Nature, An Inspiration for Architecture and Design

Nature Inspired Architecture Design Biophilic

Guest Post by Sayli Mohite

Nature is a beautiful form of abstraction. It is a natural state of the universe, untouched by human hands, just as God intended.  It varies from place to place, cultures, eras and contexts. From naked sunrises in the mountains to the clear reflection of the sun on beaches, nature not only gives a sense of balance to the universe but also endures the lives within it.

Nature also has a unique relationship with architecture. Initially, architecture came into place since buildings were designed to create a space that can maintain our body temperature and protect human beings from the harsh weather conditions out there. Cities were, quite surprisingly, originally invented to store grains and food supplies.

Ancient City Planning Arch India
City planning in ancient times was focused on functional requirements like food and grain storage, progressed to a few public spaces (temples, amphitheatres, markets) in medieval times, and finally to human-centric, nature-inspired infrastructure. Source: Project Gutenberg

The fear of contaminated air in 1816, known as the cholera epidemic lead to major urban transformations. Right around the 19th century, human civilisation started developing infrastructures in and around nature. Nature and its influence on architectural design have evolved in the past few decades.

The inclusion of nature in architecture directly elevates the spirit of space and serves as a visual connection between the indoor and outdoor environment. It also improves human concentration and leads to positive functioning in human minds. Nature also creates a rich source of inspiration, It can also act as a research base for researchers and designers.

Architecture Intertwined in Nature

An architectural design intertwined with nature is either divided into a human artifice or natural phenomena. An architect usually grasps these nature concepts in his/her designs differently, as per their project convenience. 

Always notice that the architecture design-build in landscape always expresses a certain kind of flow and poetic exploration, as well as their thought on the existing human scale concerning its landscape.

The awareness to preserve nature has now been activated, more than ever. Natural tourism has also seen a tremendous increase in the past few years. Iceland’s rise in tourism from 470,000 in 2010 to almost 1.5-2 million in 2019 is one of the best examples out there, reminding an architect that his underlying role is to preserve nature in a natural state and update these sites through sustainable initiatives only.

Rise in Iceland Tourism link with Architecture
Nature tourism in Iceland has risen by leaps and bounds, from 470,000 footfall in 2010 to almost 1.5-2 million in 2019; Preserving nature and the surrounding context is becoming increasingly important for architects. Source: Pexels

Interaction of a Built Structure with its Surroundings

When it comes to architecture, we often consider a building to have a ‘good design’ if it seamlessly blends well with its surrounding nature. Sometimes when cities are designed, it is not just about the placement of green pockets in a bustling city or an urban area, But designing it in such a way that the two intertwine and understand each other.

Architectural Styles Inspired by Nature.

Vernacular architecture is one classic example where architecture is embodied by its landscape. Thatched roofs which are locally sourced are used as materials that not only protect us from the climate but also can be moulded in certain shapes and sizes. Through its morphology and colours, the building merges with its landscape and preserves nature.

Another invention in the Architectural era was the “Prairie style” by Ar. Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, which were modelled to complement their surrounding nature. His group worked on the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement, emphasising nature, Simplicity and craftsmanship. They also focused more on the writings of Ar. Luis Sullivan while constructing those buildings.

Robie House FL Wright Organic Prairie Style
Frank Llyod Wright’s Robie House is considered a standard example of the Prairie Style, inspired by organic horizontally, earthen tones, and low verticality. Source: flwright.org

Many well-known architects such as Victor Horta and Antoni Gaudi have made furniture that is inspired by nature. Art Nouveau buildings were designed in one remarkable era where each building/furniture/art detail was shown at its finest. With curved lines and fluid designs with decorative motifs, an innovative style of modern art was growing popular in America and Europe.

Antoni Gaudi Architecture Nature Biophilic
Antoni Gaudi’s unique architecture is heavily inspired by nature’s curves and smooth edges, and views buildings as a piece of art, not just functional spaces for work or habitation. Source: UNESCO World Heritage Convention

Unlike other styles, This did not look out in the past for its inspiration but took a quick sneak peek into its surroundings. The style went downhill turn before World War 1 took place leading to the Birth of modern architecture.

Organic architecture came into place during the early 20th century. Projects such as Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright truly respected the local materials blending themselves with nature. This further led to Environmental architecture which, intended to transform the mechanics of architecture.

Falling Water Frank Llyod Right Nature Architecture
FL Wright’s Falling Water is a benchmark when it comes to nature in architecture and design, with its characteristic horizontality, choice materials and texture, and a building that seems snugly placed into its landscape; Source: fallingwater.org

Considering renewable energy to climatology, optimization to effective use of local resources, and Environmental architecture was all about expanding the designer’s visualization of the project’s surroundings. In the modern-day age, vertical gardens are one such example where the building combines with greenery, Be its roof or façade, or even the interior elements of a building.

Biomorphic designs are a form of architecture which simply derives from shape and forms from nature. Derived from the Greek word Bionic, (Life, living) μορφή(form), the approach was derived from the importance of nature and our orientation towards the environment. Vegetal Biomorphism is inspired by plants whereas anatomical Biomorphism is inspired by human anatomy. For designs that are inspired by animals, ‘Zoomorphic Biomorphism’ is the term for it.

Researchers such as Oscar Niemeyer and Frei Otto in the 1950s and 1960s to designers Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang are architects who find their inspiration from organic and fluid forms. At present, the work of Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster has been inspired by Biomorphic designs.

Apple Park Norman Foster Nature in Architecture
Normal Foster’s biophilic rendition of the Apple Park seamlessly blends into the surrounding verdant landscape, beautifully connected with nature despite a contemporary expression; Source: fosterandpartners.com

Nature in Architecture Inspiring Minimalist Design

Nature has been a massive source of inspiration for minimalist design in the interior or architectural context. Prioritizing the ‘essential function of the design is the basic fundament of minimal design.

The awakening amongst designers to of use of limited materials, simple forms, neutral colours, avoidance of excess ornamentation and use of limited materials has once again come into place in the modern world.

Abraham John Architects Minimalist Nature Architecture for Film Studio
Abraham John Architects paints a minimalist nature-inspired architecture feature with this garden lounge for Mumbai Film Studio; Source: abrahamjohnarchitects.com

Is Green Architecture the Future of Design?

The increasing sea levels, the rise of population and the global crisis make me wonder if the future of the earth depends on the upcoming architecture of the world. Since architects have the power to address land degradation, poverty and depletion of nature. New-age technology and innovative materials will help architects help build a better world for tomorrow. Green/ sustainable buildings are healthier not only for business but also during construction, concept, process, operation, demolition, reuse and maintenance.

Green buildings conserve nature and reduce pollution and cash flow on such buildings is comparatively low. They only cause minute strain on the local infrastructure. Survival being the only human goal, These green practices leads to the most important transformations for the future.

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