Slow Architecture: Realising that “we’re part of a much larger, complex system”

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,” Lao Tzu

Humanity’s fascination or desire for “bigger”, “better”, “faster”, “further” and “higher” is perhaps “admirable” but is it sustainable? The fast food craze, as a simple example, created an economic boost but compromised time-honoured traditions and native food flavours. In 1989 Carlo Petrini started the Slow Food Movement, which aimed to hero local foods, food growth and production, traditions and flavours once again.

Slowly but surely this “drive”, which encourages quality over quantity and looks at “things” with their long-term implications in mind, spilled over to other aspects of “life”. Slow Cities, Slow Living, Slow Travel, Slow Fashion and of course, Slow Architecture.

This transition to “SLOW” does not mean “taking one’s sweet old time with everything”, but actually means doing things at the right pace. The way nature does! Society isn’t in the dark anymore. People are aware that “mass” anything directly affects the environment in a harmful way.

In architecture, the movement to “SLOW” means “slowing down” and taking careful consideration of the multiple factors that affect a building. Like the history of the site, the natural environment surrounding it, the intended residents/users, and the larger community as a whole.

Implementing Slow Architecture means thinking long-term, and building gradually and organically. It means designing buildings that are thoughtful, responsible and meaningful. The result? The best and most efficient use of energy and space and building with a smaller carbon footprint.

The Principles of Slow Architecture

1. Create spaces that encourage slow living

If it wasn’t apparent before Covid-19, it is most definitely clear now: People crave “real” experiences and connections with people and nature. Living slower, appreciating our health and our freedom are all things that have come to the surface during lockdown restrictions. Architects have the power to design homes that encourage “slow living” and “real interactions” not only with family and friends but also with nature.

2. Design for function first, form second

Slow Architecture requires architects to consider the people (who will live or work in the building) first and not the appearance of the exteriors. Architects need to ask questions like: Who will live here? What will they do in the building? How should they live in it to be happier and healthier?

The spirit of place (Genius Loci) is what elevates a building from merely fulfilling a basic human need (shelter/security) to becoming a place where physical, mental and spiritual wellness can be achieved.

3. Build homes and buildings that coexist with nature

Humans are not the centre of everything! We might think we are because we have the power to destroy forests and build cities in their place. However, the real truth is that everything is related to everything. We should coexist with nature and aim to bring a sustainable balance to this relationship.

Carolyn Strauss, the American architect behind the Amsterdam-based slowLab, is quoted in a Dwell article summarising this so powerfully: “It’s about understanding ourselves as part of larger systems and moving humans out of the center of things. We’re part of a much larger, complex system, which we can never fully understand. We tend to ignore that fact. And this leads to our fragmentation of the world, versus gestalt thinking—perception of the whole and interdependence. This type of human-centered thinking and fragmentation has generated a lot of the problems in the world.”

4. Hero local craftspeople, natural materials and nature itself

Slow Architecture encourages us to ask:

  • What will be authentic?
  • What will make the design sustainable?
  • What are the natural materials that are freely available nearby?
  • What will make the design blend into the natural landscape?
  • Who are the local craftsmen, craftswomen and artists who can collaborate on the project?
  • What can be reused, recycled and salvaged?
  • How can we make best use of natural light, airflow, and natural cooling and heating?

At Veld Architects we believe that Slow Architecture encompasses everything we are passionate about as an architectural firm. And in implementing the principles above we’ve discovered an incredibly exciting fact: ‘slowing down’ and designing conscientiously and with a conscience is aesthetically beautiful!

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