Inviting Nature back to Town, Architectural Article, Design
Building Discussion – article by Trevor Tucker, Canada
11 Apr 2010
Inviting Nature back to Town
It’s always fun to see what themes emerge when a diversity of buildings are put together in one weekly list. This week’s run-down of architectural happenings could be said to be about two things: creating views and inviting nature back to town.
Probably the most layered and impacting project of the week is The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Heavily inspired by traditional Saudi architecture and ideals, this campus merges LEED-meeting design technologies with a thoughtful sense of history. Unlike the new landmark in Denmark mentioned above, this project seems to be rooted, stretching out across both space and time. There is air, water, greenery, shady public spaces, and an evocative sense of texture. Moreover, it looks like what it claims to be: a centre of learning, with excellence and beauty at heart.
We have the novel use of silos in Denmark. Now, silo-related architecture seems to be popping up all over the place and I’m all for the inventive re-use of old structures, at least where the initial structure still has the integrity of being itself while merging effortlessly with the new spaces. These stacked boxes, this “unusual structure with protrusions and displacements”, may look like Lego, but certainly this project should get points for offering nice views to its residents, each flat with a slightly different perspective. One is left to wonder, however: Does “new landmark” always mean its beautiful?
Stretching out and embracing its community, on the other hand, we have the Chelsea Barracks: 12.8 acres which consist of streets, squares and gardens – “some of the first significant new public garden squares to have been created in Central London for over a century”. In the midst of additional residences and small hotels, will be gardens…not just for show or “curb appeal”, but actual producing gardens. “This will not be a gated development but will link seamlessly into the surrounding community…” say the designers.
This week’s list also includes the new multi-storied cultural centre in The Hague and the bank plaza in Middelfart that uses skillfully crafted angles in the roofline to allow a “perfect views” of the Lillebaelt waters. But then we return to the tangible, the down-to-earth and highly useful: The Edible Schoolyard in New York City. “The project, to be located at what is now the school parking lot,” explain the designers, “consists of an organic garden, a mobile greenhouse, a kitchen classroom, and a systems wall containing a rainwater cistern, solar batteries and a chicken coop.” Green architecture should not only give a nod to LEED and inventive energy efficient designs, but should also entice the user to embrace a more natural lifestyle. The green school stands as a sort of calling card, an anachronism in the midst of all of the other fanciness. This is a sensitive approach to children, to our natural environment, to experiential learning and to architecture. Here there is play, delight, education, and maybe a not so subtle ideological statement about addressing environmental issues (what a day it is when planting a garden in the midst of the city can be an ideological statement!). Its users – whose opinion is ultimately the only one that matters – will love it. They will not only be able to walk through it, but also able to shape it themselves – not just observe their environment but immerse themselves in it.
Editor and sessional professor of English literature at the University of Ottawa