With the aim of the Green Architecture competition to stimulate and collect innovative proposals on how architecture, urban design & planning, and landscape architecture could contribute to maintain and improve our biodiversity, Lijbers Architect looked at the decline of natural biodiversity from the perspective of complex human dynamics. By investigating the organized but fundamentally unpredictable behavior of human systems and its consequences for the natural environment, they find that the highly dynamic reallocation and changing of the earth’s habitat by human action falls short in providing vulnerable species of plants and animals with sufficient time to recover. More images and architects’ description after the break.
We humans tend to expand, move, and reallocate ground at speeds unparalleled within the natural world. Our persistent and unpredictable need for space, land, and raw materials causes the original natural environment to diminish, along with its ecosystem of plants and animals. The continuous cycle of removing and reallocating natural space can, in the best case, maintain a certain amount of the “natural environment”, yet it can never maintain the same level of biodiversity that was originally present. Only through fundamental changes in our relationship with nature can we undo the damage done in the past.
It is the responsibility of architects, scientists and alike to create an entirely new conception of the way people interact with the natural world. One could argue, in line with the reasoning described above, that the problem of biodiversity decline can be reduced to just two main issues; a shortage of space and a lack of time, huge amounts of time. These are the two ingredients that an architectural translation needs to achieve in order to maintain the original level of biodiversity within a natural ecosystem.
The metabolism of an ecosystem is extremely slow when measured on clocks made by man. As such, the pace of evolution and the creation of biodiversity is unable to keep up with the movements of human society. In order to speed up the natural process one would need some sort of catalyst. In biology, enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates sufficient for life. As a result, products are formed faster and reactions reach their equilibrium state more rapidly.
As with all catalysts, enzymes are not consumed by the reactions they catalyze, nor do they alter the equilibrium of these reactions. After the reaction, the enzyme simply returns to its original state waiting to catalyze once more. In order to assist nature in its maintenance and recovery, artificial “enzymes” must be created through an architectural translation. The architectural enzyme should consist of an entity, which would provide a natural ecosystem with all the necessary space and time to evolve and generate biodiversity. The enzyme will not interfere, nor be consumed, but merely facilitate and ensure the chemical processes needed for biodiversity.
The creation of time
The creation of time through an architectural translation is a difficult issue. Therefore it is useful to wonder why nature should suffer from a lack of time for growth in the first place. Already mentioned is the expanding human need for land and its exploits. But is it really, by definition, necessary to cut down, for example, the rainforest of the Amazon? If we would be able to move and reallocate the valuable and irreplaceable rainforests, would we not do so?
More specifically, if we were able to create mobility for nature, would we not simply put our rainforests in places not needed for other purposes? Before cutting down the old and replanting the new we would simply move the original. In other words: keeping all that is, instead of rebuilding what was. Within this philosophy, the creation of natural mobility can supply nature with a virtually infinite amount of time, allowing biodiversity to evolve and be preserved. It is this mobility that we feel our architectural enzyme should supply.
The creation of space
With natural mobility, time is created. However, space is needed in order to accommodate the natural entity. While nature naturally only grows on the mainly two-dimensional surface of the earth, it is up in the air that our planet provides most of its space. Although architects before have attempted to create space by lifting nature up into the third dimension, it is mostly buildings, satisfying the needs of man that rise into our skies. Space or surfaces in its purest form should not be constraint by walls or functional barriers. It must possess the same value and flexibility as land or water at the earth’s surface.
The true creation of space would be a boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events can occur without constraints. One may envision nature growing freely on elevated frameworks through our urban surroundings. The city continues where nature is placed on a different level. The mobile nature is not an area, but a network that spreads on different levels above ground, ever changing, ever existing.
The added value of the architectural translation is best visualized using the empty space in urban areas. A new chapter is added in the evolution of cities that emerges from the historical fabric of the built environment. The idea is to add architectural enzymes, or “mobile modules of natural growth”, all over the city. As such, the old forms, and traces of the past, become part of a new ecosystem. The huge amount of available surface area within empty office buildings, ex-industry zones, and other stagnated areas serve as a potential breeding ground for the natural environment.
The fusion of land and cityscape introduces recreational and natural qualities into the daily routines of its inhabitants. Through this combination, the past of both the natural and architectural is updated and preserved. The surviving buildings adapt to the new ecosystem as living organisms and at once become both built and natural constructs. The mobility of the modules allows nature to adapt to the changes of spatial policies and thus maintain a natural system of biodiversity over the course of time.
The addition of architectural enzymes to urban areas, not only creates biodiversity in a biological sense, but also within an architectural context. Areas that before where designed with mono-functionalities can finally, trough natural integration, be made attractive and perform other functions as well. The natural modules serve as catalysts for the process of natural integration. The metabolistic strategy spreads out evenly over the city and with it the population will follow. Traditional dwellings will evolve into a new aggregated typology of a community that coexists with nature. The result will be a truly diverse ecosystem, both biological and social.