Living in structures made of modern materials and excessive use of technology has made our lifestyle easy making us fully dependent on these inventions. But as we realize its harmful effects on the environment, and as we go towards natural and sustainable alternatives for everything, we see a host of other things associated with it too. While we are on a constant urge to promote the construction of green buildings, buildings in nature, natural materials, and planting trees around to experience nature, there are also few things to consider while designing the buildings with nature.

1. Behaviour Of Nature In The Built Environment | Building with Nature

First and foremost, when building with nature or in nature, it is important to analyze the site conditions concerning the existing biodiversity and water body on and around the site. If there is an activity of birds and animals, it is important to think about their behavior and activity when the structure will be built on site. 

Additionally, designing spaces in a way that will not hamper their activity, would also create harmony between built spaces and them and the surrounding nature.

Behaviour Of Nature In The Built Environment 
Building with nature ©Jarle Wæhler

2. Adaptability Of Users In Natural Environment

It becomes equally important to learn about the occupant’s connection with nature. When the design process involves the client’s interaction too, they will experience nature in a different way than designers might think. 

For example, one client would like to have sun rays entering their space throughout the day, whereas the other might love the rains, one might love a variety of plants in their space, whereas others might prefer views of nature or having small nature- elements

As there are many ways of incorporating nature in design, involving clients for what they prefer would also improve client/user-nature relations. Educating the client about the advantages of building with nature, would also provide possibilities to incorporate various natural elements or techniques into the design.

Adaptability Of Users In Natural Environment - Sheet1
Views of nature through large windows ©
Adaptability Of Users In Natural Environment - Sheet2
Organic forms and indoor trees- Amazon Spheres ©Bruce Damonte Architectural Photographer
Adaptability Of Users In Natural Environment - Sheet3
Incorporating natural elements like plants and pebbles in small spaces- Living Lab DaeWha Kang Design ©Tom Donald for Aldworth James _ Bond

3. Selecting Plants According To The Region

Selecting appropriate plants according to the site conditions are crucial when designing the green spaces on the site. Planting plants that are local to the region is beneficial for the surrounding plants and healthy soil conditions too. It also supports the indigenous biodiversity of the region. 

While planning for planting exotic plants, ensuring that they are adaptable to local soil and climatic conditions, would provide a better chance for their survival. Different kinds of plants would also attract different kinds of birds and insects, and so, the selection of plants as per the activities in the structure would create a comfortable environment for the users.

Selecting Plants According To The Region
150 Charles, Dirtworks Landscape Architecture ©Mark Weinberg

4. Planning According To The Microclimate

Planning spaces according to the micro-climate is also crucial for the thermal comfort of the users. It avoids dependency on active techniques. It also develops in users a sense of promoting building in nature. There should also be a balance between natural elements and the built environment. 

Additionally, incorporating green techniques like solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, wastewater and garbage treatment plants, etc., would also create awareness among each user of their responsibility towards nature.

Planning According To The Microclimate
A balance between built spaces and landscaped spaces. View of Viettel Academy Educational Center ©Hiroyuki Oki

5. Buildings Should Be Adaptable To Climate Change | Building with Nature

Every building material, be it natural or man-made, are susceptible to damage due to climatic conditions, humidity, seasonal changes, site context, poor treatment, and ageing. Natural materials used for construction too are vulnerable to these changes that might affect the structural stability of the building and also cause health problems like allergies and breathing difficulty in users. 

Widely used natural building materials like: 

  1. Timber/ wood/ reclaimed wood- can be susceptible to insects, woodworms, fungal attacks, and decay due to rains, frost, moisture, and improper treatments;
  2. Bamboo- could be susceptible to rotting, swelling, fungal attacks attracting insects, and cracking (mainly due to poor joinery);
  3. Earth structures- could be susceptible to fungal attacks, weathering, and dampness.

