One of the things the green rooftops can do is disguise the presence of the building from the air, make it seem as though there is less than man-made structure. Is that something that in itself has value? The visual impact of the building is something that is immensely important to people. People want to make their homes visually individual to them. On the other hand people also value a homogenous look to an area. It’s one of the reasons the planning departments so often regulate everything from the pitch of a roofs to the colour that people are allowed to paint their front doors. The desire of people to want to make a dramatic visual impact on the landscape goes back thousands of years for example the great Pyramids of Egypt’s a prime example of early efforts to make a massive impact on the way in area looks.
But as the world has become progressively more and more built up, architects began to assess whether it’s not it was important the buildings to have a good relationship with the natural surroundings, making buildings a conversation with their landscape as opposed to an imposition. This became known as organic architecture, a term originally coined by American Frank Lloyd Wright.
However, Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, whilst they do interact with the landscape and use the same palette of colours and materials, often stand out sharply in terms of their straight lines. We’ve already mentioned Austrian architect Hundertwasser, He very much didn’t build in straight lines. Some of his buildings, through their curved walls and heavily prompted roofs, almost completely blend into the landscape above. An example of this is Therme bad blumau, the spa is strangely invisible from above, but striking from the ground.
Now going even further than hundred classes ideas is the modern day earthship. This really is still the realm of sock and sandal wearing tree-huggers. Earth shelters use the thermal mass of the Earth to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter, capture rainwater from their roofs, built walls out of recycled materials such as car tyres, and blend almost seamlessly into the landscape owing to the fact that their walls on three sides are built up with earth and vegetated.
On the other hand, the idea is becoming steadily more mainstream. For example Footballer Gary Neville wanted to build an earth bunker on greenbelt land near Bolton but was forced to scrap the idea after local residents complained. The grounds were partly that the building was on the greenbelt, but also about the visual impact of a windmill associated with the project.
On the other hand, the project does show just the extent to which the a large building can be blended into the landscape, not just from the sky but especially at ground level.
A Step Back towards Nature
Simply by searching for “visual impact of architecture” on the internet, you are bombarded with documents such as this one from Glasgow that outline news ways to decide what is visually acceptable in a given area. People are worried about conserving their landscape. Unlike sustainability, however, this is a goal often shared by people who are highly conservative.
Would it make sense to create buildings that do not simply blend in with their surrounding architecture, but move towards making the area less built up? People have been found to feel like they are exerting less effort in exercise when presented with the colour green as opposed to other colours. Furthermore, green space has general psychological benefits, benefits that increase as the biodiversity of an area does.
Clearly, extremely large buildings can’t necessarily be built as earth ships (there wouldn’t be enough sunlight of the back of the building), but using different methods and green roofs they can nevertheless be made to blend into the landscape. The images below the Lycee Jean Moulin in Revin, France now, and the proposed plans for the school’s redevelopment:
It replaces current tower-block style buildings with something much more sympathetic, essentially moving back towards what the landscape originally would have been.