architecture is the foundation of our society, our living, working and social spaces depend on it. Our architectural structures are the epitome of humans existing on Earth; they are our imprint and foundations of modern life. Along with the natural environment, they define a space visually. Now, it only makes sense that anything we construct must be in harmony with our natural environment too.  So, let’s take a look at the relationship between nature and architecture.


Natural infrastructure sounds like a contradiction but it has become a buzzword in the engineering industry.  Since nature is our life giver and provider of sustenance, it is only logical to see how it can assist us and vice versa regarding societal services. Nature already has its own infrastructure, we call it the ecosystem. From coral reefs to grasslands, the entirety of this planet’s inhabitants relies on these infrastructures. Nature based architectural approaches can reduce the strain we have already put on our environment, they are often multifunctional, cost effective and sustainable, benefitting both the health of the environment and everything that has to live in it.

Roof gardens are now a recurring sight in urban areas, along with ‘green walls’.  Green walls are also known as living walls and go so much further beyond just aesthetic value. They can either simply be used to clean the air or be used as a whole ecosystems! They can create vertical habitats and can be particularly useful to bees and fish, as well as to humans, depending on where they are used. Plants can grow down into ponds to filter and purify the water, then the nitrate released by fish waste is used up by the plants to continue growing. They can also be a source of nectar for bees all whist purifying our air!

Max PixelWe have lamented the fact that we chose to use fossil fuels and create one of the largest industries ever seen with polluting sources, when we had a giant ball of fire to provide us with renewable energy the entire time! Ecostructure is actually an organisation that is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund that provides environmentally friendly engineering solutions, particularly for coastal building projects in Ireland and Wales. There are many firms around the world doing the same as renewable and sustainable energy has become a modern industry.  All across the world, solar and wind power have become cheaper as the years have passed, making them more widely used than ever predicted.

The installed capacity has increased steadily over the past 10 years, making them more productive than ever.  Dubai for example is currently undergoing a whole makeover and every building is being installed with solar panels. We have become accustomed to seeing wind and solar technology integrated into our architecture over the years.

Flickr | Marufish 

Looking Back

No matter how we treat nature, it always puts us back in our place. The sheer power of it is astonishing and it can do so much to help us thrive if we work with it instead of against it. One of the greatest visuals showing mother nature finding a way to survive is when we witness our structures being unable to stand the test of time. The result is usually a beautiful one.

Flickr | Staffan ScherzThe hybridity of the man-made and the natural is often striking and begs the question why we don’t design our buildings with nature in mind in the first place. Witnessing nature’s reclamation of a space is truly a wonderful thing, not to mention it makes for a great picture. Nature, after all, is the original architect.

Flickr | Michael McCarthy

Looking Forward

So what is in store next for our interactions with nature as a canvas? From green bridges to forest cities, there have been big plans to integrate nature into our blueprints and to make it the focal point.

In Dubai, it is going to be a requirement that every new building be installed with solar panels and more common buildings such as residential properties and community facilities are to become passive solar buildings. This means that windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy, redistributing it as heat in the winter and not absorb solar heat in the summer.

Flickr | [ Back to Action ]China, one of the biggest polluters in the world is currently constructing a city that will be made up of nearly 1,000,000 plants and over 40,000 trees! They will be incorporated not only into the grounds but the roofs, balconies and walls of every building. The development aims to house 30,000 people and provide social facilities too. The plants are there to provide shade which will reduce the use of energy intensive air conditioners and more importantly, they render the development carbon neutral. Urban forests are designed to absorb carbon dioxide once completed, making them a vital weapon against carbon change and pollution.

Flickr | Jonathan Kos-ReadMoving away from quirky high rises, China now wants to focus on the green and beautiful. The plant life in Liuzhou Forest City is predicted to absorb approximately 10,060 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other pollutants whilst also producing 900 tonnes of oxygen per year! Along with all of this, the city will be equipped with geothermal and solar energy whilst it blends seamlessly into the green mountainous background. China is not the only country looking towards urban cities and they are set to be a go to for future expansions.

Green bridges, also known as animal bridges, ecoducts or wildlife crossings are also becoming a staple feature amongst our roads. The bridges act as safe crossings for animals instead of them having to lose even more habitat when we construct roads. They also act as habitats within themselves and increase plant life!

Wikimedia Commons | Doug KerrBuildings across the world are being planned to triple up as energy sources and new habitats, from Amsterdam’s Environmental Learning Centre to Singapore’s Oasia Downtown Hotel. Solar energy is becoming the focal point, as is replanting trees when it comes to the future of architecture.

There is much to look forward to, and we can and will do better than our previous approach to settling on our planet.


By Hanna-Johara Dokal - Online Journalism Intern

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