Living-plant construction: Living architecture
The aim is to control biological processes and structures in such a way that they enable new open-spatial-architectural typologies and design approaches as innovative technical solutions. Within the project, the team is researching the spatial-aesthetic effect and optimizing the technical performance of the architectural structures that have evolved. "A building is usually a purely technical and precisely constructed object. However, a tree is not planned on the drawing board, but rather is shaped to a significant extent by environmental conditions – and that development cannot be planned precisely. A tree is also never finished, but continues to grow – until at some point it dies. I'm fascinated by precisely this contradiction. In living-plant construction, we integrate plants into architecture. I studied this topic in my first semester at university. There are historical examples such as living bridges in India or the dance lime trees in Germany – fascinating, artificially-shaped trees into which platforms are integrated as dance floors. These archaic architectures can be developed further, and in this way offer solutions to urgent problems of our time", says Ferdinand Ludwig, describing his enthusiasm for the use of living plants as building materials. He further explains their practical benefits for the urban microclimate: "In cities in particular, most of the area is covered with stone, concrete and asphalt. These materials heat up quickly at high temperatures, and people and animals in cities suffer from heat stress. Plants provide cooling and create a better climate in the city. With living-plant construction there is no need to create extra space for the plants, as they are an integral part of the buildings. Another aspect is the alienation of man from nature.
This can also once again be experienced in the city if people feel they live in a treetop, for example."
The first hybrid projects using innovative plant-technical composite structures demonstrate how the breathing architectures can be integrated into our cities in the future. These include, for example, the architectural prototype Urban Micro Climate Canopy (UMCC). The project was developed by students at the Architecture Research Incubature of the TUM in cooperation with the Chair for Green Technologies in Landscape Architecture, the Chair for Building Technology and Climate-Friendly Building and FibR GmbH. It is a robotically-manufactured lightweight construction that can provide a better microclimate in our cities with climbing plants and mosses. "Here we leave a structure of resin-impregnated glass-fibre bundles covered with climbing plants, creating an artificial treetop three metres high. We use computer-aided simulation methods for the design, and robotics for the erection of the scaffolding."
However, purely plant-based architectural structures are also possible under certain conditions, as Ferdinand Ludwig explains further. "You have to focus precisely on the characteristics and needs of the organism in order to come up with plausible designs – although naturally a certain unpredictability remains. For this we need the collective knowledge from botany, forestry and horticulture. For example, what is the growth potential of the plant and how can we regulate it? For projects such as the Living-Plant Construction Tower or the Nagold Sycamore Cube we have, for example, joined several hundred young trees together in such a way that they grow into one unit. Only the lower trees were planted in the ground; the remaining trees are in special plant containers on several levels, supported by a temporary steel frame. The trunks of the trees were screwed to trunks on the upper level. Over time, the bark and the wood tissue will grow together and form a half-timbered trunk structure that is completely supplied with nutrients by the roots of the lower trees. Once it has become stable enough to support its own weight, the scaffolding is removed." Naturally there is always a risk with living buildings, because "everything that lives can die. However, the more the architectural design is oriented towards the natural growth pattern of the plants, the better. My goal here at the Chair of Green Technologies in Landscape Architecture is to better explore precisely these plant growth patterns and to develop new concepts and strategies for green architecture."
The artificial crown of the UMCC prototype was showcased in Frankfurt am Main during the Luminale and in Munich during the MCBW. The project is now being permanently set up on the test site of the campus in Weihenstephan.