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.

Love,
Gill

Email Gillian@veldarchitects.co.za
Anien@veldarchitects.co.za

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.

Join the Veld Lifestyle!

Email myself or Anien:

Talk to Veld Architects!

Email us:

Gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

Anien@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Chat soon,

Gill

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.

Talk to Veld Architects!

Email us:

Gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

Anien@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Chat soon,

Gill

Building with Nature

by Gillian Holl

As spring comes round there is a newfound interest in nature, I have found. Nurseries are busier than usual with people looking for trees, plants and flowers to reconnect with nature after winter. People are yearning for more greenery in the home or at the office all year round, which just amplifies the fact that nature is part of our DNA. We need it to function optimally, just as it needs us to survive. 

Over the past few decades there has been a massive influx of people into urban areas because, naturally, this is where a lot of the jobs are. Technology, trends and other forms of entertainment also consume a lot more of our time, meaning less time to spend outside in nature.

In a perfect world, nature shouldn’t be something you should have to travel to in order to connect with. It should be right there on your doorstep at home. It should surround you on your way to the shops and also at the office. It might sound unrealistic, but others are getting it right.

 

Like this Contemporary Art Gallery in the city of Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel and built in 1984.

It is essential to reconnect people to nature through architecture, and here’s why:

 

Nature exposure is linked to improved health

Countless studies have been done and the facts speak for themselves: nature heals. Of course we all know this. We can feel an instant physical and emotional change during a hike in the woods or while dipping our bare feet in a cool stream. Nature makes us happier, more peaceful and allows us to think more clearly. Exposure to nature has been linked to a reduction in amongst many recovery time after surgery, ADHD symptoms in children, cardiovascular disease, stress, anger and fear.

Nature exposure links us to each other 

Studies done by the Human-Environment Research Lab and the University of Illinois showed that people with trees and green spaces around their buildings knew more people, had a stronger connection of unity with neighbours, and were more concerned to support and help each other. Further investigation measuring fMRI brain activity showed that the part of the brain associated with love and empathy lit up when people were shown scenes of nature. 

Nature exposure could encourage an ethical relationship with nature

Global warming is an incredibly important issue we all need to be aware of and take action against within our circles of influence. The hope is that through improved exposure to nature and reconnecting with it on a daily basis more ethical relationships with nature will be encouraged.

Am I suggesting we all move out of the city? Or move to a city closer to beaches or parks? What a lovely thought, but no. I’m suggesting that we rethink the way we design any new building and encourage innovative ways to bring nature to urban areas like for example through green roofs, and other sustainable initiatives. Because at the end of the day it will be a win-win.

Architects have a leading role to play in the built environment, but it all starts with you. Not all architects have sustainable, nature-inspired designs at the heart of their mission and vision. That’s why you should choose an architectural firm that will connect your building to nature, preserve the natural topography of the site and do so sustainably with tomorrow in mind.

At Veld Architects this is what we do best. 

Let’s chat.

Email me on gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Love,

Gill

How a green roof can help reduce your carbon footprint

by Gillian Holl

Globally a new movement referred to as “flight-shaming” has taken shape. People around the world are coming together to ask the public (and especially business travellers) to opt for other modes of transportation (like rail). Flying contributes to over 2% of the  earth’s carbon emissions.

Alternative eco-friendly ways of travelling in and around South Africa isn’t as developed as it is in Europe or Britain for example. That’s why SA Travel Industry started an initiative to offset carbon instead: by planting spekboom. A single hectare of spekboom can rid four tonnes of carbon from the environment per year. The Spekboom project aims to educate people on how planting enough spekboom can eventually make flights into and from SA carbon-neutral.

The building and construction industry and its related fields contribute towards 23% of the world’s carbon emissions. It makes me wonder why a movement such as “building-shaming” isn’t making headlines too? Perhaps because all of us are guilty of this…

The good news is sustainable building innovations in this field can bring down emissions drastically.

Something that is trending on this front, especially in cities overseas, is the use of green roofs. In fact, in some cities this is mandated policy. While green roofs aren’t “new”, it is most definitely brilliant. Something that city dwellers, businesses, those with limited yard space and even homes with large green scapes around them should all consider equally.

Apart from cleaning the air and producing oxygen, vegetation on roofs also:

  • Cool down the environment: Green roofs offer shade and encourages evapotranspiration, which lowers temperatures by up to 3% in urban areas, fighting the urban heat island effect.
  • Reduce energy requirements: Cooler, more insulated roofs means a more sustained indoor temperature during summer.
  • Improve biodiversity: Green roofs attract birds and insect species to our cities, offices and homes. Biodiversity has a fundamental role to play in the food we eat and the water we drink.
  • Filter rainwater: Green roofs can filter pollutants and heavy metals rainwater.
  • Protect roofs: A vegetation carpet on your roof can also extend the life of your roof by protecting it from the elements.

Greener buildings and homes also have a massive positive effect on our emotional and physical well-being.

You can make a difference where you live and where you work, simply by researching ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Why not plant a spekboom?

 

At Veld Architecture, it is one of our core beliefs to design buildings that are more sustainable. From something as simple as building orientation to more complex strategies such as eco pools, green roofs and making use of recycled materials – we aim to make buildings more eco-friendly.

Sustainable building is the future of architecture, and our firm would love nothing more than to make your project reflect this.

 

Let’s chat! 

Email me on gillian@veldarchitects.co.za 

 

Love,

Gill

Finding the right architect for your project

by Gillian Holl

The internet and social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have opened landowners up to a world of architectural imagination. A building can be more than just practical. It can be smart, sustainable and stylish! (The 3 S’s that make us at Veld Architects tick by the way).

Does this make the design aspect of a building as simple as taking saved “Pins” to the most affordable architect to consolidate? No! Because the role of an architect is far more complex. Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible. They have to gain all the relevant planning permissions, make frequent site visits, and adjust plans to accommodate changes or environmental/budgetary concerns. Architects are required to liaise with construction professionals on a frequent basis regarding the feasibility of their design and they also need to ensure that these plans are followed correctly. 

Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible.

That’s why before choosing an architectural design studio, keep the following in mind:

Reputation

Your architects will play an integral role in the entire build, from conceptualisation through to the final stages. Throughout the process your architects will be responsible to liaise with other key role players such as the municipality, contractors etc. Make sure your architects have a great name in the industry and that they are professional and accountable. This will eliminate unnecessary bottle-necks down the line.

Style

Much like you would match a photographer or dress-designer to the style you are after for an important event, you should also do the same with your architects. The reason for this is to allow for creative freedom. If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you. View various firms’ online project portfolios and find a team that show diversity in their designs.

If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you.

Think beyond aesthetics

A building is more than just a gorgeous shell with dramatic pavement appeal. It can be hyper functional. It can complement the surrounding landscapes, make the most of natural light and be sustainable. Apart from finding architects that can design the style of home you are after, look for a firm that looks beyond design and stays at the cusp of architectural technology. Irrespective of whether you have a traditional taste, technology has the potential to make your build easier, more cost-effective and more eco-friendly. 

Personality

The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose. You’ll be in contact often and you need to feel comfortable with them to take the lead and provide expertise on matters. It is wise to set up a meet and greet to see whether they will be able to convey your ideas on to paper.

The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose.

At Veld Architects, Charné and I specialise in designing sustainable contemporary buildings using Virtual Reality and other forms of cutting-edge technology. Every project is personal to us and we invest incredible amounts of time and passion.

Let’s chat about your project, email us on:

gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

charne@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Love,

Gill

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.