The growing trend for ‘biophilic’ design mirrors our ethos at JFA. This takes ideas from nature and incorporates them into the design of both architecture and landscape. We share more on the background to this new design movement.
‘…They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum, Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em, Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’…. (Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1970).
Our ever-growing need for more housing and the constant rise in land value has necessitated the use of denser and denser housing schemes to be financially and socially viable. Moreover, the layouts of new developments are designed around the use of the motor vehicle, increasing the areas of hard surfacing within each scheme to the detriment of soft landscaping. Denser schemes with buildings close to the highway and little or no verge do not allow space for street trees or other planting once constraints such as right to light, proximity to services/foundations and sight lines have been considered.
In his independent review of Architecture and the Built Environment in March 2014, Sir Terry Farrell stated: ‘It has become clear from our work and experience that the design and stewardship of streets and pavements are the most highly valued part of the built environment by the majority of the public. Ironically, these priorities are very often completely the reverse of those of the development community and the built environment professionals, whose real focus is on the building, the object, and not the spaces between the objects’.
The benefits of planting within our towns and cities have been evident for some time. Other than the obvious visual amenity, trees provide valuable shade and regulate air temperature; plants can absorb pollutants and improve air quality, reduce water run-off, provide food and habitat for wildlife, absorb CO2 and provide oxygen and reduce sound reverberation from hard surfaces. The benefits are clearly appreciated – housing adjacent to a park or within more ‘leafy’ areas often command higher house prices.
This is not a modern concept; certainly the Garden City Movement founded by Ebenezer Howard in 1898, in his text To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, described how ‘the advantages of the most energetic and active town life, with all the beauty and delight of the country, may be secured in perfect combination’ and how ‘Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together’.
The Cadbury brothers also recognised the value of greener towns and villages, creating 143 houses in Bourneville for their workers in 1893 to bring them out of the squalid tenements that they would otherwise have been living in. This movement was not isolated to the UK – Prior to this in America in 1858, Frederick Law Olmstead created Central Park, which provided a green oasis within the bustling city of New York, recognising the health benefits for the people living there.
So what is the solution to ‘greening’ the highly dense housing schemes? Once the plots are sold there is little control on how much planting is retained within private land, so the provision of good quality landscaping in the public domain is a necessity if these areas are to be maintained and cherished for years to come. But if there is simply not enough space to fulfil both the housing need and provide substantial soft landscaping, what is the solution?
There has been a vast improvement in the technology and costs involved in creating green roofs and, more recently, green walls. Green roofs can provide habitat, can improve the visual amenity of a building, can insulate and can reduce water run-off. Green walls can add a vertical element, an additional plane that can be grown upon. They can be formed from direct greening i.e. climbers using the building structure to grow upon, indirect greening in the form of mesh structures set away from the building, or the more intensive living wall systems that involve planting troughs built in panels with irrigation systems if required.
A living example of this is at Westminster City Hall where a green wall has added aesthetic value to an area otherwise barren of planting. The Musee du Quai in Paris also boasts a spectacular green wall fascia.
We can also look to nature to find ways of solving problems and creating new designs. A famous example of this is the creation of Velcro in 1948 by the Swiss Engineer George de Mestral who noticed that seed burrs had hundreds of tiny ‘hooks’ the enable them to attach to animal fur and be carried away and be germinated elsewhere. More recently, the iridescent reflective structure of butterfly wings has been used to develop LCD screen technology to reduce reflection in bright light. Nature evolves to find solutions to problems, and we can look to nature to solve problems in our designs.
In America there has been a growing trend for ‘biophilic’ design, taking ideas from nature and incorporating them into the design of both architecture and landscape (see www.landscapethejournal.org/Loving-nature). Part of the biophilic design ethic is to create self-sustaining ecosystems within a development; a green infrastructure that can self-perpetuate and work in harmony with surrounding ecosystems. If you left a building to go to ruin, it would not take long for the elements to take it over, and nature move in. Take the persistence of the strong-willed Buddleja in the UK as an example, which often self-seeds in derelict buildings and gutters. Plants want to survive, and will if we allow them to. Why design them out when they can become part of a building, a landscape, and work in harmony with nature?
So to create a sustainable green infrastructure within densely developed areas we should look to nature for inspiration, try to work with it rather than fight against it, use natural evolution to inspire new technology. Allow our buildings and space to become part of the wider ecosystem rather than concreting over it. It is not only the environment that benefits, the people that live and work there do too. The landscape should be treated as an asset, not an afterthought.
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