Blurring the line between architecture and the surrounding landscape

by Gillian Holl

Too often, the natural landscape of a new building is only considered in hindsight. In doing this the powerful connection that exists between a building, the landscape and the occupants is lost. This is why more architects are looking at these three factors together and designing buildings that are in harmony with the environment. Through a cross-disciplinary design approach the indoors and outdoors are integrated more seamlessly, creating buildings that are less “striking” at first glance, yet more compelling for decades to come.

Matt Anderson, Director of Communications at Olson Kundig Architects describes this movement towards more subtle landscape-inspired architecture so beautifully: “Ultimately, truly timeless architecture is inseparable from place; its authenticity derives from its context, allowing it to remain relevant.”

Humans & Nature
In this day and age, humans spend up to 90% of their time indoors. Yet, studies have indicated that humans show signs of improved wellbeing and vitality when surrounded by nature or simply just looking at it. We need nature. This traces back to the Biophilia Hypothesis, which suggests that humans have an innate desire to affiliate with the fauna and flora of the planet.

While the interdisciplinary practice of blending indoor and outdoor design principles are certainly not new, this design approach has become more popular in recent years. It is used in large corporate buildings like the Shanghai Baoye Centre, or in smaller dwellings like this home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is also a practice Veld Architects take to heart with every building we design.

Could it be that humans are ready to reconnect and experience the benefits of nature from their built environments? We truly hope so. Because the more connected humans are to nature, the more motivated they will become to protect it too.


How to blend indoor and outdoor landscapes

1. Build buildings that disappear into the natural landscape
The natural landscape of a building site is unique; moulded and transformed by time. It is a thing of beauty because nature knows best. Too often a building, aesthetically beautiful as it may be, obscures this picture. By mimicking the same contours and structures of the landscape, architects are able to create a building that truly becomes part of the environment.

2. Build buildings that open up to the outdoors
South Africa’s weather conditions are of the best in the world. Here, opening up to the landscape is more than just a design tactic to create unity between the inside and outside, it is must! Fold-away doors, and large windows and doorways help make this connection possible. Using a window to frame a focal point outside such a spectacular view or water feature is a must. An abundance of natural light and courtyards help blur the lines as well.

3. Use materials that blend interior and exterior palettes
Yes to bringing wood, clay, grass, stone and other natural materials into the home. Yes to continuing the choice of living room floors onto the patio, and absolutely yes to choosing natural earthy tones when adding colour to the home. But this concept also encompasses more than these. It is also about using exterior materials such as copper and concrete in interiors and making it work beautifully. It is about aiming for sustainability when choosing materials, and creating an unmistakable architectural language throughout.

4. Build with proper ventilation and air circulation
A proper naturally ventilated building that invites fresh air in and exhales the rest out is possible. The correct placement of doorways and windows, and the appropriate height of ceilings allow for natural air forces of wind and buoyancy.

At Veld Architects, we believe it is important to consult and collaborate with landscape designers and engineers before we design. Together we are able to create buildings that not only blend perfectly with the natural landscape but also contribute to the healing of the environment (Regenerative Architecture).

Join the Veld Lifestyle. Talk to us about making your next home, a Veld home.



Neuro-Architecture: Why humanity should be the epicentre of design

by Gillian Holl

There is a reason why some buildings and interiors make us feel at ease and happy while others affect our mood negatively. It is because there is a part of the human brain that picks up on geometry and how spaces are organised. This, of course, happens unconsciously and that is why we instinctively feel comfortable or uncomfortable in a space. Humans also intuitively have an emotional connection to spaces based on memories, what their senses pick up from the environment etc.

Together, all of these “feelings” have created an architectural discipline that is reshaping the way architects are thinking about design. This discipline is called Neuro-Architecture.

Neuro-Architecture examines the brain’s responses to the built environment, and helps architects design buildings that will have a more positive effect on our mood and senses, and ultimately our wellbeing.

In Neuro-Architecture, technologies such as Virtual Reality and sensors, and science come together to measure a person’s heart rate, body temperature, brain waves, eye movement and “arousal”.

