July 23, 2009 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Three young German architects have created a new area of architecture: arbo-architecture.
Ferdinand Ludwig and fellow architects, Oliver Storz and Hannes Schwertfeger, call their new specialty “building botany.” As part of this, the three men are building structures made from plants as well as studying the elasticity of plane trees and examining how effectively willows can grow around steel pipes at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Basics in Modern Architectural Design.
In this way, they plan to begin building an eight-meter (26-foot) tower near Lake Constance in southern Germany at the end of July.
“In our opinion trees are high-tech material, which is why plant growth is part of our vision,” says Schwertfeger. “We start them off but the tree itself continues the building process,” Ludwig adds. “In architectural terms it’s very risky — but it’s a positive risk.”
Training trees to grow in all manner of decorative shapes is not new, it has been part of the skilled landscape gardener’s repertoire since the 13th century. And companies like the Israeli firm, Plantware, have perfected these techniques as they have shaped trees into fruit bowls, toilet paper holders and street lamps; they call their work “arborsculpture.”
Now Stuttgart’s architectural rebels are taking the concept a step further. They consider the trees to be building materials similar to steel and concrete.