Humans live in a very anthropocentric world; that is most of us, unless we are farmers, or live deep within the countryside, spend our time dealing with other people, and not thinking about the wider world. Human dis-connection with the natural world is one of the great themes of the 21st century. We are now experiencing climate change as up until now, our human society hasn’t stopped to consider our effect upon the environment.
Even living in the heart of a crowded city, be it London, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow (to name the biggest and busiest in the UK), it is possible to stop and contemplate how nature interacts with the urban environment, and in fact, nature remains all around us and is the strongest force of all. Last year computer simulations were released showing how quickly the natural world would ‘take over’ London if us humans were to disappear (for whatever reason). They showed that within 6 months, the River Thames would burst its banks, weeds and other hardy plants would push up through the cracks in the pavement, and within the space of about 2 years, inner-London would have become a real ‘urban jungle’.
Bringing Nature into Our Buildings
The main issue for the human community living in urban buildings is to have a view of nature. To be near a park or a river (or just looking at a lovely old tree, maybe an oak, alder or spruce) is important, and ideally the buildings we live and work in should have a view of these too. Try to ensure that any sustainable new-build project incorporates views from its doors and windows, instead of backing onto the next door property.
Try to position windows where the height will give the maximum sightline of trees, grass, or any urban wild areas in the vicinity. Using a lot of glass, as in a passive solar design technique, will also allow light to flood the house, which as well as heating and cooling the property, gives a more natural effect to its users and inhabitants.
Some new-build houses have been built around an existing tree. This can be a wonderful experience to live with a living tree inside the property. It is important to consult experts to consider how a tree’s expanding roots could effect the structure of the building, but walking into a house that contains a living tree that existed before the property, is a magical experience.
If this isn’t possible, then potted trees and plants are a must. As well as providing a natural aesthetic, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and purify it through the leaves. Larger plants can provide shade within a building, and colour can radiate from plants creating a feeling of harmony and balance. It can be a great experience for kids to grow up looking after plants, both inside and outside a house; planting, watering, and generally looking after a living plant.
Buildings and Nature: The Symbiosis of Design
If a new build is to happen in a more rural or wilderness environment, the options are many. Many architects now specialize in designing buildings for the area they are to be in, which might involve original shapes based on the local environment, or even built into the environment – into the side of a mountain for instance, or deeply embedded within a forest.
The buildings materials are important too, for example, using all wood for a new property in a forest allows the building to be part of the environment, rather than imported into it. Using natural materials where possible, enhances the symbiotic – or inter-connectedness, between a building for humans and the natural world.