Poor choice of materials could also lead to such conditions. It is important to note that the damage could be visible after a few years of construction, or immediately after the structure is built, depending upon the climatic conditions, treatments used, and care taken during transportation. Hence, it becomes crucial to make wise material choices that suit the climate and activities.

Buildings Should Be Adaptable To Climate Change - Sheet1
Weathering of bamboo © 
Buildings Should Be Adaptable To Climate Change - Sheet2
Frost attack on brick © 

6. Buildings Should Be Resistant To Natural Hazard

Though there are various benefits of designing buildings with nature, designing for circumstances like natural hazards shouldn’t be ignored. Today there are many technologies and materials invented that make the buildings resistant to natural hazards. 

Using natural materials without any disaster-resistant technique would destroy the structures and also cause harm to the inhabitants. In this case, the location of the site also matters. Planning for disaster-resistant techniques and using disaster-resistant materials, along with using sustainable materials would cause a relatively lesser impact on the structure and protect the users. Following building codes and standards of that particular region, too, are vital.

Buildings Should Be Resistant To Natural Hazard - Sheet1
Bamboo Sports Hall in Thailand can withstand the local high-speed winds, earthquakes and natural forces ©Alberto Cosi
Buildings Should Be Resistant To Natural Hazard - Sheet2
Planning for fire resistant site ©
Buildings Should Be Resistant To Natural Hazard - Sheet3
Flood resistant design- Hind House, Wargrave ©

7. Environmental Impact Of The Building 

Building with nature is not only about incorporating natural elements or building in a natural setting but also thinking of the impact it would cause on the environment. Calculating the carbon footprint of the building of all stages of its lifecycle- from design, construction, transportation of materials, to the functioning of the structure, would ensure the buildings are low-impact. 

It is also important to consider the post-demolition practices of the structure and its effects on the environment (especially, in the case of temporary structures). 

Recycled materials, materials sourced from sustainable forests, materials having low embodied energy, local materials to minimize transportation impacts, as well as reduction of wastes and minimizing pollution, proper utilization of water and energyare some of the practices one can follow to reduce the harmful impact buildings would cause on the environment.

Environmental Impact Of The Building 

8. Saving Natural Land

Buying more land to shelter ourselves is causing more harm to nature. While there are a multitude of plots that could be reclaimed, our desire to conquer nature’s more and more land continues. Recycling a building or choosing a site that could be demolished and rebuilt upon would reduce the harm to the environment to a large scale. It would also decrease the sprawl. 

Also, improving the soil and water quality of the site would prevent the site from further degradation, and also save the natural land. 

Saving Natural Land - Sheet1
Adaptive reuse- Jægersborg Water Tower to a mixed-use building ©
Saving Natural Land - Sheet2
Adaptive Reuse- Cheese Factory to Art Center, Arkansas ©

9. Maintenance After Building Is Built

Buildings with nature require maintenance. It ensures a healthy environment and also the durability of the structure. Natural elements like plants and water bodies on the site also require regular maintenance to retain the biodiversity and for the healthy growth of plants. 

Hence, planning for building with nature should be according to the activities performed in the building and also with involvement of the client. The spaces and forms should be designed in a way that would be easy to maintain and to do repair works and regular treatments if required.

Maintenance After Building Is Built
Maintenance of green wall ©

10. Creating Diversity In Design | Building with Nature

While there are beliefs associated with buildings in nature of the limited exposure to design, forms, and materials among the people, creating diversity in forms, shapes, spatial planning, themes, etc., in every project would influence people to encourage the construction of buildings with nature.

Innovative form in bamboo structure- Luum Temple ©Cesar Bejar
Residential building having various plants and a tree-like appearance- 25 Verde, Italy © Beppe Giardino

Pranjali is a passionate artist and an architect who loves to blend her designs with nature. She designs meticulously and is always exploring the impact of architectural spaces on user's mind and body. You will find her lost in travelling, daydreams, books, and also on mountain trails.