Constructing Ecosystems

Published 18 January 2024

Written By Joel Benichou

Reimagining Our Relationship with the Constructed and Natural Environment. Finding the Balance Between Human Control and Nature's Embrace.

Sunset in Melbourne CBD - Image Joel Benichou

As an architect deeply invested in the future of our world, I often think about the intricate relationship between human control and the natural environment. This delicate balance, or more often imbalance, is at the heart of our existence, shaping our lives, our cities, and our very perceptions of comfort and survival.

The human desire to control nature is as old as humanity itself. From the earliest shelters to the sprawling cities and suburbs of today, we have continually sought to bend the natural world to our needs. This desire stems from an innate need for safety, comfort, and ease. We lay roads to connect, build homes to shelter, and clothe ourselves to protect against the elements. Gardens are cultivated, lawns manicured – all in an effort to assert a semblance of control over the wild, untamed forces of nature.

Elephant Rocks - By Mauro Palmieri

However, this domination has consequences. Our cities, with their concrete jungles and glass towers, stand as testaments to human ingenuity, yet they also represent a disconnection from the organic world. In these urban landscapes, we yearn for a touch of the natural – a potted plant, a small garden, or a tree-lined street. We find ourselves escaping to the bush or beach for camping, hiking, and swimming, seeking respite in the very environment we often work so hard to control.

Pushing back - image by Joel Benichou

This dichotomy presents a profound question: What is the ideal balance between nature and control? How much discomfort are we willing to accept in our quest to live in harmony with the natural world? Are we ready to embrace a bee sting, a bit of dirt on our walls, a messy backyard, or the occasional discomfort of being too cold, too hot, or too wet?

As an architect, I believe the answer lies in redefining our relationship with nature. Instead of seeing it as a force to be conquered, we must view it as a partner in our journey. We need to design spaces that not only exist in harmony with their natural surroundings but also encourage interaction with them. This means creating buildings that are not just structures of convenience but ecosystems that support biodiversity, sustainability, and wellbeing.

Incorporating natural elements into our urban environments is key. Insertions of urban gardens, innovative habitats and new, closed loop systems can transform our cities, making them not just habitable but habitable in harmony with nature. Basic initiatives like renewable energy sources, sustainable materials, and designs that adapt to local climates are not just environmentally responsible choices, but they also reconnect us with the rhythms of the natural world.

Microbial Home by Philips Design - A self sufficient, closed loop kitchen and home appliance concept.

I think embracing imperfection and a bit of wilderness in our urban landscapes can bring a sense of balance. Allowing for natural growth, accepting the presence of wildlife, and even designing for natural weathering of materials can create a more organic and less controlled environment. Small changes can make a big impact on endemic and endangered flora and fauna, it is just a matter of being aware and willing.

Ultimately, the balance between human control and nature is a personal journey. It involves a willingness to step out of our comfort zones and a commitment to rethinking how we interact with the world around us. As architects, planners, and inhabitants of this planet, we have the power and responsibility to forge a future where our built environment exists not as a dominator of nature, but as a harmonious part of it. It's time to embrace this challenge and build a world that respects, nurtures, and thrives alongside the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Urban Agriculture in Brooklyn, NY - Project by Framlab

Bee Brick by Green & Blue - An easy way to create habitat in an urban environment.

We offer deep respect to the traditional custodians of this land and honour their ancestors who have nurtured and cared for this country for thousands of years. We pay homage to the living cultures, languages, and knowledge systems of the Noongar, Wurundjeri and all Indigenous Australian peoples.