A letter to Arboreal

I wrote the following essay as part of an application for Arboreal Architecture. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, and I stand by it. So, I’ve posted it on here for your consideration. Enjoy!

Re: ‘a short statement describing one way in which you think buildings should be more arboreal’.

Currently, innovative architectural discourse is being overshadowed by a cacophony of competing architectural styles. With the spectacle of the Bilbao Effect and the subsequent popular pressure toward the reduction of architecture to XL product design, the envelope’s transmutation to wrapping paper, and the submission of cross-sectional clarity and ease of use to the demand for cheap drama, architecture is in danger of regressing into a form of set design, shunning the professions higher purposes; those of dealing in overarching strategy, questing to understand how people use a building, how buildings relate to one another, how cities are best formed for and informed by the inhabitant, and the considered application of creativity and ingenuity to improve our collective lot above and beyond the individual urban component, the private building, to build cities in which it is possible to lead a life of esteem, an environment befitting the modern human experience.

where once the challenge of urbanism was the successful repression of encroaching nature and denial of the pervasion of the elements, now in this age of globalised industry, now that the war against nature has been won, our architecture must not stagnate but must continue to evolve; our challenge must now be self-restraint and the conservation of our planet in the face of exploding consumption. Arboreal is a word meaning tree-like, and it is ironic but undeniable that where once our buildings fought to control nature, now our buildings must assimilate natures sublime systems to reintegrate into the ecological machine, before our viral urban patterns overtake it.

Many characteristics of successful flora are shared by the best of modern architecture. Arboreal traits applicable to architectural approach can be found in both their forms and functions. In form, Trees are products of their environments in size, shape and composition – this can be seen in the broad leaves of temperate climates, and the waxed needles of the boreal, both responding to temperature and sunlight. Trees are economic in structure, thinning towards their extremities and naturally balancing load distribution, Trees engage us in positive multi-sensory experience, being tactile, visually and aurally engaging, and producing sweet scents.

In function, the tree can be described in a simple diagram – a clarity badly missed in many modern buildings. Trees are also programmatically flexible and can accomodate many alternate uses, accomodating nests, hollows and webs. However, the main reason architects must adopt a more arboreal approach can be found in the self-sufficiency and symbiotic interaction of the tree within its environment.

Currently our urban patterns are unsustainable. The dilemma of consumption is exacerbating, with the exponentially increasing global population demanding more produce from our hinterlands and the new industrialization of huge population centres inflating the demand for fuels. Our buildings must become arboreal to aid us in refining our urban systems. We as architects must strive towards symbiotic communities, to reduce our waste and use our resources more efficiently. Natures kingdom, the arboreal system, has thrived for billions of years, in a self-sustaining equalibrium, supporting wonderful variety. It is the very model of sustainability. In order for our cities to be sustainable, energy must not only be harnessed sustainably but conserved to reduce negative impact on the landscape. The ambition of urbanists must be achieving an urban system that can sustain a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding hinterland. Modern technology has enabled biomimicry, which in turn opens the door to a new urban approach in which waste produced in urban areas can be treated, recovered and reinvested in a self-sustaining, arboreal system. In this way the phrase ‘arboreal architecture’ may lead towards a more sophisticated understanding of urban respiration than is currently the model. This is why I think buildings must become more arboreal.

Karl Diskin

Assistant Architect Part II

25 August 2011


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