This way architects can build spaces that contribute to the health of their clients on a deeper, more complex level.

“Buildings of the future will be shaped by you”

In his talk entitled Buildings of the future will be shaped by you, American architect Marc Kushner says: “Architecture is not about math, and it’s not about zoning, it is about those visceral, emotional connections that we feel to the places that we occupy.”

Consider for a moment: How much time you spend in and around built environments? At home, the office, shops and schools… Studies have determined that the average human spends around 90% of their time surrounded by buildings.

“We want to live and work in houses, offices and urban areas that are efficiently designed to elevate our mental health towards a happier and more pleasant lifestyle,” says Dr Amirhosein Ghaffarianhoseini, a leading researcher at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

The built environment has the power to reduce stress and anxiety. And therefore the question architects should be asking isn’t whether or not we should build with humans’ mental state in mind, but rather why on earth we wouldn’t?

What do humans want…

There is no one answer to this as preferences are dependent on many things including age, gender, personality, cultural background etc. What is even more interesting is that our feelings towards exteriors and interiors can change over time.

However, in its most basic, primal form, when it comes to choosing a home, humans are looking for circumstances favourable to their survival.  A place of refuge with the ability to observe their surroundings, located nearby resources (food…water…nature…).

Other common findings…

So far, studies in Neuro-Architecture have made some other interesting discoveries, namely:


  1. Views of nature have the ability to help humans recharge, disconnect and heal on psychological and physiological levels.
  2. Humans are more attracted to symmetric, textured and interesting building facades.
  3. Curvature in buildings is also more favoured whereas pointy, sharp edges create stress.
  4. Square rooms trigger anxiety and feelings of being enclosed.
  5. The use of the colour green reduces heart rates and relieves stress.
  6. The colour red creates positive mental awareness and cognitive stimulation.
  7. Natural light (bright morning and soft warm afternoon light) triggers various positive feelings whereas artificial blue light has the opposite effect.

At Veld Architecture we get excited by innovations like Neuro-Architecture because we are inspired by two things: you and nature.

We are committed to designing “healthy homes” that delight occupants and instil happiness and wonder.

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What is Regenerative Architecture & why should it matter to you?

by Gillian Holl

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Climate change is the catalyst behind hundreds of thousands of deaths every year across the world. Extreme weather conditions, droughts and natural disasters are wreaking havoc on ecosystems and economies, and costing governments billions. We aren’t trying to be grim. The situation, unfortunately, is already far beyond it. Humanity should be working harder to reduce its carbon emissions and build sustainable relationships with nature. And it all starts with where we live and work.


Because the building, construction and related fields contribute to 23% of the world’s carbon emissions, it is imperative that a paradigm shift and transformation takes place in the way we design and build.


Professor of Experimental Architecture at the Department of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University, Rachel Armstrong, believes that the biggest concern is that buildings are largely based on Victorian technology.  This involves “a one-way transfer of energy from our environment into our homes and cities,” she says. “This is not sustainable. I believe that the only way it is possible for us to construct genuinely sustainable homes and cities is by connecting them to nature, not insulating them from it,” she adds.


However, simply designing sustainable homes and buildings aren’t enough any more. That is why Armstrong and other leaders in the industry have dedicated years of research to various forms of Living and Regenerative Architecture, which will be a far more effective approach over the long-term.

What is Regenerative Architecture?

In a COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) research report entitled Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative the authors explain the three concepts as follows:


  • Sustainability: Limiting impact. The balance point where we give back as much as we take.
  • Restorative: Restoring social and ecological systems to a healthy state.
  • Regenerative: Enabling social and ecological systems to maintain a healthy state and to evolve.


Regenerative Architecture is essentially the holy grail of buildings. A net-zero, living building that not only lives and breathes and adapts to the environment and uses fewer resources but also reverses damage, gives back to communities and sustains all needs onsite.


