Space & Innovation

Trees Transformed into Living, Breathing Buildings

German design group specializes in organic structures grown over the course of decades.

<p>baubotanik.org</p>

Here's a term you can drop into your next casual conversation about progressive German architectural movements: Baubotanik -- or "living plant construction" -- refers to a kind of slow-motion structural engineering approach that incorporates living trees and plants.

Like traditional topiary projects, or Japanese art of bonsai, Baubotanik involves tree shaping to a degree. But it goes much further than that. The idea is to assemble buildings and other structures using both living and nonliving materials, creating an entirely new kind of architecture.

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According to this very cool report over at Inhabitat, Baubotanik is the brainchild of architect baubotanik.org/en/contact/">Ferdinand Ludwig, who operates out of the University of Stuttgart in Germany. His Baubotanik website, cleverly registered as baubotanik.org, features several structures currently in development.

By way of carefully designed scaffolding schematics, Baubotanik buildings allow living trees to grow around and bond to man-made construction materials. As you might expect, it's a slow process. But gradually a new kind of living structure emerges in which trees serve as load-bearing elements while simultaneously locking in carbon, producing oxygen and providing shade.

The project is reminiscent of Mitch Joachim's Fab Tree Hab and reminds us of Gavin Munro's patiently cultivated Full Grown chairs.

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Over the last decade, Ludwig and his collaborators have constructed three major works that utilize the Baubotanik principles. In 2005, Ludwig began work on a footbridge made from willow trees and metal scaffolding. The willows have since grown up and over the stainless steel support tubes.

Ludwig also created a nine-meter tall Baubotanik tower, in which willow sapling have been carefully formed into crisscrossing support formations over the years. Once the trees are stable enough to support the tower, the original metal scaffolding will be removed entirely, leaving an entirely living structure.

Finally, the three-story-high Plane-Tree-Cube Nagold project is the first Baubotanik building designed for an urban environment. Initially created for a horticultural show in 2012, the building will eventually grow into a standalone living building, made of sycamore trees.

One way of looking at the technique: Baubotanik represents a new way to use lumber, minus the unfortunate tradition of cutting down the trees in the first place. Of course, the Elves of Lothlórien were hip to this idea long ago. But it's nice to see humans making an effort.