HomeScienceOuter SpaceThe best nature-inspired designs we saw in 2022

The best nature-inspired designs we saw in 2022

Imagine a world where architecture is not one of the world’s most polluting industries, but has a positive impact on people and the planet. At Mashable, we’ve long celebrated the changemakers of architecture and design, those who watch environmentally friendly and informed ways to build our cities and towns, repair and prevent damage, and repurpose materials.

In 2022, when climate-related news usually brought anxiety and very real disasters, we chose hope over despair. We sought inspiration from the visionaries who take the road less traveled and dare to imagine a different future and then help build it. We spoke with landscape architects work with nature to improve our cities architects returning to old building practicesand celebrated the ingenuity of designers who broke the boundaries of the imagination turning solar panels into artand capturing carbon in…tiles.


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In case you missed them, here are some of the most exciting ideas in architecture and design.

In 1997, Yu Kongjian, a young landscape architect and Harvard graduate, returned to his native China and proposed what was then considered a radical idea: that China’s monsoon climate is incompatible with the country’s acceptance of Western urbanization models. Yu’s theory was that removing natural organic matter from cities and swapping soil for concrete turned cities into impenetrable jungles that could lead to devastating floods. The antidote he offered was simple: nature itself can help prevent such disasters, we just have to let it happen.

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At the time, Yu was not taken seriously, but a tragic flood in Beijing in 2012 caused local authorities to rethink his ideas. Today, the so-called “sponge towns” are national policy, and while the origins of the idea are too ancient to trace accurately, the term “sponge towns” is unique to Yu.

In August, we explored the genesis of Yu’s sponge cities, some of the architects applying the green city model on a global scale, and how efficient sponge cities are in light of climate change. In particular, this includes the story of the sister cities of Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) and Nogales, Arizona (USA) – a striking example of the damage that rapid urbanization can do.

The expansion of urban infrastructure can sometimes work in favor of nature. More than 7 million tonnes of soil was excavated during the construction of the Elizabeth Line, London’s most ambitious railway line to date. Instead of wasting this precious material, Crossrail, the company that built the Elizabeth Line, donated about half of it to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The 3.5 million tons of soil was shipped from London to the Essex coast where they were used to create a bird sanctuary.

Thanks to this supply, RSPB built seawalls and restored lagoons and tidal flats that once existed in the area but were lost to agriculture, coastal erosion and sea level rise.

When we talk about climate change and cities, we need to look at how city dwellers get their energy. In some European cities, whose historic centers function as open-air museums, bulky, view-obstructing solar panels are prohibited by conservation laws. This makes sense since solar panels have been regarded primarily as an invention of energy technology since their inception. Now that technology has moved forward, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. If cities want to generate their own energy on a large scale, solar designer Marjan van Aubel argues, we also need to rethink what solar panels look like.

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In September, Van Aubel told Mashable about the solar panels she designs, and how aesthetics might just as well be the secret weapon we need to revolutionize the appeal of solar energy.

What is good for nature is often also good for people. Diana Kellogg’s Rajkumari Ratnavati girls’ school, a proud oval building in the Thar Desert, proves just that. After her studio was commissioned to build the girls’ school in the city of Jailsamer, Rajasthan state, India, Kellogg took an intersectional approach to sustainable building in the harsh conditions of the desert. To create a naturally cooled building, she used locally sourced materials and teamed up with local artisans who helped her recreate the ancient building practices of the area, with a modern twist. Cultural tradition was especially important, and Kellogg arranged for modesty screens in the form of redesigned jali walls to create a safe environment for the students while encouraging learning and play.

When it comes to energy production and consumption, the school is self-sufficient, thanks to a different mix between modernity and tradition. While the roofs are equipped with solar panels, the courtyard uses regional water harvesting techniques to store rainwater during the monsoon season.

In the urban areas of India, however, the concerns are very different. As many as 43 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities are here, which is mainly due to heavy traffic, an even greater dependence on fossil fuels, and tire and waste burning practices. Among the many pollutants, black carbon (CO2e) is especially harmful to human health and the environment.

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At the same time, one of the important characteristics of black carbon is that it consists of particles that can be captured and prevented from entering the atmosphere. In an effort to do just that, a Mumbai-based studio Carbon craft design found a way to upcycle the pollutant by incorporating it into the tile design. According to the company, a single tile can prevent about five kilograms of black carbon from being released into the atmosphere, equivalent to the pollution a single car on the road creates within 15 minutes. And while the design may not tackle air pollution all at once, the small steps could become a giant leap forward if similar practices are adopted by the construction industry at large.



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