Regenerative Architecture strategies include:

  • Green roofs and skins
  • The capture and storage of rainwater
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Generating and storing energy
  • Sequestering carbon emissions
  • Obtaining thermal efficiency
  • Creating a suitable habitat for lost wildlife and plants
  • Growing food
  • Increasing biodiversity
  • Addressing pollution
  • A building with no negative health impact on inhabitants
  • The ability to adapt to weather conditions
  • Healing the environment

Why are we telling you this?

The bigger picture of Regenerative Architecture, and the role of biology and biomimicry in architecture are all part of a global movement towards researching and developing ways to grow buildings that seek to integrate and restore the natural environment. Most of these new strategies are only in prototype phase. Armstrong’s research, for example, aims to use microbes to build living buildings that “grow, metabolise and defend us like an immune system.


So why are we telling you this now? Because the change in how buildings are built starts with you. Although many Regenerative Architecture strategies are still in development, some can already be implemented. Buildings can produce fresh oxygen and solar energy, and it is possible for buildings to capture and store rainwater. Forget about the allure of fibre or on-site gyms for a moment. With everything we know about climate change, shouldn’t net-zero, living buildings with the ability to improve our air become the marketing hooks developers use to attract potential home buyers instead?


If you are interested in Regenerative Architecture, team up with the Architects that are excited to see these strategies come to life in the South Africa context.

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Top sustainable building trends and the role architects should play

by Gillian Holl

Conserving and protecting the earth’s natural resources is something absolutely every government, every industry and every consumer should take seriously. The building and construction industry (directly and indirectly) contributes to around 23% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions. Sustainable building should be a priority for the future of our homes, neighbourhoods and cities. Some parts of Europe, America and the UK are already leading the way with ground-breaking initiatives, and the potential for South Africa is huge!

Sustainable building trends such as smart technology, improved water preservation, garden roofs and green spaces are of course very topical, but I would like to highlight three areas that are particularly interesting to our architectural firm at the moment.

Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions…

Trend #1: Degrowth

Water and soil are two of the world’s scarcest natural resources. Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions have given way to a “Degrowth” trend that has a lot of potential. Our cities have so many derelict buildings that could benefit greatly from architectural revival projects. Just think about the impact it could have on the current accommodation and job shortages in our cities…

A great read on this topic, particularly within the South African context is  10+ years 100 Projects – Architecture in a Democratic South Africa”. The book contains the best final-year architectural student dissertations from all eight of SA’s universities over the last decade. It is truly inspirational to see how useful, positive and striking our cities’ current dilapidated and unused buildings could be if we focussed more on adaptive reuse.

The Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town is perhaps one of SA’s most successful and well-known rehabilitated buildings to date. The old grain silos at the V&A Waterfront, which were built in the 1920s, were sustainably rebuilt into Africa’s largest museum. And it is gorgeous!

Trend #2: Innovative materials

New innovative materials (or new applications for traditional materials), sourced locally, are also creating interesting ripple effects in the industry. Precast concrete is just as weather-resistant as concrete, yet far more sustainable. Bamboo is a great substitute for hardwood flooring and recycled aluminium or steel beams are also more sustainable than wooden beams. 

Trend #3: Zero Energy Buildings

Zero energy buildings generate the same amount of energy used by the building annually from on-site renewables. This is done by using solar and passive systems to heat and cool the building, as well as installing energy efficient appliances. I am particularly fascinated with the work being done at Bugesera International Airport in Rwanda. The project includes a 30,000 square metre passenger terminal, 22 check-in counters, 10 gates, and six passenger boarding bridges all of which will be a zero energy space. Just imagine if our homes, neighbourhoods and cities followed this principal…

…sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well. 

The role of architects in sustainable projects

As architects, we have a leading role to play in professional sustainable planning. By  collaborating with clients, construction companies, engineers and various other role players, architects can ensure that sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well.  Professional planning also ensures that the quality of development isn’t lost in the process.

Sustainable homes and buildings can (and should) be beautiful. They can complement the natural surroundings and add value to the landscapes they are built on. At Veld Architects, we are drawn to the advantages of sustainable building. It is a fundamental part of the vision we have for our architectural consultancy, and we would love to share it with you.