Architectural 2,372 views Oct 05, 2018
How projects can marry the beauty of nature with pioneering design

We’re in the middle of a shift in the world of architecture, construction, engineering and design writes Damian O'Neill, Director at Lyons O'Neill. We’ve just had London Design Festival, a week celebrating creativity and innovation in British design and inspiring the public and those in the industry to think about its future. This year’s festival had several arresting public installations: from Es Devlin’s roaring red poetry lion in Trafalgar Square and Kellenberger’s alphabet chairs to the Cross-Laminated Timber maze-pavillion in the V&A courtyard by Waugh Thistleton Architects. Architecture and design hit mainstream national headlines, reminding us of the great impact structures have.

However, although each of these examples were uniquely thought-provoking, they all had something in common, reflecting a shift in thinking seen in the rest of the Festival as well as the architecture and design space as a whole. What linked these innovative projects was their exploration of the active relationship between a man-made structure and the environment, urban and natural. Both in terms of materials used, responding to the pressing need for environmental sustainability, and incorporation of their site-specific context, these projects demonstrate that in architecture we can no longer think of structures as static, monolithic objects, but as needing to adapt and relate to their surroundings and users.

In addition to envisioning structures as relationships rather than objects, in conversation with the world, we’re also beginning to explore the impact buildings have on our natures. Research has shown that in the hippocampal part of our brain we have special cells which respond to the geometry and arrangement of the spaces we are in. And there are increasing studies being published which document the mental and emotional impact design has on the people who use a space. When designing, we therefore not only need to understand how a structure will affect and be affected by its natural environment, but the social role it plays.

Alarge part of rethinking the built environment’s relationship with nature is by paying greater attention and respect to nature. In many ways, nature is the ultimate architect, displaying a breath-taking complexity and variety of design in its vast web of connections. Pioneering architecture and engineering is now about learning from this interconnection and seeking to work with, not against nature, designing structures to visually and physically integrate with their surroundings.

And this new way of thinking isn’t just for design festivals and one-off flagship projects. A project of any scale should seek to marry nature with design and this begins right from the planning and drawings stage. Thoroughly researching the environmental conditions of an area will highlight which design elements and materials are most suited to the project and will minimise lasting disruption. For example, our award-winning Resedale House project came with a number of design considerations due to its sloping rural site and sustainability goals, but our close collaboration with Khoury Architects meant these were incorporated into the stunning and lightweight structure that was created. Using split levels to maximise space whilst minimising building height, as well as adding a lake area, meant the project was visually in tune with its surroundings. And strategically placed glazed facades meant the house’s inhabitants could enjoy the full benefit of the rural location and natural light.

Architecture and design have many challenges ahead, both in the planning and construction stages. But this shouldn’t stifle creativity and inspiration but rather multiply it, as we understand that our structures, as well as ourselves, are in conversation with nature and all its beauty.