Baubotanik: living in a tree

Living somewhere was never so literal as with the building construction using baubotanik, or living plant construction, a technique fusing tree shaping and modern materials. Baubotanik manipulates the growth of trees into a certain form with the help of metal scaffolds and other construction materials, until they are transformed into a load-bearing structure. Eventually, the tree tissue grows around and bonds with the manmade materials and become a living building.

In a time when buildings sprout from the ground like plants, the use of living trees to complete such a structure is not farfetched. Trees lock in carbon and produce oxygen, and, in addiction, now provide a living space for humans instead of just animals.

The project of the three-story-high Plane-Tree-Cube Nagold building is initiated by architect Ferdinand Ludwig from the university of Stuttgart in Germany. It was created in 2012 for a regional horticultural show, and is made from living sycamore and a metal scaffolding structure that serves as temporary base. The trees are shaped over time with pipes, regulators, sensors and valves. The scaffolding can be removed once the sycamores have grown and achieved a stable state.

After years of research. Ludwig has come to the conclusion that fast-growing and flexible trees like sycamore (planetree), poplar, birch and hornbeam are the best species to use, opposed to willow, which is popular among tree sculptors.

In 2005, Ludwig built a footbridge using the same technique, in collaboration with architect Oliver Storz and sculptor Cornelius Hackenbracht, and a nine-meter tall tower made of willow.

Tree shaping is an old activity, from European topiary to Japanese bonsai. In the Indian rainforest, people made bridges from the roots of the rubber plant, by interlacing them in a form of prehistoric bioengineering. There are also many designers and sculptors who shape living trees into the desired form. Using living trees in the construction of buildings, however, is taking the tree house to the next level.

While the building is part architecture part sculpture, the baubotanik buildings will not replace conventional construction sites. The buildings only grow as fast as the trees, they are labour-intensive and demand a on-going maintenance.

On the other hand, the technique does not require the trees to be cut down, so that they can continue their growth and, as living things, can restore damaged spots on its own. Additionally, baubotanik accepts the challenge to create a green space in the middle of a city, using minimal ground area. The buildings each have their own character, like old trees, and, as such, need to be seen not as a complete building, but a process of development.

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