Architecture has “copied” nature since ancient times. Already in prehistory, some megalithic monuments and burial mounds mimicked the shapes and sizes of hills and other geographical features. Subsequently, throughout the centuries, grassroots and traditional architectures worldwide shared values and shapes with nature, including the use of local materials and the need to adapt to their surroundings.
Not only are the nature-inspired designs of traditional architecture passed on from one generation to another: natural forms have also inspired “academic” architects in different historical times. A case in point is the winding Culebra Bridge in the Casa de Campo, here in Madrid, designed in the 18th century by Francesco Sabatini.
Frank Lloyd Wright was, perhaps, one of the twentieth-century architects who explored more closely the natural forms and integrated them into his immediate surroundings. One of his iconic works, the Fallingwater House, stands amidst the terrain and the vegetation, blending in with the other elements of the landscape. Another excellent example by this architect is Taliesin West School, in which he blends the colours and textures of the Arizona desert.
Over the last decade, architects worldwide have embraced a trend that seeks to integrate the values of nature into their designs. Unconstrained by the traditional boundaries of architecture, they focus on recovering and raising awareness about the benefits of a natural environment from which buildings and cities have distanced themselves over the centuries.
It is a type of design that focuses on natural features, including its forms and textures, spaces and, even, feelings. This approach, which is known as “biophilic” design, seeks to achieve greater well-being of people who inhabit the spaces, and who identify those feelings and forms as positive and healthy.
We are facing today a significant resurgence in the search for nature-inspired forms and spaces, which often lead to the inclusion of vegetation, organic shapes and natural materials in buildings. “Biophilic” design is undoubtedly an exciting trend in contemporary architecture. Nonetheless, it is important to distinguish it from bioclimatic design, given that the former is not necessarily related to greater sustainability in construction, but instead emphasises design and “natural” perception by the viewer. Bioclimatic design, on the other hand, focuses on optimising construction resources to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact throughout the building’s useful life.
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