architecture + NATURE: In the Beginning

As we’ll discover in this blog, there are a myriad of topics to which architecture connects. There is one connection, however, that is more significant than all the others – the connection of architecture and nature. This connection goes back….. way back….. back to the beginning.

Garden of Eden by Peter Paul Rubens

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the Genesis story of creation. Next, God separated the land from the water, then created plant and animal life. Man and woman were then created and given dominion over the earth. They were placed in the Garden of Eden and commanded to tend it.

This connection of man to nature is foundational to the Christian faith.  It is, however, not unique to Christianity.  The connection, in one form or another, is found in all major world religions, and even in Evolution. This connection is innate. It is in our DNA.

As a means of survival, humankind has always sought protection from the elements.  Early hunter-gatherers constructed transient dwellings, grass huts really, partially dug into the earth.  For thousands of years humankind has constructed forms of shelter from whatever nature provided them.  Eskimos constructed igloos from ice, the Souix erected tepees composed of saplings and animal skins, and the Pueblo Indians carved their shelter into the sides of the canyons. In our area of Alabama the Mississippian Indians constructed large communities built around large earthen mounds. This connection with nature continued even as humankind moved into sedentary agricultural societies.  The connection may have changed form but it remained none the less.

Rendering of the Moundville Al

With advances in technology and transportation, humankind has sometimes veered away from nature as the primary motivator of form and function in architecture. Some of the resulting works had little in common with the nature. The architect LeCorbusier designed the Villa Savoye, which was competed in 1931. He famously describe it as a “machine for living in”.

Villa Savoye by LeCorbusier

Faye Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas is an example of architecture re-embrasiong nature. As one follows the path from the parking lot, the chapel slowly reveals itself, growing from the forest floor, stretching for the sky, and branching out, like the surrounding trees. It has much in common with the nature of which it is a part.  The stone floors, transparent walls, and thin wooden frame are derived from the land and artfully arranged so as to mimic the nature from which they were extracted. Experiencing nature from within its confines takes mankind full circle, in appreciation of the creator of the chapel, but even more, in awe of Nature.

Thorncrown Chapel by Faye Jones

As an Architect, the process of design begins with a sketch. We’ll look at that connection in the next blog post – Drawing on the Imagination.

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