Green architects and designers are constantly striving to find a harmonious balance between man-made shelter and nature, and this ongoing process has generated all kinds of intriguing iterations of what could be called "living architecture," ranging from futuristic, interactive bio-digital architecture to more modern-primitive examples like compostable towers made out of fungal and agricultural waste material.
Twenty-three-year-old Dutch architecture and design graduate of Gerrit Rietveld Academie Anne van Klooster takes the latter route, weaving living branches of willow into shelters that can act as movable spaces, but can also be planted in the ground and become what she calls a "Plantable Home."
Inspired by other living architecture (weidenbau) contemporaries like Sanfte strukturen and The Greenman Project, van Klooster's aim is to compel people to look at nature itself as a home, rather than as a mere backdrop to be paved over for yet another soulless suburbia. Her initial dream was to build a home of her own, but since she didn't know where to live yet, she decided that she "had better put it on wheels."
Her technique for constructing and growing these living structures involve the use of a wheeled trailer chassis base (for portability) and wooden framing to support the growing branches. The willow limbs are fastened together with jute rope and nails to form the floor, walls and roof. The willow sticks are about 5 metres (16.4 feet) long and are planted into jute bags, that are again secured in wooden planters that serve as a foundation of sorts, and bent to meet at the top of the structure. The jute bags will eventually degrade, allowing the willow to take root further underneath the structure if desired.
The more connections made with rope, the stronger the structure becomes -- which may sound paradoxical, but as we have seen with traditional and modern use of bamboo in Asian structures, it can be surprisingly strong -- enough to rise hundreds of feet above the ground.
Anne tells us her learning experience with building with this amazing, living material:
Once I found that the best thing to do was to make the floor in a circle, the form followed. It's not possible to make every form you want. You have to work with the willow, listen to it, see how much it can bend, to determine to form. This way of working makes the structure stonger and more natural. It's not a perfect sphere, because that wasn't what the willow 'wanted'. It's a collaboration.
We asked whether there was some way to make the structure more waterproof, and van Klooster replied that for now, she is in the process of finding ways to make a more weatherproof shelter. In the meantime, as the vegetation grows, the branches "will merge together and share their sapstream," and new branches can be woven into the existing net, meaning more rain protection. Another idea was to use double-layered canvas with an inner filling of wool or straw, made water-resistant with a coating of beeswax. Van Klooster, who has also studied earth building techniques, imagines that alternative building methods could be integrated together to create a truly permanent home.
So far, van Klooster has built structures out of living willow for various festivals in and around Amsterdam. Visitors have given a very positive response, saying that the structure provides a restful, tranquil atmosphere to listen to the wind, even in the middle of the city. It's now located at De Ceuvel, a landbound harbour and remediated brownfield that has been converted into a "cleantech playground." If you are in the area, you may be able to catch this exceptional project at future Amsterdam festivals like Magneet, Landjuweel and Into The Woods.
Examples of living architecture such as this could be one way to truly revitalize gritty, green-starved urban centres, or indicate another way tiny homes could be built. Like a treehouse, this is also another inspiring idea of how the human-built environment and 'home' could ultimately be attuned to nature, in a future that goes beyond token tree plantings and instead merges shelter with living organisms. More over at The Plantable Home on Facebook.