Architects Ferdinand Ludwig and Daniel Schönle would like to revolutionize the way we build, or more appropriately “grow”, our buildings. Inspired by the ancient art of tree shaping – from Japanese Bonsai to India’s Living Tree Bridges – they have added modern materials, like metal scaffolding, to graft a 10-meter-high (33 feet) living tower near Germany’s Black Forest.
The Plane-Tree-Cube Nagold is their largest living plant structure yet though Ludwig has spent years experimenting with “baubotanik” (bau= building + “botanik” = botany) techniques, inspired by historical examples.
“In Germany we have a long tradition of so-called Tanzlinde which means a dancing tree. It’s a special kind of lime tree which is pruned and formed in a way that you can add a platform in the canopy. And in medieval times it was very famous, it was the only tree in town and people gathered there and came up for the spring dance… And another historical reference are the so-called living root bridges of the Khasi people in India. They do fantastic structures out of the roots of ficus trees and they bend them over the rivers and over time a really walkable bridge appears. It’s a fascinating thing and almost half of my studying I was focusing on this with the aim of transferring these historical approaches into modern architecture.”
Ludwig’s first biodesigned structure was the Baubotanik Footbridge planted in 2005 as an initial attempt to get people into the canopy of the trees. Biodesign relies on processes that occur in nature, such as inosculation: a grafting process where the limbs of separate trees grow together, shedding bark and outer layers so the inner tissue and vasculature combines to create one organism. Another technique inspired by the events in the natural world is “uberballung” where a limb “grows over” another element, normally a metal beam or rod.
Baubotanik constructions evolve over time. As the trees grow together they become strong enough to be load-bearing and more and more of the metal infrastructure can be removed. Over time, the buildings become more tree and more alive.
Ludwig believes his Baubotanik methods can scale to buildings as high as a tree can grow (about 30 meters or 100 feet). “We made some design proposals even for whole streets where all the street trees are fused with the building in this way,” explains Ludwig. “So the people don’t live in a house, they live in a tree. For sure there are some rooms behind there that are traditional in a way, but if you go out of the door you stand in the tree, in the canopy.”