There are a number of buildings that catch our eye as we’re driving down the highway, or walking through downtown Toronto, but a German design group has taken building architecture to a whole new level. Professor Gerd de Bruyn of the University of Stuttgart initiated a project called “Baubotanik” which translates to “living plant construction”. Baubotanik consists of engineers, architects and natural scientists that focus on transforming trees and plants into living botanical structures.
These structures combine non-living material and living vegetation that take a few decades to grow, depending on the plants used. Professor de Bruyn describes it as “single plants merge into a new and bigger overall organism”. Plants are the primary components of each building, therefore increasing spatial and aesthetic quality. Not to mention, these buildings literally produce oxygen, and lock in carbon.
One of the many goals of Baubotanik is to utilize these buildings in growing metropolises and urban areas as three-dimensional “pocket parks”. This would create ecologically friendly spaces within densely populated cities while taking up minimal area. A great advantage of having a botanical building is the fact that, they are self-repairing! These buildings always adjust their growth to the environmental factors of that particular location and repair damages on their own. As these plants grow, less scaffolding and metal beams are necessary to provide support, and are therefore removed. In many cases, you can end up with an entirely living structure.
There are three types of buildings that differ in shape:
- Plane-Tree-Cube Nagold: the largest of the three buildings, and the most likely to be utilized within urban settings. Primarily uses the tree Platanus acerifolia.
- The Baubotanik Tower: an area of eight square metres and a height of nine metres, with 3 walk-able levels.
- The Footbridge: built with approximately 12-15 common osier (Salix viminalis) plants. This particular species of plant absorbs the load of the bridge and redirects it into the ground, where the structure is anchored by its roots.
The process of creating these buildings include planning out the technical, conceptual, economical and botanical aspects of each structure. A lot of time and effort is taken to decide what species of plants would be best suited for the type of structure that is being built. Baubotanik has tested many types of plants in order to determine what are the most appropriate ecologically and structurally for buildings. They looked for plants that could grow particularly long, be able to bend around a narrow radii, and have the potential of bark or wood tissue fusion. Their research concluded that plane trees (Platanus acerifolia) were the best suited species of tree for these breathing buildings.
At first glance, this may seem like a modern concept. However, these types of buildings can be found in a variety of cultural contexts throughout history. This “prehistorical bio-engineering” has previously been used in Europe, where communities would take advantage of this particular gardening technology. Today, this botanical technique is practiced by a tribe called Khasi, in the Indian rain forest. They utilize the roots of rubber trees, by intertwining them into a net-like structure. Eventually, the entire structure grows together and forms a living bridge.