Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig, Co-founder of the Research Group Baubotanik talks about the possibilities of using trees as structural framework in holistic architectural solutions, in an interview with ANUJA ABRAHAM
Imagine inhabiting a building that is so closely intertwined with a tree that it forms the structural framework for the building? This is soon becoming a reality with an experimental project initiated by Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig, scientific coordinator and co-founder of the Research Group Baubotanik at the Institute for Architectural Theory (IGMA) at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. After studying architecture, he joined the institute in 2008 and earned a doctorate in 2012 with his PhD thesis on Botanical basis of Baubotanik and their application to design practice.
Baubotanik is a neologism coined by the researchers that translates to ‘Living Plant Constructions’ in German. The philosophy delves into using trees as constructional and design elements in architecture and design landscape. The key elements are the connection of living trunks and branches through inosculation to a living structure and infusing the living tree to a non-living structural element.
Ludwig shares his views on how the current global crisis is influencing him to pursue this cause. “As an architect who works trans-disciplinary in this way, I try to think cities and architecture as landscapes and develop them as ecosystems in a holistic approach. I am deeply convinced that the current urgent environmental and social challenges force us to develop new technologies, building types, and design strategies that no longer see nature and architecture as conflicting opponents, but as symbiotic elements, complementing one another,” he explains.
Building on an idea
Ludwig came across this idea almost 15 years ago when he stumbled across projects like the living roots bridges of the Khasi People in North East India or the so-called ‘Tanzlinden’ that were common in the medieval Germany. Drawing on his inspiration, the first project he worked on was the Baubotanik Tower in 2005. “So I can now look back to more than 10 years of practical experience and research in the field of living architecture,” he beams.
The concept is developed in a research network around Research Group Baubotanik at the Institute of Architectural Theory at University of Stuttgart. The projects are realised with different partners. The botanical research is done in collaboration with Plant Biomechanics Group at University of Freiburg and with University of Hohenheim as well as with a nursery. “Regarding the architectural and urban concepts and designs, my colleague Daniel Schönle and I have teamed up to form the office collaboration ‘ludwig.schoenle: Baubotanik – Architecture – Urbanism’,” states Dr. Ludwig.
Growing a building
Currently he has tested over ten different species of plants. “In Europe, the London Plane Tree (Platanus x acerifolia) turned out to be very viable. In other climates, the concept can be adapted to plants like Ficus elastica (Rubber Fig) in tropical regions,” he explains.
In the initial years of planting the tree, the gardener has to take care for the watering and fertilizing systems and he has to be make sure that the plants develop homogenously and that the inosculations take place. According to plant addition, they will have to remove the plant containers in the air step by step. In the mature stadium, the need for maintenance is decreasing.
The Green Scope
Since the research is still at its nascent stage, Dr. Ludwig cannot give generalizable numbers regarding costs and return on investments. He states, “What we do know for sure is that the Baubotanik structures can be developed as integral parts of the shading and cooling systems of a building and can play an active role in rainwater management. By these means it can lower the operating costs.”
The concept is developed to be integrated in densely built-up cities where it is difficult to realise green environments. The Baubotanik concept makes it possible to fuse trees and buildings on the same plot. The same has been demonstrated in the research project KLIMOPASS and ‘House of Future.’
Case Study 1: Baubatonik tower
Design and Implementation: Ferdinand Ludwig, Cornelius Hackenbracht
Assistance: Andreas Ernst
Structural Engineering: Maximilian Baur
Funding: DBU, Sponsors
The three-storey tower is nearly 9 m high. It covers a ground surface of around 8 sq m. It is the first Baubotanik project to which plant addition techniques were applied. The interconnected plant structure was created from several hundred young White Willow trees (Salix alba). Only the lowest plants were put in the ground, all others were planted into special containers distributed across seven levels.
During growth, the entire structure is supported by removable metal tube scaffolding with earthscrew foundations. Until all plants have merged into a network-like structure, a simple pumping system constantly provides water to the plants in the containers. Careful monitoring is necessary to determine how long it takes until a self-supporting structure has evolved that can transport water and nutrients from the roots in the ground to the upmost leaves.
Case Study 2: Plane Tree Cube
Structural Engineering: Brocke Ingenieure
Client: Landesgartenschau Nagold 2012
Funding: Client, Sponsors
Implementation of the Baubotanik Structure: Helix Plant Systems, Gartenbau Walker
The Plane-Tree-Cube was designed as a contribution for the Regional Horticultural Show in Nagold in 2012. It was conceptualised as a long-term Baubotanik experiment within an urban context. By the help of plant addition techniques, a green cube with an edge length of 10 m was created that, right from the beginning, had the dimension of a full-grown tree. Initially, young plane trees are arranged in plant containers on six levels. They form green walls around a space open to the sky.
In the course of time, the upper part of this space will be covered by the gradually emerging canopy, while the lower part will become more transparent and dominated by the increasingly knobby and thick trunks. During the horticultural show, the cube served as a view tower and shady retreat for visitors. After the show, the area will be developed into a new neighbourhood. The plane tree-cube will then function as a multifunctional vertical pocket park.