Biophilic Architecture Around the World: Nature and Concrete

In the evolving approaches of architecture and design came the biophilic design concept. 

Central to this concept is the idea that we, humans, have this innate connection with and craving to be close to nature. This indescribable genetic link is thought to be derived from our evolutions over centuries and millennia past while living in agrarian settings – like the savannah.

Also, biophilia means ‘love of nature’.

Over the past decades, we increasingly realize the strengthening relationships between architecture, nature and our health and well-being. In today’s built environment coupled with social distancing and lockdowns, the points and lines forming this triumvirate of connections will only grow stronger and closer. 

As such, biophilic design is on the uptrend and will continue its influencing run for decades to come. 

Connecting Urban Youth With Nature in Cities Is Crucial - Youth Today

Photo source: Youth Today

How does biophilic design work?

There are clear definitions on the benefits and principles of biophilic design

Some refer to straightforward actions such as placing greenery and plants or incorporating natural elements. While others can be more abstract; like engaging multi-sensory stimuli, experiencing and offering refuge and protection. However, you will later realize that all these can be achieved through vegetation, natural light, expansive spaces and views of nature. 

Simply put, these natural elements aim to improve our quality of life by keeping us connected with nature in this concrete, built environment. 

Around the world, biophilic architectures have shown some innovative and inspiring solutions to carry out the concept’s main principles. We’re here to show you some inspiring and show-stopping examples that blur the lines between nature and concrete. 

One Central Park – Sydney, Australia

Photo source: ArchDaily

The architectural style and approach of One Central Park is the first of its kind in Australia. Designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel in collaboration with Patrick Blanc, the two towers stand like ‘living architecture’, covered in vertical gardens and greenery. 

Its green facade constantly changes as the plants grow and seasons turn, giving its occupants and outside viewers a clear connection to nature. As you stand in the middle of bustling Sydney, these high-rise structures give you green escapes in a densely, urbanized city. 

Photo source: The Conversation

Photo source: urbanNext

Additionally, it features one of the tallest green walls in the world – the eastern tower is 117 meters high while the western tower is 84 meters. Each of the building’s 21 panels are covered with plants made up of 35 different species. Further up, there is a sky garden offering you expansive views of Sydney’s skyline. 

On every level, you are surrounded with greenery. The flourishing fauna is made possible because of ingenious ideas when it comes to light and water. 

Moreover, you’ll notice that the eastern tower rises much higher than the west because off its side cantilevers a suspended heliostat system. Lighting specialist Yann Kersale, is the mind behind this panel of 320 reflectors that envelopes the high-rises with sunlight. For water, a hydroponic irrigation system using reclaimed and treated blackwater from the building itself keeps the sky-high greenery alive. 

“With the help of two unusual control technologies – hydroponics and heliostats – vegetation and daylight can become more manageable and can be extended to previously inaccessible places of the building.” – Nouvel’s studio shares with Dezeen.

Hence, with these sustainable systems in place, the vegetation traps carbon dioxides, emits oxygen and provides a comfortable shade during hot summer days. 

Barbican Centre – London, UK

Photo source: designwanted

An architectural treasure, the Barbican Centre in London follows the Brutalist architectural style. A concrete structure with a somewhat overpowering presence because of its bare, hard, minimalist exterior.

Spearheaded by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon during the 1950s, the radical transformation of this post-war architecture gave rise to a residential complex fully equipped with a cultural center and public spaces. The design drew influences from varying international approaches, design and sustainability efforts.

With the combination of residences and commercial spaces, the Barbican estate is a city within a city. Private domains are separated from public spaces like libraries, cinemas, schools, art centers and even a conservatory. As a result, it shows a new way to develop thriving residential neighborhoods.

Photo source: Evening Standard

Photo source: Wallpaper

With its rough, seemingly raw, concrete exterior, this hard complex seems to have been fashioned after a World War II battleship. Surrounded by London’s glass skyscrapers and modern buildings, the Barbican may seem old and worn down. But with the greenery, gardens and lakes, you can get a calming respite from the bustling city.  

Today, residents and visitors enjoy complete living and entertainment facilities with designs softened using nature and artificial lakes. Also, being enveloped in this green escape gives you a seemingly multi-sensory experience. The complexity of the estate’s architecture, with its winding paths and numerous public spaces, remain one of its most unique and intriguing aspects.

It is entirely car-free too. A modern approach then that keeps the focus on the space, water and nature. This softer side juxtaposed against hard concrete gives it its iconic look that remains a strong grounded icon symbolizing London’s rise after the destruction of war. 

“There’s water, lakes — which you could say are sort of like village ponds — and a lot of wildlife around, and although it is a massive estate and it is about the future, it’s also got a lot of resonance with the past,” shared Cathy Ross, Museum of London’s Director of Collections and Learning, with Architizer.

