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Natural State

UG 2 2020-21

Undergraduate Design Studio at The Bartlett School of Architecture


Barry Wark

Maria Knutsson-Hall

“an object of observation can be, in a number of different ways, partly natural, partly artefactual, and something that is a natural object might nevertheless not be in a natural state”

Malcolm Budd, 2002


The above quote by English philosopher Malcom Budd describe how one might engage and appreciate natural objects. It alludes to the fact that even if the origin of the object is natural, if it is not in a natural state then it ceases to be appreciated as such. This year UG2 will consider the reverse. If an object in question is a human artifact and it is in a natural state, can we begin to appreciate it in the same way one appreciates the natural world?

Buildings are perpetually altered by the effects of natural phenomena such as erosion, staining and flora propagation. It is therefore interesting to consider ‘green’ architectures call to ‘bring nature in’ when it is always here, we simply invest energy in design and maintenance strategies to remove it. 

UG2 will explore architecture that encourages and embraces the visibility of its environment to dissolve the notion that it is separate and impervious to the natural world. Further consideration will also to be given to how the wider environment has always impacted the fortunes of human settlements, both good and bad.

We will seek spaces that develop novel aesthetics sensibilities of what ecological architecture could be beyond its current offerings. Students will produce buildings which embrace passive design strategies whilst engaging users’ imaginations to consider their sense of place within the biosphere.

In many cities our primary interaction with nature is through two perceptive models of appreciation, either as an object or as the picturesque. 

The object model is most commonly found in the potted plants filling our workplaces and homes. Here nature is removed from its context and turned into a sculptural artefact, in turn focusing our attention on its formal qualities. 

The picturesque model is served to us in abundance through documentaries and social media feeds where we bask in the visual stimulus of the colour, lines and compositions of what we see on our screens. This 2D representation of nature again draws us to the formal qualities of nature as image.

Nature is not an object, nor is it an image, it is a wide variety of environments and spaces in which we have evolved in and experienced for millennia. It is a complex ecosystem; it evolves over time and seasons; it is fragile and volatile and has to the power to comfort and unnerve us. As inhabitants of cities we experience very little of the afore mentioned qualities of nature. Our built environment has increasingly controlled, minimised and mitigated the natural world to the point where we have become physiologically and perhaps psychologically separated from its true essence.

We are now experiencing a period in history where natural disasters, recording breaking weather and the climate change activist group ‘Extinction Rebellion’ are bringing the message to the forefront that our planet is drastically changing through our actions. How can we re-establish our biophilic connection in the hope that it can change our behaviour and habits for positive environmental change?  How can we establish a sense of place within the biosphere as well as the city ?

This year UG2 will explore the territory between the object and picturesque in the creation of environments where nature is experienced and appreciated beyond its current prevalent consumption. We will create spaces that flood, rooms that wilt and decay and atmospheres that changes as often as the weather and seasons themselves.  

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