Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Architecture Inspired by Nature

This topic has a long history in architecture, all the way back to the Greek and Romans if one believes the comments of Vitruvius on the need for the harmony of Nature to be reflected in architecture. This piece reduces that history into a digestible comparison of Nature inspiring each both form and function. 

Nature Inspires Form
With the recent opening of the Chaoyang Park Plaza in Beijing, good design takes another step forward. Though some may quibble at the use of all-glass facades and the implications for the surrounding urban fabric of such large buildings — and those points are fair when perfect architecture is the goal — ultimately we try to celebrate architecture on this blog and therefore recognize the project for its creativity. 

The nearly 400,000 sq. ft. multi-building project mixes residential and office spaces in an area that was on a long downward trend before the project reversed its fortunes. Some of the landscape topography of southern China looks quite alien to Canadians, but was expressive and unique enough to traditional Chinese artists and poets to stir their creativity. MAD Architects state an ink-and-brush technique called Shan Shui was their direct creative source for these buildings. Why use the art of nature instead of nature itself to inspire? The architects themselves are mum on why but it’s reasonable to assume that one of the historic talents of Chinese artists was their ability to synthesize the essential characteristics of these landscapes in to a poetic form. The two tall residential towers are reminiscent of the ancient wind and rain eroded mountains of southern China, and the other tiered business tower is meant to echo the eroded stone outcroppings one would find along a river. Literature for the project stresses this design program is meant to facilitate a harmonious relationship between the project and it’s surrounding community, and formally I think the project’s final form was a great success.

Nature Inspires Function
If broadening our investigation to multiple fields, Nature has continually shaped science’s progress. Cancer drugs inspired from the alkaloids found in garlic; nanotechnology progress drawn from the scales found on butterfly wings; etc. Therefore, it should be of no surprise to readers architecture has also relied on Nature to help solve many pressing design problems. 

One of the most counter-intuitive requirements of a skyscraper’s structure is the need to allow a certain amount of engineered flexibility in the design. This is in stark contrast to our direct intuition about large structures as being static and solid. Taipei 101's structural system borrows exactly from this analogy to defend against earthquakes native to the region and the effects of strong wind during typhoons. Bamboo has a wonderfully playful nature in which it always pops back into place after the exerted force is removed. Here the architects chose to express bamboo in the final form of the building as well, but it’s bamboo’s characteristics of flexibility and strength that make it a perfect model for skyscraper design. 

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