Currently, buildings are thought of as non-living entities, therefore their function is to house whatever activity the users decide it is appropriate within it. One interesting and challenging way of thinking of buildings would be as living entities. Incorporating functions such as air filtration, rain harvesting and other, through smartly designed facades.
“Transforming architecture into living systems” could be done through the increase of employing “bacteria and synthetic biology in architectural processes and materials”, allowing us to use information “not only from science and technology, but also from organisms” .
Major cities such as London and Beijing have a critical issue, especially within the central area, regarding high levels of air pollution. London for example, has breached its annual pollution limits for 2016 within three of its areas.
According to European Union regulation, “The PM10 levels are not allowed to go above 50 micrograms per cubic metre” for no more than “35 days a year” . Scientists and measurements taken by King’s College London have concluded a “45 daily breaches this year at a monitoring site in […] Thessaly Road, Battersea” as compared to the EU limit .
Therefore, since these trends cannot possibly provide a sustainable future, there is a need for ‘living’ façades in order to increase air quality and provide a better life quality for our community. According to Dennis Dollens, the future of better cities may consist in “self-reconfiguring building skins” that would potentially “filter both urban noise and airborne toxins” .
Having a ‘living’ multifunctional façade could save on resources and provide a more qualitative life.
Water filtration with the use of microorganisms
Within the constantly growing cities, there is scarcity of clean water.
According to urban population growth trends, there has been a growth of 20% between 1960 and 2014, and is predicted to grow by 1.84% every year between 2015 and 2020 . Currently the filtration process is costly, the needed infrastructure provides a fairly high financial investment rate, as well as an increased need for maintenance.
Within most cities, the filtration of waste water is done outside of the city, at a large unattractive and inefficient treatment plant. It provides unpleasant smell, a more expensive water transport infrastructure due to its location at the city outskirts, as well as land not being used to its full potential .
By looking at a waste water treatment plant, one can instantly conclude that the concept of aesthetics is inexistent. Through a survey done by architect Attila Bodnar, “people, when asked, how close would they live to this waste water treatment plant, the answer would be as far as possible” . It is clear why the answer would “never be a number”.
Within a TED Talk, Hungarian architect, Attila Bodnar explains a very interesting and innovative strategy that he developed together with his former business partner and biologist, Istvan Kenyeres, through which, the founders of the company Organica believe that their proposal could be the “new wave in waste water treatment plant design” .
Their proposal is to integrate these waste water treatment plants within the city, rather than isolating them outside. This would decrease infrastructure investment and maintenance costs, would decrease the time needed to filter the water, as well as provide a place of recreation for the community. In this case, the use of biomimicry is a smart and balanced combination between functionality and aesthetics.
Functionality because there are fewer resources needed to run the treatment plant, there is a 100% reduction of chemicals, this meaning all natural filtration through a well-developed and though-out system of plants and micro-organisms, and also the advantage of saving time.
Aesthetics because the shape and function of the waste water treatment plant has changed and it incorporates a plethora of diverse species of plants in order to create an oasis for the local community. By a reduction in size and an increase in organisms and plants density, the newly proposed treatment plant would be capable to filter and provide for the city and the local community.
Not only it provides clean water through sustainable filtration, therefore helping the environment, but it also provides a peaceful park and greenhouse where the local community is able to spend their free time relaxing and socialising. Giving the water treatment plant another function and incorporating it into the city, not only provides a more efficient filtration, but it also activates the area and enriches the community.
Using the same method of natural filtration, the King’s Cross Pond Club project realised in London, provides locals with a place to relax and swim . In this case, in contrast to the waste water treatment plant discussed above, the aim of the project was purely to bring life to a specific underused area.
The project involved natural filtration through a series of plants, of a small pool that would provide an opportunity for exercise and relaxation for the London community. There is still a temporary positive impact on the environment due to the addition of greenery and water within a central polluted area of a major European capital, however the bigger impact was social and aesthetic.
In this case, the shade of ‘green’ has a combined driver of social and aesthetic, and therefore biomimicry in this case was used to enhance the area in a ‘beautiful’ way. Even though the social and aesthetic elements are very important in a design, one can argue that any project, in order to be balanced and successful, it also needs practical and environmental drivers, therefore a project should perhaps not rely purely on aesthetics.
By combining in a balanced manner both the form and the function, one can design a much better building, rather than through discarding the practicality.
 Kovac, C. (2000). Floating Arboretum Cleans Waste Water. Architectural Journal, 06.00, p.34.
This is a guest post written by Timea-Laura Tifan.
Timea is an architecture student with passion for the environment. You could say she is an ‘architect who gives a plant’. Throughout her studies, she incorporates nature within her design and strives for a sustainable built environment.
She is excited about nature inclusive architecture and in her free time she runs her own blog. With her roots being in beautiful Romania, she incorporates natural traditional design from home into sustainable solutions for dense urban fabrics.