Exploring History Through The Meeting Of Nature And Architecture

by Janet Springer

Mankind has always had a complex relationship between building its settlements and paying heed to the local ecosystem. Today, architects often try to include plantlife as part of their grandest designs - the results are often variable, as Dezeen highlights. Nevertheless, the meeting of nature and architecture has been a key facet in telling the history of past nations from across the world. Through these plants, a sense of history can be gained, and a new appreciation for how these plants shaped that history - and their significance today.
The power of trees
Trees are perhaps the most well revered and loved of all the plants, representing a solidity and strength that you might place an empire upon. Their ancient nature and pride of place in the designs of many historical civilizations make them an excellent prism through which to view history. Whether trees are placed indoors for decorative purposes, either on a miniature scale or in an enclosed courtyard, or later enclosed for spiritual purposes, they have a huge impact. The Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, is an example of just this; the tree, grown from the original tree that the Bodhidharma sat under, has become a focal point for the country and for the Buddhist world. With that it tells a huge, many-thousand-year history, of religion, conflict, colonialism, and finally, the more settled picture of Buddhism that is represented in media today.
Tulip architecture
The Ottomans are perhaps best known for their all-conquering nature, but at the start of the 18th century they actually embarked on a period of relative peace, harmony, and, crucially, collaboration with Europe. Named after the Tulip craze of Ottoman courts of the time, this gave rise to an entire style of architecture itself - Ottoman baroque architecture. As the Daily Sabah highlights, the most famous of these constructions is arguably the Tomb of Sultan Mustafa III in Istanbul. Mustafa III was well-known for being fair, instituting laws that helped to redistribute wealth, and making regular visits to ensure their enforcement. This key bit of architecture traces back to that time, and is interesting in how it creates a strong deviation from the previous reputation of the Ottoman empire.
Colonial origins, home plants
The current fondness for house plants can be traced back thousands of years, but, according to InExhibit magazine, the current western trend that can be seen in what stores have to offer is taken from the colonial era. As the British Empire spread around the world in the 1700s onwards, plants brought back from every exotic corner of the globe became the ‘in thing’ for households. While not part of the architecture itself, the touch of plants in yards, gardens, balconies, kitchens and bathrooms is a nod to the colonial past of the west.
Altogether, these plants provide a route through history that walks hand-in-hand with architecture. Next time you see an interesting plant-architecture interface, consider just what that might tell you about the past.