NatureStructure: Design that works with nature by Scott Burnham

NatureStructure provides a framework for a new generation of natural infrastructure and nature-centric design and development; work created to support and employ nature in addressing the problems human development has created for itself.

The history of the built environment could be broadly defined as a battle against nature: barricading cities and coasts with sea walls, expanding over wetlands and green terrain, dividing migration routes with motorways. Tremendous effort has gone into the long war against the natural world.

Yet as sea levels rise and the severity of floods, droughts, and a changing climate increase — while species and habitats decrease — efforts to conquer nature have proven to be futile at best and destructive acts of ego at worst.

NatureStructure represents an end to the battle against nature.

MARS: Modular Artificial Reef Structure by Reef Design Lab as natural infrastructure

Above: MARS: Modular Artificial Reef Structure by Reef Design Lab

NatureStructure is movement away from dominion and towards a synergistic relationship with nature. Norwegians have a phrase for it: “Spille på lag med naturen.” — “To play on the same team as nature.”

Australia’s Reef Design Lab is one of Team Nature’s star players. In Sydney Harbor, the sleek splendor of the Opera House continues below water with sheer metal waterfront walls that are inhospitable for the sea-life that once lined the harbor. In response, Reef Design Lab designed and developed “Fish Apartment” habitat panels (shown below) for the Opera House’s waterfront skirting to restore the harbor’s habitat.

Habitat Panels to restore aquatic life to Sydney Harbor by Reef Design Lab as natural infrastructure

Animosity towards nature has casually seeped into the lexicon of development over time. Cities and waterfront developments increase footprints through “reclaimed” land (begging the question: When was it taken away in order to be reclaimed?). When the power of nature is acknowledged, companies seek to “harness” natural forces or “capture” its benefits: all terms of dominion, containment, conquering.

Biomatrix Water's Floating Islands as natural infrastructure

Above: A canal in Manilla, before and after the installation of Biomatrix Water’s Floating Islands

Instead of combating the natural world, NatureStructure embraces nature, natural processes, and natural infrastructure as integral parts of the built environment and advocates designing and developing in collaboration with natural systems.

“Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

NatureStructure premiered at the Boston Society of Architects’ BSA Space Gallery in 2018 and is now available for other venues.

Please get in touch to learn more.

Above: Habitat Panels to restore aquatic life to Sydney Harbor by Reef Design Lab

Header Image: POP-UP by Third Nature. Copenhagen, Denmark.