Architecture, Naturally

Mason White

Excerpt from MCHAP The Americas 2. Co-published by Actar Publishers, Lots of Architecture –publishers & IITAC Press.

Architecture has maintained an oddly consistent relationship to notions of nature throughout history. Nature is assumed to be muse and metaphor to architecture. Fast-forwarding through history, consider Vitruvius’s 1st century treatise De Architectura that celebrated “the truth of nature” as inspiration to architecture.[1] Or, consider Laugier’s 1755 allegory Essai sur L’Architecture on the primitive hut composed from nature as an origin story of architecture embodying simplicity and purity.[2] And more recently, consider mathematical biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s 1917 On Growth and Form, which served as an inspiration to early generative and computational architecture in the 1990s.[3] These are only a few examples that illustrate the envy by which architecture emulates, references, or adopts aspects of nature. However, as notions of nature have expanded to become increasingly complex and multivalent, architecture’s previously singular understanding of its relationship to nature has shifted. In what way have social attitudes toward nature marked and informed architecture’s complex relationship with nature today?

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Rambla Climate-House: Contributing to the Climatic and Earthy Stability of Molina de Segura’s Ecosystems

Andrés Jaque / Office for Political Innovation | Miguel Mesa

Architects: Andrés Jaque / OFFPOLINN and Miguel Mesa del Castillo
Location: Murcia, Spain
Year: 2021
Photography: José Hevia

Since the 1980s, vast stretches of land in the formerly-rural county of Molina de Segura (Murcia) have been exploited to create suburbs. The result of this exploitation is a flattening of the land’s topographies and the destruction of its territorial system of ravines (ramblas). Ramblas constitute a fabric of veins carved by seasonal rainfall in the dry steppe landscape. In them, humidity accumulates and biodiversity flourishes. They constitute corridors of freshness, carbon fixation, and ecological entanglement that play a crucial role in the climatic and earthy stability of Molina de Segura’s ecosystems.

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After 4 years in design, 3 different locations, 2 permits and a zoning variance from the city of New Orleans, the construction on the J-House started on January 24, 2011.

J-House is a speculative residence in the heart of historic New Orleans. It uses a historically standard New Orleans housing lot (30 x 150 feet). The design responds to the context by elevating the main living area 10 feet above ground. Most of New Orleans is several feet below sea level and prone to frequent flooding.

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Ellispsicoon: Immersion in Nature


Architects: UNStudio (Ben van Berkel with Ren Yee and Philipp Meise, Peng Wang)
Location: non site-specific
Dimension: 5.70m L x 4.10m W x 2.60m H
Area: 15m2
Year: 2015-2018

A place of rest, retreat and mindfulness, the Ellipsicoon creates a tranquil nomadic extension to the home: a detached, secluded space of immersion in nature.

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Province Headquarters: Adaptation to Sustainability Standards


Architects: XDGA
Location: Antwerp, Belgium
Area: 33,000.00 m2
Year: 2019
Photography: Maxime Delvaux

The new building replaces a complex of modernist building volumes that used to occupy the entire site and that could not be adapted to today’s sustainability standards. As the Antwerp city center has few public green surfaces, the transformation of the site from a merely private, mineral and infrastructural area into a public garden is a crucial requirement of the competition brief.

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