Porky Hefer Design, "Nettleton Road Nest" (Cape Town, South Africa)

Porky Hefer Design, “Nettleton Road Nest” (Cape Town, South Africa) (all images courtesy Princeton Architectural Press unless noted)

Inspired by bird nests or vanishing building techniques, architecture based on natural materials is an expanding focus in both sculpture garden and urban landscape. The 2007 Natural Architecture book compiled some of the practitioners of bamboo building and structural weaving, and this month Natural Architecture Now: New Projects from Outside the Boundaries of Design by Francesca Tatarella continues the dialogue.

Cover of “Natural Architecture Now”

Released by Princeton Architectural Press, it includes 25 studios and over 50 projects. From Patrick Doughertys branch weaving to Roberto Conte’s layered stick fences, Natural Architecture Now demonstrates the diversity of how to build sustainably, albeit fleetingly. As Tatarella writes in the preface, the structures “speak to a different concept of time” as they “are by definition temporary; while visiting them, we cannot help but be reminded that sooner or later, the branches and leaves that form their outer shells will rot and be absorbed back into the landscape, just as stones will fall from foundations and, over the ages, be worn away until they are just pebbles.”

While they exist, however, they can engage with our relationships with nature. Concrete and glass buildings have little to do with geography, yet when Alfio Bonanno uses branches washed up on Lake Simcoe’s shores in southern Ontario, there’s an immediate resonance of place. The book includes some projects designed to interact with nature, such as Ants of the Prairie’s “Bat Tower” as part of Joyce Hwang’s Pest Architecture series to give a home to the much maligned creatures, and Yolanda Gutiérrez‘s “Sanctuary (Santuario)” of curves of woven reeds designed to encourage birds to nest near Mexico City. Porky Hefer Design, meanwhile, takes inspiration right from natural designs, particularly the nests of weaver birds which are replicated on a large scale as structures in South Africa.

The book does have a sort of overarching reach that links the projects only by their materials, with Heather and Ivan Morison‘s post-apocalyptic survivalist structures contrasted with Doug and Mike Starn‘s prominent bamboo towers, such as on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010. It also would be fascinating to have more details on just how the different structures were built, as the complications of weaving an entire shelter can only be appreciated if you’ve spent time mangling a basket. Yet it’s worth looking closely at how these building techniques that rely on natural resources and few tools can redefine our architecture in a way that’s both cost-effective — such as Al Borde Arquitectos‘ Ecuador school constructed for $200 — and sustainable.

Strijdom Van Der Merwe’s work in “Natural Architecture Now” (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic)

Patkau Architects, “Winnipeg Skating Shelters” (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 2010-2011)

Giuliano Mauri, ” Aviary for Humans (Voliera per umani)” (Monza Park, Italy, 2006)

Roberto Conte’s work in “Natural Architecture Now” (photograph by the author for Hyperallergic)

Studio Weave, “Landscope” (Isle of Wight, UK, 2011)

Legendre-Peron, “DesAccords de Nature” (Entraigues Waterfall, Egliseneuve d’Entraigues, Massif de Sancy, France, 2011)

Heather & Ivan Morison, “I am so sorry. Goodbye (Escape Vehicle number 4)” (Tatton Park, UK, 2008)

Natural Architecture Now: New Projects from Outside the Boundaries of Design by Francesca Tatarella is available this month from Princeton Architectural Press.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...