Bosco Verticale – Milan, Italy

Photo source: designwanted

Completed in 2014, Architect Stefano Boeri created a landmark biophilic architecture in Milan’s Porta Nueva district called the Bosco Verticale (or Vertical Forest). Very distinct, you will see two residential towers, 111 and 76 meters high, both entirely covered by almost a thousand trees and even more shrubs. 

According to its designers, the inspiration behind these sustainable towers is the novel, “The Baron in the Trees”, where its protagonists decided to start living in trees. Very aptly following in the character’s footsteps, residents living in this spot of urban biodiversity share their homes with diverse species of birds and insects. 

From an architectural, ecological and technical standpoint, the Bosco Verticale is seen as a pilot project for sustainable, green buildings in the country. Apart from being visually striking, the towers brought to life an area with rather monotonous industrial buildings and unused railroads. 

Photo source: inexhibit

Photo source: Forbes

It is estimated that, when placed on flat land, the trees covering the Vertical Forest equate to an area of 10,000 square meters of forest. Like other vertical green walls, this biophilic design incorporates its own irrigation system by recycling groundwater and living on renewable energy. 

For this project, Boeri focused on urban people’s needs. Other sustainability features of this soft green shell are reduced pollution and carbon dioxide, protection from the heat making it energy efficient, cooling benefit, biodiversity and increased comfort amongst occupants.  

Pasona Group Offices – Tokyo, Japan

Photo source: Kono Designs

The Pasona HQ in Tokyo brings green office designs to a whole new level. Created by Kono Designs, this gem of an office building located in downtown Tokyo teaches its employees direct farm-to-table methods by making their vegetation design edible. 

Besides its attractive green facade and rooftop garden, it has its own urban farming facilities. In the 43,000 square feet of green space in and on this nine-storey building, there are 200 plant species, which include fruits, vegetables and rice. These are then harvested, offered and prepared in their office cafeteria. 

How lucky to be working in an office like this – probably what you’re thinking. I agree.

Completed in 2010, the Pasona HQ is housed in a refurbished old structure dating back over 50 years ago. Like with other biophilic architectures, it was not an easy task, especially when tasked with preserving heritage elements. But Kono Designs believed in their long term vision of how urban farming and green spaces can contribute to the wider community. 

“Workers in nearby buildings can be seen pointing out and talking about new flowers and plants and even the seasons – all in the middle of a busy intersection in Tokyo’s metropolitan area,” Kono told Dezeen. “The change in the way local people think and what they talk about was always one of the long-term goals of the project.”

Photo source: Dezeen

Photo source: Kono Designs

As the largest farm-to-table concept in an office in Tokyo, there are several innovative solutions where the ‘green’ cornerstone of the design is evident. However, in order to stay true to the structure while modernizing its facade and interiors and giving it a unique identity, some sacrifices had to be made. 

To achieve the green wall, deep balconies surround the perimeter for planting and farming. Guiding the vines and growing greenery is a double skinned louvered facade that gives it its dynamism – seeming like a living green wall. Additionally, providing a sense of order to the crawling and climbing greenery are deep grid fins, which simultaneously give the walls more depth and volume. 

Consequently, this design led to less rentable commercial space but increased sustainable living tenfold for the building’s occupants and surrounding community. The plants provide insulation, shade, fresh air and extraordinary beauty in the middle of metropolitan Tokyo. 

Best yet, with trailing vines in conference rooms and farming spots in the office, it teaches us and Pasona employees how this lifestyle is possible in today’s busy world.

Selgas Cano Office – Madrid, Spain

Photo source: Business Insider

You will not see this minimalist modernist approach to an office anywhere else. Nothing is more true than the saying ‘less is more’ for this very interesting office architecture. Located in Madrid, the Selgas Cano architecture firm does their magic in a stunning woodlands office located seemingly in the middle of nowhere. 

It’s just a 20-minute drive to Madrid. But this studio sits in a forest surrounded peacefully by vegetation, trees, and rock formations. 

“The beautiful space makes us want to be here,” Alicia Cervera, one of the firm’s architects, told Business Insider. “The atmosphere matches our relaxed attitude, and we don’t have any strict office rules or any official time to come and go. It’s an incredibly inspiring place to work.”

Isn’t that the kind of attitude you want to have whenever you go to work? 

Apparently, the idea behind the structure was simple – to work under the trees. Thus, the result was a light, open and transparent design that pays respect to nature while enjoying the benefits of being enveloped in it. Designers said the ‘wildness’ and disconnect from the city makes it a lovely place to be in. 

