In the last few years, a clear trend is visible of people decorating their homes with new indoor greens, people harvesting their first tomato plants grown from ‘AH moestuintjes’, and people growing fresh vegetables and fruits in their own (allotment) garden. I think this trend is not a coincidence. As our world is becoming more densely populated and increasingly complicated, the urge to counteract this movement is growing stronger. Our cities are nothing short of a massive ‘concrete jungle’, the parks a mere theme park for runners, and our forests more intensively used as weekend ‘getaways’. It is deeply rooted in our DNA to connect with the natural world around us. How often do you not hear from people that the sounds, smells, and sight of nature calms them, balances them in their hectic lives? The urge to transform our own homes into a ‘lush jungle’ is just a symptom of a much deeper problem. A problem that has been increasing steadily across the decades. Our constant drive to make the world more efficient with all its familiar consequences: deterioration of quality nature, the massive pollution of our environment, and the steady increase of mental illnesses around the globe.
Not surprisingly our build environment plays a key role. If you live in a city and you look out of your window right now, what would you see? Probably some buildings made of concrete or brick. For sure a road, maybe cycling lanes, walkways. And yes a few trees and bushes perhaps. Doesn’t this indicate that our nature has always been a second thought? It is clear that the streets and buildings are designed first, and the trees a mere tool to fill in the blank spots. Isn’t this weird? Why do we need to design our cities this way? What if we flip it around: designing nature first and buildings second? Why not bring this jungle back into our cities?
Nature will become the lifeblood of our city, the trees the sole focus of our attention, and everything else flowing around it: the infrastructure, the buildings, agriculture, and the people. It would change our current landscape drastically. The distinction between what is a city and what is nature will slowly disappear. The strengths of nature will be fully integrated into our network. Think of the natural shading of public spaces and buildings, the cleaning of air due to greenery, the aliveness and positivity that nature brings in the city. I’m not saying it is easy, but I do believe this is possible and maybe even our only option to reverse the damage we have done.
Looking from an architectural and building point of view, our buildings need to compliment this massive transformation. They need to blend in, they need to enhance and enable the nature around, they need to form a seamless transition from inside to outside by reducing the strong ‘boundaries’. This can include more organic shaped buildings that nicely fit into our plant world, the adoption of reusable organic and natural materials, public spaces that dynamically integrate with nature in terms of shading, water collection, and wind. It is to create harmony with our surroundings instead of a strong contrast that is visible today. But this is just the start. Our future buildings should enable a wide range of functions. Think of facilitating decentralized farming initiatives like Urban Farming, collection of freshwater on roofs and facades, decentralized cleaning of greywater, generation of renewable energies, and many more things. It requires a strong holistic design approach to balance our build environment with city planning, building design, and needs of food, water, and energy.
This might be very idealistic, which I don’t deny, but small increments are already on its way. Take for example the small company De Dakdokters, specialized in transforming flat roofs in cities to lush urban jungles, rainwater collection machines, and relaxing theme parks. Not bad! And think of all the initiatives around Urban Farming. Small community vegetable gardens are popping up everywhere. These are the small but important steps. It indicates a transformation of consciousness. With this in mind, the right time will come to fully engage in the larger vision. I cannot wait to start!