Photo source: Inhabitat

Photo source: Bored Panda

Completed in 2009, it immediately received notice and sparked curiosity for its hard-bubble-slash-bunker-like structure. For that transparent look, double sheets of Plexiglas, fiberglass and polyester supported by steel frames were used. Awnings in certain areas of the sheets can be opened using pulleys to let in some fresh air.  

Therefore, it receives plenty of daylight all around and provides unimpeded views of nature while being protected from it. Another interesting aspect you’ll notice is the structure is half buried, this allows the office occupants to get horizontal views of the landscape. Connection with nature is achieved in every nook and cranny, and is especially lovely when you’re having a short coffee break outside. 

Selgas says, “Our hope for architecture is to build less and less and to give more space to nature in cities, to disappear more and more on behalf of nature.”

The Eden Project – Cornwall, UK

Photo source: Grimshaw Global

Created from a former clay mine 270 miles outside of London, The Eden Project by architect Nicholas Grimshaw embodies the principles of unique, sustainable architecture. Inspired by the geodesic dome system popularized by renowned American architect, Buckminster Fuller, Grimshaw used this concept to create the biomes to distribute stress on the curve and get maximum surface area.

These soap bubbles came about because at that time, the clay pit was still an active site. Very fittingly, the curved, adaptive element of soap bubbles made it an excellent way to build on crumbling cliffs. Also, with the hexagonal steelwork creating the skin of the domes, it made the structure extremely light weight. Therefore, they needed to be tied down to foundations on the ground like anchors. 

Photo source: Wikipedia

Photo source: Divisare

On this uneven estate sits two main Biome buildings – the Rainforest Biome and the Mediterranean Biome. Each Biome consists of multiple domes attached together that form an interesting structure when seen from different angles. Being the largest botanical garden in the world, the Eden Project combines genius in architecture, science, horticulture and ecology. 

Looking from the outside, you’ll witness strange-looking circles that will arouse your curiosity and draw you near. On the way to the biomes, you’ll pass by outdoor plant displays that survive in the local British climate.

Subsequently, upon entering, you will be given a unique experience as each dome has a different climate for the hundred thousand plants covering 5,000 species to survive and thrive. 

In the Rainforest Biome, there is 426 tonnes of air in its 16,000 square-meter space. You’ll be surrounded by flora and fauna from the humid tropics, mostly moist climates and dense rainforests. On the other hand, the Mediterranean Biome houses plant species that thrive in warm, arid areas.  

These greenhouse ecosystems not only transform a once empty or barren land but also serve as educational platforms to show the world how architecture and nature can thrive by working harmoniously together.

Ruins Studio – Scotland, UK

Photo source: Azure Magazine

In the Scottish countryside, the ruins of an 18th century farmhouse serves as a steady foundation for a modern solar-powered home. This interesting architectural feat, fittingly named Ruins Studio – was designed by Lily Jencks Studio in collaboration with Nathaniel Dorent.

First, the pitched roof design came about to maintain integrity to the ruins. Next, to fully integrate the stone ruins into the design, the architects used it as an outline, an outer skin, that enveloped the modern, private home. Its exteriors are covered in black, waterproof, synthetic rubber creating a beautiful juxtaposition with the old stones and allows it to better blend with history and nature.

From the outside, the structure looks edgy – with its pointy roof, rectangular windows and solar panels. However, the inside showcases curvilinear walls and circular windows that gives its residents unending views of the natural landscape. 

Photo source: Inhabitat

Photo source: Archdaily

Artistically blending the randomness of the ruins into the interiors, the design an eye-catching, stark contrast with the clean white walls and light wooden structures. Furthermore, the smooth, sinewy lines along the interiors of the single-storey home is another contrasting yet complementary effect to the ruins.

They also allow you to snake through from room to room taking inspiration from the undulating slopes of the landscape.  There are no doors to separate each space. So you can get around the home swimmingly.

Solar panels provide insulation and give it all the electricity it needs, partnered with eight large skylights for natural light. With its interior surfaces covered in glass-reinforced plastic, the light bounces around the home and gives focus to the stone ruins incorporated inside. 

Ruin Studio / Lily Jencks Studio + Nathanael Dorent Architecture | ArchDaily

Photo source: ArchDaily

This home provides many dramatic visual, spatial and experiential contrasts while remaining sustainable. The old ruins framing a new modern home, hard natural stone against curvy walls, dark stone beside a white background and a brightly lit space where you can fully enjoy the unimpeded view of nature. 

“It’s really lovely. One of the things I didn’t know when designing it is that the way the curves use light is very different from the way straight walls use light. On a very long summer day, you get different colored light than you have in the winter. Because the curves bounce and kind of stretch the light, you see all the colors of the light in a way I’ve never experienced.” shared Lily Jencks, designer and owner of Ruins Studio with the Toronto Star.

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